Sunday, October 30, 2005

Airpower and Urban Warfare

Throughout the 20th century, when wartime leaders had to make the decision to use airpower in support of ground troops operating in a city, they usually viewed such use as a broadsword and not a rapier. In the 21st Century however, airpower has become that much needed rapier, that precise instrument that today's environment demands.

A Bitter-Sweet Track Record

During urban operations in places as far removed in time and space as Stalingrad and Mogadishu, the use of airpower is support of ground troops operation in a city (what the military calls urban close air support or urban CAS) has been plagued by a list of modest accomplishments dominated by dismal failures.

During World War II successful urban CAS was the exception rather than the rule for both the Axis and Allied powers.

After D-Day, airpower had only a small contribution in helping Allied troops seize German-held towns across the Western Front.

The Urbanization of Armed Conflict

Over the last two decades our ground troops have been involved in a series of military operations for control of urban areas. Currently, over 150,000 US soldiers and marines are involved in what are essentially urban counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

Since the end of major combat operations in 2003, the US military has learned many lessons in urban warfare, including how to use air and space power to contribute to the fight.

The clearest representation of this new form of conducting air and space operations took place last year over the skies of the embattled Iraqi town of Fallujah.

On the technological side, this new form of conducting operations was shaped by three advances: persistent air surveillance using a new array of sensors, precision air munitions, and information technology.

I'll expand more of this topic in subsequent posts.

Here's a link to a study conducted by RAND several years ago on the subject.

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