Friday, May 12, 2006

In Defense of EBO

Ralph Peters wrote in the April 06 issue of Armed Forces Journal an article titled Bloodless theories, bloody wars; Easy-win concepts crumble in combat.

The so-called "bloodless" theory he's alluding to is effects based operations or EBO.

First of all, EBO is a methodology, an approach and a way of thinking used for planning, executing and assessing operations and not a new "theory" of war or a particular strategy. It is not an "easy-win concept", but rather a cross-dimensional, cross-discipline way of thinking that seeks to integrate all the instruments of power to the maximum extent possible. The effects-based approach is not mainly focused on winning quick decisive battles; the focus is on actions and the effect of those actions over an extended period of time.

Peters writes:
"During the Second World War, American and British air-campaign planners attempted to force the Nazi war machine into collapse by attacking crucial links in Germany’s national infrastructure. According to the theory, hitting well-selected individual targets would paralyze entire systems. So, at an enormous cost in lives and aircraft, we went after German rail junctions and ball-bearing plants, engine factories and Romanian oil fields."

It would have probably been more costly, in terms of lives and aircraft, to send C-47's full or paratroopers and drop them directly on top of the engine factories and Romanian oil fields. The best way to attack those targets, at the time, was using long-range bombers. Today, we would use stealth bombers with precision weapons and cruise missiles, technologies not available during WWII. Additionally, according to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) conducted after WWII, by at the start of 1945, US Army Air Force (AAF) bombardment had badly degraded German armament manufacture and had brought the German war-supporting economic infrastructure close to collapse.

Peters writes:
"We were, in short, executing Effects-Based Operations, or EBO, the current darling among “revolutionary” concepts."

Actually, most EBO practitioners would tell you that EBO is more an expansion than an outright "revolution". The fundamental idea behind the concept of effects-based operations is that of causal relationships: the connection between two things in which one event occurs as a result of another event. All actions have direct and indirect effects. But you also can achieve an effect via multiple means. This idea has been around for centuries. Sun Tzu’s writings actually express insights that we would regard as effects-based today.

Peters writes:
"Of course, the Wehrmacht had to be defeated on the ground. The Allied bombing campaign certainly aided in that defeat, but it was not decisive in itself. No matter how many railroad marshalling yards we struck, the Reichsbahn found work-arounds. As for bombing the industrial infrastructure, at the end of the war more than 90 percent of Germany’s production capabilities remained intact (contrary to popular belief), giving the defeated country a launching pad for its postwar “economic miracle.” In early 1945, German combat aircraft production was increasing. Those expensive attacks on “vital” nodes helped the war effort but could not have won the war alone had they lasted for a generation. Germany’s lack of home-country petroleum reserves severely hampered the Nazis — but the advance of the Red Army did vastly more to interrupt fuel supplies from the east than did the EBO efforts of the 1940s."

There is no question that the Wehrmacht had to be defeated on the ground. The Casablanca Directive, a policy document formulated by Roosevelt and Churchill in January 1943, made apparent that a ground campaign was part of the Allied strategy well before the start of the planning for D-Day. As D-Day was getting closer and the strategic air forces fell under the command of Gen Eisenhower in March 1944, the demands of the invasion received priority from all Allied air forces and he called for a transportation attack plan to directly support Operation OVERLORD.

However, strategic bombing preceding D-DAY did play a crucial role in Nazi Germany's defeat. The main problem was that one of our main pre-war suppositions proved to be incorrect: the German industrial infrastructure proved to be more resistant to attack than what we originally expected. However, the USSBS showed that aerial attacks had actually worn out the morale of the German people and had increased absenteeism to some extent in the later phases of the war. The attacks conducted by the AAF and the Royal Air Force (RAF) from July to December 1943 did not obliterate all of the German industrial machinery, but they did compel the Germans to disperse manufacturing functions at a critical point in the war.

Peters writes:
"The primary problem we face in preparing for future wars is an intellectually corrupt budgeting and procurement process, a system that forces the services — especially the Navy and Air Force — to make extravagant, impossible-to-fulfill claims for the weapons they wish to buy. It isn’t possible to argue that a system will be “useful.” To appear competitive, each system has to be “revolutionary.”"

Mixing EBO with the DoD's budgeting and procurement process is not only mixing apples and oranges but also smells like a red herring to me. The concept of EBO is not an effort by the Air Force or the Navy to line their coffers at the expense of land forces. EBO is not service specific and never discounts the human dimension in operations. EBO is a mind-set, not a template for procurement decisions.

Peter writes:
"Compounding the damage, each of the services (except the Marine Corps) has fallen into the trap of designing its strategy to fit the systems it wants, rather than devising an honest long-term strategy, then pursuing the weapons best-fitted to support that strategy."

Again, EBO is not a "strategy", it is a methodology. While EBO thinking is influenced by technological advances, many of its influences are as old as warfare itself and not based on new systems. Of course, EBO seeks to take advantage of new applications and new technologies, but it also tries to exploit our advantages in training, doctrine and operational concepts (the human element) to expose and exploit an adversary's vulnerabilities.

More to come, in part 2.

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