Friday, June 22, 2007

New Strategy: "Walking"

In a comment to this post on the ever-increasing lethality of IED attacks, Adam mentioned that "walking" was being proposed as a new strategy for dealing with the deadly roadside bombs. He might've been thinking of this article in today's LA Times, in which just such an approach is discussed:

The power of what the military calls an EFP — for explosively formed penetrator, or projectile — to spray molten metal balls that punch through the armor on vehicles has some American troops rethinking their tactics. They are asking whether the U.S. should give up its reliance on making constant improvements to vehicle defenses.

Instead, these troops think, it is time to leave the armor behind — and get out and walk.

Why? As the article explains, the bombs have become increasingly lethal because not only do the penetrate the armor of the vehicles the soldiers are riding in, but also because they are designed to scatter lethal fragments all over the inside of those vehicles once they penetrate that armor. So, soldiers that are concentrated in heavily armed vehicles that can't withstand the blasts are actually more vulnerable to these attacks then soldiers who are on foot and are more widely dispersed. Granted soldiers on foot aren't going to survive such a powerful explosion if it goes off near them, but unlike soldiers riding around in armored vehicles, there's a much smaller chance of multiples of them being killed/injured in a single explosion (as they have been in recent very lethal attacks.)

Of course, there's a trade-off. After all, those soldiers started riding around in armored vehicles for a reason. Soldiers that are on foot may be less vulnerable to EFPs (at least en masse) but they are more vulnerable to small-arms fire, snipers and RPG attacks. Of course, as we've discussed in earlier posts on this topic, the insurgents utilize IEDs to the extent that they do because a) they don't have to confront our troops directly and b) they can kill large numbers of troops at one time. As more and more troops dismount and patrol on foot, casualties in single incidents of an IED attack will go down. The insurgents may feel pressure from that fact, and be pulled by the opportunity to attack more vulnerable troops, and consequently may engage those troops more directly. This in turn would give our troops a chance to inflict considerably more casualties on insurgents that dare to engage them in a stand-up fight. Of course, those same insurgents may also reconfigure their IEDs so that they're more effective against dismounted troops and not effective against armored vehicles, giving our troops more incentive to get back in those vehicles. At the same time, it may be difficult for insurgents to know exactly what type of IEDs to plant when they don't know what tactics the American troops will engage in. And so on, and so on.

The point of all this is merely to demonstrate that as adaptable as our troops our, the insurgents are similarly adaptable. Foot patrols may provide some kind of defense to spectacular IED attacks, but the defense is only temporary and it opens up soldiers to other types of attacks. I fear that Iraq will be just as deadly as our troops as it's ever been, no matter what they do.

1 comment:

Nat-Wu said...

As you point out, walking is not some miracle way of foiling IEDs. The insurgents can adapt just as quickly as we can, and I bet there are plenty of Vietnam Vets who will tell you that being on foot in enemy territory isn't so hot either.

However, we can take an understanding from this that it is best to be unpredictable, such as mixing the use of mounted patrols with walking or aerial patrols. The US Army (and most militaries in general) love to adopt a "proper" way of doing things, then do things that way until a war has come and gone in which men die because it doesn't actually work. Kind of like our insistence on using "smart" weapons.