Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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May 19, 2003

Pentagon Report

Iraq “Lessons Learned” Accelerates Change, Debate in Defense Restructuring

Analysis. By Frederick Barnes, GIS Pentagon Correspondent. From the beginning of the 2003 Coalition war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein’s Administration, US Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Virginia, were in Iraq conducting “lesson learned” surveys which continued through and beyond the end of hostilities. Survey notes were continually transmitted directly to the Joint Forces Command’s Joint Warfighting Center for analysis.

Two weeks of warfare in Iraq achieved more in shaping defense re-structuring than a decade of discussion about the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA).

The on-site teams consisted of members of all the military services in a single joint operation rather than each service conducting its own survey, although invariably single-service assessments were also undertaken because the individual services largely operated separately. With all assessments, however, it was felt that more accurate, complete information could be obtained by on-site observers with the troops while fighting was in progress. While it may take months for “lessons” data to reach the operating commands, it may be possible for critical items to be included in the proposed (fiscal) FY 2005 budget, now working its way through the Pentagon.

With the Iraq operations winding down during May 2003, any “lessons learned” studies are sure to include data on the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) currently headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. SOCOM basically is made up of small, highly organized Special Operations Forces (SOF) teams taken from the Army Special Forces, Rangers, Navy SEALs (sea, air and land) and Air Force Special Operations Squadrons.

During the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, SOF teams established a reputation as dedicated operators moving in and out of asymmetric problems with quiet efficiency. They were used in the Iraq War since its beginning — working with very accomplished special forces operators from Australia, the United Kingdom and, to a lesser extent, Poland — in such missions as hunting for Scud missiles, pinpointing targets and securing oil terminals. In Afghanistan 6,000 SOF troops helped topple the Taliban Administration by pinpointing US airstrikes and recruiting and training local allies. Functionally, SOF teams are not set up to engage in sustained combat, like the Army, but to engage in short, intense fights. There is a tendency, however, for DoD to use SOF teams beyond their capabilities.

Congress created SOCOM in 1986 wit the Goldwater-Nichols Act, giving the command its own budget and the authority to procure special operations equipment and services. In practice, SOCOM prefers dealing directly with industry, buying equipment which is already on the shelf and which can be quickly adapted and put into the hands of operators.

In January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced an expansion of SOCOM and requested a 50 percent funding increase from $4-billion in FY 2003 to $6.7-billion in FY 2004. Looking to the future, SOCOM Commander, Air Force General Charles Holland stated: “The current state of SOCOM is strong, but to meet the evolving capabilities of potential adversaries  … we must continue to invest in programs to improve strategic mobility, force protection, research and development and information dominance.”

No doubt one of the reason for low casualty rate in the SOF troops was their extensive used of protective body armor. Medical studies have shown that most military deaths were caused by chest, abdomen, or head injuries. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War SOF troops wore body armor consisting of synthetic Kevlar fabric which provided some protection but, weighed 25 pounds. A recent study1 showed that the new Interceptor Body Armor was able to stop fragments and 9mm rounds without additional ceramic plates and to be able to stop high-velocity 7.62mm rifle bullets with plates. In addition, the new armor weighs only about 16 lb.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in 2002 directed the Air Force and Navy to establish a joint program office for development of Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV). Schedules call for the joint office to open its doors in 2004 with program command alternately shared on an annual basis. The opening date seems unreasonable considering the amount of effort needed in setting up such an office. For example, the Air Force wants its UCAVs to be able to perform such missions as destroying enemy air defenses. In contrast, the Navy wants its UCAVs to perform surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Most important, their UCAVs must be able to operate off Navy aircraft carriers. Future planning calls for including the Army in its development of an Unmanned Armed Rotorcraft.

Any actual establishment of a combined UCAV program office may not develop as fast as anticipated as there are elements both the Air Force and Navy that see the UCAVs as a threat to manned aircraft programs. Indeed, today UCAVs are now routinely performing two tasks —  reconnaissance and surveillance —  which were formerly handled by piloted aircraft. Viewed from the outside, a combined UCAV office has certain attractions, such as elimination of redundant activities. However, the idea of a joint office seems to fade when considered from the services viewpoint who are jealous of their prerogatives.

During the latet Iraq war, the US Air Force public relations offices issued seemingly endless press releases stressing the Air Force role in the war.

However, early in the war, those Iraq Air Force and installations not moved ahead of the conflict to secret storage in the Western desert were quickly destroyed, nullifying any chance of Iraq air combat situations. After that, Coaltion air power attention was turned to supporting ground troops. Politically, in Washington, this could act to Air Force detriment as the only two aircraft being developed, the F-22 and F-35, are fighter aircraft and both are have development problems.

The F-22 has been plagued with cost overruns and program delays since its the beginning. The original program called for 750 aircraft. Now the Air Force says it needs 381 aircraft however Congress set a production budget at 276 aircraft. Currently faced with even more problems that number may be reduced to 235 aircraft. Faced with a decreasing likelihood of air to air combat F-22 managers created an “A” (attack) configuration stressing the aircraft’s importance in ground attack functions. These latest problems may well increase voices in Congress calling for cancellation of the program. However the US has invested over $25-billion in the program much of which would be ol lost if the program is terminated.

A preliminary design review of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) showed a 20 percent overweight problem. Most such programs in the initial stage of such aircraft programs are not unusual and are usually corrected by design changes. However, in the F-35 case, aircraft weight is critically important to the Marine Corps, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy configurations which requires a shaft-driven fan to create enough downward thrust for vertical take off and landing.

While US attention is focused on events in the Persian Gulf area, here the Department of Homeland Security (DoHS) was running a nationwide mock attack exercise which involved many of its agencies. Over 8,000 people were to have a role in the exercise extending all the way from state governors down to fire department “first responders”. The DoHS consists of 170,000 people taken from 20 agencies operating on a $37.5-billion annual budget. This minor exercise was to provide valuable “lessons learned” in the organization of this new agency. Tom Ridge, DoHS Director explained: “We want to test strategies, responses and protocols …When you stimulate people … you learn a lot about their response capabilities.”

This was the second such drill: the first was a simulated biological warfare attack on Denver, Colorado, in 2000.

The scenario for the attack goes something like this:

In the near future, Congress is sure to question the continued need for excessive DoD budgets in light of increasing federal deficits and projected rise in spending for Social Security and Medicare programs. Their reasoning, will no doubt, run something like this: “The quick victory over Iraq by a superior transformed US military shows that all that additional money was not needed in the first place. So, lets cut back on DoD spending.”

There are sure to be massive US budget battles in the near future.


1. The Washington Post, May 4, 2003.