Sea Control 49 – General Robert Scales (Ret.) on Firepower

Matthew Hipple produced another very interesting episode of Sea Control. He discusses the topic “firepower” with retired U.S. Army major-general and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College Robert H. “Bob” Scales Jr. After his retirement, he worked as an analyst and founded with Colonel (Retired) Jack H. Pryorthe the defense consulting firm Colgen in 2003. In 1994, Scales published the book “Firepower in Limited War“, which shows the limitations of firepower in conflicts of low intensity. He analyses this problem through the example of the wars in Indochina, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Falklands War, and the Gulf War.

The U.S. military’s obsession on firepower is probably based on the American Civil War, where observers noticed an exceptional use of artillery fire. It seems that the U.S. military has a tendency to substitute manpower through firepower. Obviously this doesn’t work very well and today the importance of firepower is misplaced or overestimated. Certainly, if the artillery fires its rounds on surprised, unprotected or aggregated troops, the lethal effect will be staggering, but with protection, dispersing and camouflaging the effect will be minimal. This means that the high expectation of the possible achievements resulting of the bombing of ISIS in Northern Iraq is unfounded (see also John Kerry, “To Defeat Terror, We Need the World’s Help“, The New York Times, 29.08.2014). According to Scales the killing power of supporting fires is not related to the power of explosives, but to the number of explosive points – that is, why modern artillery is using cluster munition.

Listen to episode 49 for more information about firepower’s use, effectiveness, and place as a cultural phenomenon in American military thinking.

Listen to episode #49 immediately

Latest: Episode #49 – Archive: all episodes – Don’t miss any future episodes and subscribe on iTunes.

• • •

CIMSECThe Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank. It was formed in 2012 to bring together forward-thinkers from a variety of fields to examine the capabilities, threats, hotspots, and opportunities for security in the maritime domain. Check out the NextWar blog to join the discussion. CIMSEC encourages a diversity of views and is currently accepting membership applications here.

This entry was posted in English, Sea Control, Security Policy, Technology.

1 Response to Sea Control 49 – General Robert Scales (Ret.) on Firepower

  1. Daniel Tyler Brooks wrote on the Facebook Group “Foreign Policy and Defense Writers” following interesting comment to “Sea Control 49”:

    The General is not as controversial as he seems to want to paint himself. He tries to suggest initially that firepower is over rated, but if you wait until his conclusion at the end, he’s really only saying:

    1. The US Army has overestimated its tactical competence in the employment of firepower, thus reducing its effectiveness on the battlefield.
    2. Target location is the biggest problem in effective firepower (forward observers).
    3. Decision makers make untimely and poor decisions on how and when to employ firepower (see # 1, however, this is also a command and control problem).

    Ultimately his argument is not that firepower is overrated, but that our application of it is inefficient. Those are two very different arguments. The problem with this podcast is that it implies that firepower is worthless (which is not only wrong, but also very dangerous thinking that has sadly gained some traction among maneuver commanders who are the chief offenders of #1 and #3); instead of the idea that we need to improve our tactical employment of the weapon system and have a better understanding of the effect we are trying to achieve when it is used.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *