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
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