A Counter-Revolution in Military Affairs? Notes on US High-Tech Warfare

When Colonel Harry Summers told a North Vietnamese counterpart in 1975 that “[y]ou know you never defeated us on the battlefield,” the reply was: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.1

News stories surrounding the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proclaimed the arrival of a long-promised “Revolution in Military Affairs” (RMA), a new system of warfare that was said to combine innovative battlefield tactics with high-tech weaponry, networked communications, and sophisticated surveillance technology.  The US military promoted its latest toys as “force multipliers” — factors that promised dramatically to increase US combat effectiveness without requiring additional troops.  Advanced weapons systems publicly acknowledged by the Department of Defense included unmanned spy drones, powerful “bunker buster” explosives, and precision-guided munitions; additionally, the US arsenal was rumored to contain fearsome new weapons from the realm of science fiction: battlefield death rays, “E-bombs,” even devices that would allow GIs to see through walls.

“Wired” or “postmodern” warfare, it was widely claimed, would transform the 21st-century battlefield and assure American supremacy for generations to come.  As one television commentator gushed: “It is hard to imagine a technological change that has had a similar impact on international affairs.  The development of the tank?  The first flight of a military aircraft?  The invention of gunpowder?  It is somewhere at that level.”2

This degree of enthusiasm for RMA did not long survive the first flush of triumph.  After several years of grueling guerrilla warfare in the Middle East, US strategists are now re-learning the fundamental lessons of Vietnam: that guerilla war is a political, not merely a military, struggle; that technology, no matter how sophisticated or lethal, cannot defeat a determined popular resistance; that resistance fighters draw their power from the sympathies and co-operation of the people.3

The following, a re-evaluation of RMA’s most highly-touted weapons in light of the realities of combat, reaffirms that it is people, not armaments, that remain decisive.

Precision Munitions

“Afghanistan will be remembered as the smart-bomb war,” predicted the New York Times in a front-page article that touted the “swiftness and accuracy of … a new kind of American airpower.”4  In fact US “smart bombs” has already been used during the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, and their performance was in some ways unsatisfactory.  Not only were laser-guided weapons far less accurate than contemporary propaganda suggested; they proved unusable in bad weather (cloud cover or sandstorms prevent laser guidance systems from “painting” the target).5

The new JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), a compact satellite navigation system that converts a free-falling 2,000-lb. bomb into a guided smart weapon, was designed to solve the weather problem.  Reports from Afghanistan and Iraq suggest that the JDAM’s GPS guidance technology worked well in sandstorms and through cloud cover, resisted jamming, and was in general “remarkably good and remarkably consistent,” though its accuracy probably falls short of Defense Department claims.6  Relatively quite cheap at a cost of about $20,000 per bomb, the JDAM will likely remain a lethal threat to fixed, observable targets for years to come.

Far more expensive, at $500,000 apiece, is the US Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile, a ship-launched, radar-guided flying bomb that debuted in the 1991 Gulf War and was also used in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Because of its high cost and inaccuracy relative to the JDAM, it is somewhat out of fashion as a conventional battlefield weapon, though nuclear cruise missiles remain an important part of the US arsenal.7  The Tomahawk is essentially unchanged since its introduction in the late 1970s, but a new high-tech “tactical Tomahawk” is in development.  Promised improvements include networked on-board computers capable of processing targeting data from multiple sources, as well as a TV camera for battlefield observation.  Originally scheduled for delivery in 2004, the Tactical Tomahawk has been delayed repeatedly and may not appear in combat anytime soon.

At least one of the Pentagon’s “spy drones” is now used extensively for the delivery of precision munitions and can therefore be discussed in this section.  The Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance, began carrying laser-guided Hellfire missiles during the US invasion of Afghanistan and continues to fly combat missions in Iraq and elsewhere in Asia.  The object of especially breathless praise from Western journalists, the Predator is in practice slow, relatively inaccurate, and virtually unusable in rainy weather.89  A Defense Department study dating from late 2001 found “serious deficiencies in reliability, maintainability and human factors design” and reported that, by late 2001, 22 of the 50 Predator aircraft built for the U.S. Air Force (at a cost of $25 million each) had been shot down or crashed.9  The Predator is nevertheless valued in its reconnaissance role and is credited with detecting enemy mortar positions and warning convoys of potential ambushes.10

Overall, the US estimates the accuracy of precision munitions used in Iraq and Afghanistan at about 90 percent.11  However, the 2006 Lancet study of civilian mortality in Iraq attributes 13% of civilian deaths to airstrikes — i.e., out of 601,027 estimated deaths from violent causes, nearly 80,000 Iraqis had been killed by US bombs as of June, 2006.12  Yet military analysts seem satisfied with the performance of high-tech bombs and missiles, despite their evident failure to reduce civilian casualties.  This is because the purpose of precision-guided munitions is not to avoid “collateral damage,” despite contrary claims by US propagandists.  The real importance of the weapons is that they protect planes and pilots from anti-aircraft fire; long-distance precision airstrikes mean fewer sorties and less exposure to enemy guns.13  Measured strictly in terms of lost aircraft per sortie, performance appears to have been superb.14  Thus the fact that precision munitions have, if anything, increased civilian casualties is not of great concern to military planners, except insofar as the US is occasionally embarrassed by newspaper accounts of “unnecessary” killings.

Of far greater concern to imperialist countries is the demonstrated impotence of precision weapons in the face of determined guerilla resistance.  During the invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah fighters were able to counter Israel’s US-supplied smart bombs using classic guerilla tactics, digging in (a network of reinforced underground bunkers consistently thwarted precision weapons) or blending into the population as circumstances required.  Nor were Israel’s high-tech targeting systems effective in locating small, easily portable weapons like Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets.15  Despite its overwhelming success in applying pre-emptive firepower in the context of full-scale invasions, the US and its allies have discovered the futility of “firing precision munitions from attack aircraft against . . . ‘phantoms’ or ‘ghosts’ — shadowy groups blended into existing society without respect to international borders.”16

As a result, the air war in Iraq has undergone a distinct shift over time from precision tactical bombing to strategic bombing intended to punish the people for their support of the resistance.17  A similar trajectory was followed, much more rapidly, in Lebanon, where the Israeli Air Force responded to the failure of its initial precision strikes against Hezbollah by widening the air war to civilian targets, including apartment buildings, airports, bridges, highways, and human beings.18  In both cases the aggressors disastrously underestimated the courage of the people, whose support for the resistance and willingness to sacrifice grew stronger than before.  As a Beirut mother told an American reporter in July 2006:

If Israel and America want to do this to us, all we can do is to bear the situation, so if we have to stay underground we will.  We don’t mind staying here as long as the boys are O.K. [a reference to Hezbollah’s fighters] and as long as Sheikh Nasrallah is fine.  We can bear anything.19

The strength and breadth of popular support for Hezbollah remains an embarrassment to US and Israeli propagandists, who have sought to portray the party and its militia as mere cat’s-paws for Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.  Polls taken in the aftermath of Israel’s invasion, showing that 87% of Lebanese supported the resistance,20 were dismissed or ignored by Western media, but Hezbollah’s surprise victory is in itself sufficient proof of popular support.  The tactics that defeated Israel’s high-tech munitions — construction of elaborate underground command centers and hardened missile sites throughout the country, lightning transfers of armaments and fighters in the face of Israeli bombardment, even the fighters’ ability to melt at will into the civilian population — required the sympathy and coordinated assistance of the people, often over years of painstaking preparation.

Bunker Busters

Official sources have been putting out mixed messages about the bunker buster, a bomb designed to penetrate and destroy hardened underground command centers.  Although military spokesmen have uniformly praised the performance of bunker busters in the current wars, the Defense Department has never ceased to demand bigger and more potent versions of the weapon, from which it might be surmised that existing models are not as effective as claimed.

The latest generation of conventional bunker busters, thermobaric weapons purportedly able to penetrate reinforced concrete to a depth of 3.4 meters, were extensively used in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  (Thermobaric bombs, also known as fuel-air explosives, use atmospheric oxygen to ignite a metallic fuel such as aluminum, creating a more powerful and sustained shock.21)  It is not yet clear how effective these weapons were, since hard data remains classified.  However, in 2005 a controversy over US plans to fast-track development of a “Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator” required officials to admit that “[p]otential adversaries increasingly are building hardened retreats deep beneath the earth, immune to conventional weapons.”22  More recently, a rough evaluation of the bunker buster’s performance could be derived from the IDF’s 2006 attack on Lebanon.  In July, the US rushed 100 bunker busters to Israel as part of an effort to kill Hassan Nasrallah and the rest of Hezbollah’s leadership.  The assassination targets, concealed to a depth of 40 meters in a network of hardened bunkers, emerged unscathed.23

Intelligence and Reconnaissance

The US military’s dominance of the traditional battlefield owes much to its sophisticated systems for electronic warfare, especially its capacity for virtually instantaneous collection and coordination of electronic intelligence.  In theory, US C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence) is fully integrated from top to bottom — i.e., the US is already engaged in “network-centric” warfare.24  In space, GPS satellites determine the location, speed, and direction of targets and relay the information to cruise missiles and other precision munitions.  High in the sky, the converted Boeing 707 known as JSTARS collects and combines radar, infrared, and video information to create real-time electronic maps for the use of battlefield commanders.  Closer to the ground, a dozen varieties of reconnaissance drones, ranging from the airliner-sized Global Hawk to the tiny, hand-launched Raven, use electronic imaging to identify and track targets.  Electronic information is instantaneously distributed to command posts, laptops, and Strykers (high-speed armored ground vehicles equipped with 50-cal. heavy machine guns and the latest in battlefield technology) — and may soon be made available to individual soldiers through the “Land Warrior” concept discussed below.

In practice, network-centric warfare is far from seamless.  During the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, electronic surveillance succeeded in locating objects of potential military interest, but could not generally distinguish among enemies, friendlies, and civilians.25  The result was considerable “collateral damage” and several well-publicized friendly-fire incidents, including the death of American football star Pat Tillman.26  High-tech equipment was unevenly distributed on the battlefield, prone to breakage due to its delicacy, and highly dependent on the logistical supply line.27  Field commanders were often overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available, while generals discovered that vast knowledge of enemy dispositions does not guarantee correct strategic and tactical decisions.28  Still, despite its flaws, high-tech C4I has worked well enough in support of the motorized maneuvers, massive airstrikes, and setpiece battles in which the US military continues to excel.

In the context of guerilla warfare, however, the latest surveillance gadgets have little availed US forces.  Iraq’s resistance fighters have learned to maneuver in small, lightly equipped groups that are virtually undetectable by US drones, or at worst indistinguishable from civilian traffic.  Small-scale, highly efficient “hit and run” attacks (e.g., IEDs and sniper fire) are calculated to thwart US drones; cellular organization and face-to-face communications are relied upon to outflank signals intelligence.29  Indeed, because the high-tech, high-flying apparatus of US electronic signals intelligence is oriented toward monitoring and destroying the highest levels of a unitary command structure (hence the Defense Department’s public obsession with “decapitation strikes”), it is also especially inadequate for the penetration of small, disciplined guerilla cells.30  As a result the US has yet to achieve a useful intelligence picture of the Iraqi resistance and appears to be doing little better in Afghanistan.31

Thus military analyst Anthony Cordesman, in a bleak and exhaustive assessment of US counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, finds that network-centric warfare has been trumped by what he calls “human-centric warfare”:

[S]ensors, UAVs, and IS&R [information seeking and retrieval] can have great value in Iraq, just as they did in Vietnam and South Lebanon, but they are anything but “magic bullets.”  The unattended ground sensor program in Vietnam was once touted as such a magic bullet but took less than a year to defeat.32

Even more disturbing to US theoreticians, Hezbollah’s successful defense of southern Lebanon in 2006 provided evidence that a well-organized guerilla force can beat the high-tech West at its own game.  Hezbollah flummoxed Israel’s satellite and overflight intelligence with decoys, developed counter-signals technology that cracked encrypted radio communications, and intercepted key battlefield information simply by listening in on IDF soldiers’ cell phone calls to their families.33  Jamming technology, possibly supplied by Iran, blocked anti-missile missiles aboard Israeli vessels, allowing Hezbollah to disable at least one Israeli warship.34  Although Israeli electronic intelligence is “close to, or superior to, that available to US forces,” Cordesman finds that “modern technology does not provide the kind of sensors, protection, and weapons that can prevent a skilled urban force from forcing Israel or the US to fight it largely on its own terms.”35

Infantry Equipment

The theoretical “Land Warrior” — an infantryman equipped with 17 lbs. of high-tech gear including mini-computer, GPS receiver, battlefield wi-fi, and heads-up visual display — has yet to appear in combat, though some elements of this wearable ensemble were finally appearing on a limited basis in Iraq as of May 2006.36  Apart from this untested system, technology has made surprisingly little difference to the US front-line soldier.  Thirty years after Vietnam, US infantrymen continue to rely on the M-16 automatic rifle, which they still regard as inferior to the AK-47 generally used by guerilla fighters.  (Soldiers in Iraq report that the M-16’s notorious jamming problems are exacerbated by sand.37)  GIs are much fonder of the M240 medium-weight machine gun, a versatile and highly mobile weapon which has largely replaced the Vietnam-era M60, and the reliable M2 .50-cal. heavy machine gun, dating from WWII and described by one Marine as “the ultimate fight stopper” and “the most coveted weapon in-theater.”38  Shoulder-mounted rocket launchers like the SMAW (Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon) employ technology that is decades old and no better than that used by resistance fighters.39

The most important innovations in infantry kit are not weapons as such.  Recent advances in night vision and infrared sensing now give US troops a distinct advantage after dark; in particular, standard-issue night goggles now employ futuristic image-enhancing technology that boosts very small quantities of light into the visible range.  In the same Marine’s words: “Our guys see in the dark and own the night.  Very little enemy action after evening prayers.  More and more enemy being whacked [i.e., killed] at night during movement by hunter-killer teams.”40  At present, resistance fighters have no way to counter night vision apart from courage and prudence; presumably US superiority will erode over time as advanced night-vision technology enters the arms black market.

Also highly rated by US troops is state-of-the-art “Interceptor” body armor.  Relatively light (though “hotter than hell”) at six lbs., the ceramic-plated equipment has lived up to manufacturers’ claims, consistently stopping AK-47 rounds and light shrapnel.41  Together with improved battlefield medicine, the new body armor has undoubtedly saved many American lives and thereby enhanced morale.  However, since the armor protects only the torso, it cannot greatly reduce the number of disabling injuries due to attacks from snipers and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).42  Therefore it presents no insurmountable obstacle to traditional hit-and-run guerilla tactics.


After five years of war in the Middle East, the most fantastic new devices purportedly in the US arsenal, reminiscent of Hollywood science fiction, have yet to appear on the battlefield.  Some of these weapons may still be in development; some exist but have not been used for political or tactical reasons; some may never have existed except as journalistic fancies or black propaganda.  A quick review of these mostly chimerical weapons is instructive.

Despite prewar fears, the US is unable to “see through walls,” except in a very limited sense. The military’s inability to identify hidden human targets was made plain during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah, where the US eschewed house-to-house fighting; instead, Marines called in air strikes or fired shoulder-mounted rockets to flatten every building that could conceivably be used to shelter resistance fighters.  Reportedly, a handheld radar system intended for use in house searches is only now ready for deployment in Iraq.  It will allow GIs to detect the presence of human beings through a concrete wall, but its range is limited to 50 feet.  Moreover, the device must be held — by hand — adjacent to the wall that is to be seen through, suggesting that its use against well-defended guerilla positions would be suicidal.43

The E-bomb, an explosive weapon designed to overwhelm electrical circuitry by generating an intense electromagnetic field, is undoubtedly real.44  However, there is as yet no evidence that the US has used E-bombs in combat.  (Not E-bombs but precision munitions were used to disrupt and destroy Iraqi communications during the 2003 air assault.)  Because the weapon’s effective range cannot be reliably controlled, the E-bomb is essentially useless in low-intensity guerilla wars except as a “strategic weapon” to be used against the people in general.45  In the context of “asymmetrical warfare” — a think-tank catchphrase for struggles between Western superpowers and Third World nations or irregulars — the E-bomb is discussed primarily as a threat to the West.  The technology required to build a simple E-bomb is apparently so straightforward that US counter-terrorism experts are alarmed: “Knock out electric power, computers and telecommunication and you’ve destroyed the foundation of modern society.  In the age of Third World-sponsored terrorism, the E-bomb is the great equalizer.”46  Meanwhile, guerilla forces can defend against E-bombs with relative ease: potential targets can be “hardened” by means of low-tech metal enclosures known as Faraday cages.47  The E-bomb, then, is one high-tech weapon that is potentially more advantageous to the weak than the strong.

By contrast, only wealthy nations can afford to invest in laser weapons.48  The US is actively researching a variety of space-based high-energy laser systems, mostly in the context of missile defense, but true space-to-ground laser cannons are said to be decades away.49  Battlefield laser guns, designed to blind enemy soldiers, have been developed by several countries including the US, but no country has yet dared to use them, presumably because they are explicitly banned under international law.50  However, a new class of “directed energy” beam weapons may soon be deployed in Iraq.  This purportedly humane weapon fires a beam of electromagnetic energy that “flash-heats human targets from a distance [and creates] an unbearably painful burning sensation by instantaneously heating moisture under the skin.”51  The beam may also cause blindness and birth defects.52  Designed to be mounted on military trucks, directed energy weapons are intended, not for combat as such, but for crowd control — specifically the “Black Hawk Down scenario” in which GIs do battle against angry civilians.  One such weapon, Raytheon’s Active Denial System, is reportedly ready for use in Iraq, but Defense Department officials have expressed concern over “public perception” (read: news footage of children and pregnant women shrieking in agony) and “legal issues” (read: illegality).53

Rumors that the US used horrific “secret weapons” to inflict atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq still surface from time to time.  In the aftermath of Fallujah, for example, numerous witnesses reported that the US had used a mysterious anti-personnel weapon that “melted” the flesh of its victims while leaving their bones, and sometimes clothing, intact.  The reports were accurate, but the weapon was neither new nor secret.  As an Italian television documentary later revealed and State Department officials eventually admitted, the US had deliberately used white phosphorus — a spontaneously flammable chemical intended for battlefield illumination — to burn fighters and trapped civilians alive.54  Overall, no convincing evidence has emerged of high-tech “secret weapons”; rather, the record suggests that the US remains quite capable of inflicting atrocities with its vast, well-publicized store of traditional weaponry.


The current US dilemma is in the Middle East is encapsulated in its struggle to cope with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), homemade bombs typically concealed under roads used by US supply convoys.  In Iraq, IED attacks began in July 2003 and have increased steadily thereafter in both numbers and proficiency.  The US logged 10,953 separate IED attacks in 2005, accounting for 674 deaths (or 61.6% of all combat deaths) and 4,256 wounded (or 71.6% of all combat wounds).55  The IEDs effectiveness as a guerrilla weapon cannot be measured in casualties alone; these cheap, easily constructed booby traps56 also disrupt logistical support, tie down manpower, and undermine troop morale.  Recognizing the grave threat posed by IEDs, the US launched a series of high-tech counter-measures, each of which was inventively nullified by a continuously evolving resistance:

The first IEDs were triggered by wires and batteries; insurgents waited on the roadside and detonated the primitive devices when Americans drove past.  After a while, U.S. troops got good at spotting and killing the triggermen when bombs went off.  That led the insurgents to replace their wires with radio signals.  The Pentagon, at frantic speed and high cost, equipped its forces with jammers to block those signals, accomplishing the task [in Spring 2005].  The insurgents adapted swiftly by sending a continuous radio signal to the IED; when the signal stops or is jammed, the bomb explodes.  The solution?  Track the signal and make sure it continues.  Problem: the signal is encrypted.  Now the Americans are grappling with the task of cracking the encryption on the fly and mimicking it — so far, without success.57

The story is a vivid illustration of the swiftness and flexibility with which resistance forces have adapted to high-tech warfare.  Applying human intellect to cheap, widely available technology, resistance fighters have found ways of defeating some of the most sophisticated devices in the American arsenal.  Meanwhile US analysts, traditionally prone to underestimating Third World adversaries, have been forced to acknowledge the guerrilla’s superior ability to learn, communicate, and adapt; the Army’s new counter-insurgency manual teaches that “[a] skillful counter-insurgent must be able to adapt at least as fast as the opponent.”58

What the high-tech military cannot hope to emulate, however, is the guerrilla’s most powerful resource: the assistance and protection of the people. The tactical initiatives that have stymied the world’s most powerful military machine are in every case underpinned by popular support and cooperation.  Even in the absence of a coherent political program, the people of the Middle East have never doubted the need to resist foreign occupation, and have remained steadfast despite the immense human sacrifices exacted by the American style of warfare.  Above all, they have refused to be intimidated either by high-tech paraphernalia or by the staggering lethality of US munitions.  Their courage and persistence have entirely affirmed a military truth well enunciated by retired Major-Gen. Robert Scales Jr.: “If the enemy can see you, and range you with his weapons, he doesn’t need a UAV to locate you or a precision weapon to kill you.  All he needs is a 13-cent bullet.”59



1  E. Cohen, Lt. Col. C. Crane, Lt. Col. J. Horvath & Lt. Col. J. Nagl, “Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency,” Military Review (March-April 2006), p. 53.

2  “Hi-Tech War,” Innovation, PBS, aired 2 March 2004, transcript at www.pbs.org/wnet/innovation/episode4_essay1.html.  For an enthusiastic overview of RMA, see Steven Metz, Armed Conflict in the 21st Century: The Information Revolution and Post-Modern Warfare (Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, March 2000).

3  In the wake of the US debacle in Iraq, fashionable military thinking now emphasizes political operations, human intelligence, propaganda, and joint action with indigenous forces — essentially a retread of the counterinsurgency doctrine of the 1960s.  See Eliot Cohen et al., “Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency,” Military Review, March-April 2006; Michael R. Gordon, “Military Hones a New Strategy on Counterinsurgency,” New York Times 5 October 2006.  Ironically, Mao’s On Guerilla Warfare has become required reading for US military analysts.  See, e.g., Ralph Masi, “Mao as Guide to Fight in Iraq,” RAND Corp., 4 January 2004; Thomas X. Hammes, “Countering Evolved Insurgent Networks,” Military Review, July-Aug. 2006.

4  Eric Schmitt and James Dao, “Use of Pinpoint Air Power Comes of Age in New War,” New York Times 24 December 2001.

5  Peter Grier, “The JDAM Revolution,” Air Force Magazine, September 2006.

6  “Afghanistan: First Lessons,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 19 December 2001.  The US measures the accuracy of its bombs by means of a misleading formula known as “circular error probable” or CEP.  The CEP is simply the radius of a circle in which 50% of fired weapons can be expected to strike.  Therefore, JDAM’s widely-reported CEP of 13 meters means that only one-half of JDAMs fall within 13 meters of the target.  “Planned JDAM Upgrade Boosts Accuracy to 10 Feet,” National Defense, December 2001.  This is one reason large numbers of civilians are routinely killed by “precision” airstrikes.

7  See “BGM-109 Tomahawk,” Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network.  www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm  The Navy insisted on using all of its Tomahawks during the 2003 air assault on Iraq and had difficulty persuading Congress to order more.  Cpt. Steve Morrow, “What Comes after Tomahawk,” Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, July 2003.

8  Project on Governmental Oversight, “Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle,” 25 March 2000.

9  Jeffrey St. Clair, “Flying Blind,” CounterPunch, 30 October 2001.  The CIA uses the Predator as an assassination weapon, in which role it has performed erratically and sometimes disastrously.  It is responsible for many of the most highly-publicized killings of civilians in the current wars, including the CIA massacre of at least 80 schoolboys in an October 2006 attack on a madrassa in Pakistan.  This was supposedly an unsuccessful attempt on the life of al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.  “Questions Surround Pakistan Strike,” Council on Foreign Relations Daily Analysis, 1 November 2006.

10  Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Drones Crowd Iraq’s Skies to Fight Insurgents,” New York Times, 5 April 2005.

11  James Dunnigan, “The Continuing Air War in Iraq,” Strategy Page, 15 February 2005.   The 90% figure, presumably inflated for propaganda purposes, designates the percentage of bombs that hit their targets, and does not reflect bombs wrongly targeted due to bad intelligence.

12  G. Burnham, R. Lafta, S. Doocy, & L. Roberts, “Mortality after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: A Cross-sectional Cluster Sample Survey,” The Lancet, 11 October 2006.  The high number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan is due in part to US willingness to bomb heavily populated areas (even a high-tech weapon precisely targeted at, say, an urban anti-aircraft emplacement will still kill everyone within the weapon’s considerable lethal range).  Additionally, faulty intelligence continues to cause numerous civilian deaths, as in the air strike that wiped out an Afghan wedding party in July 2002.  See Marc Herold, “A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting” (2002).

13  See Carlo Kopp, “JDAM Matures,” Australian Aviation, December 2002.

14  E.g., the US Air Force did not lose a single aircraft during the 2001-02 invasion of Afghanistan.  Daniel Haulman, “USAF Manned Aircraft Combat Losses 1990-2002,” Air Force Historical Research Agency, 9 December 2002, abstracted at www.stormingmedia.us/48/4804/A480434.html.

15  Pepe Escobar, “The Spirit of Resistance,” Asia Times Online, 26 July 2006; Lin Xu, “A Repeat of the Iraq War? Hezbollah Wins ‘the Assymetric Warfare’,” Washington Observer, 2 August 2006.

16  G.Wilson, J. Sullivan & H. Kempfer, “Fourth Generation Warfare: How Tactics of the Weak Confound the Strong,” Defense and the National Interest, 24 December 2005.

17  Seymour Hersh, “Up in the Air,” New Yorker, 28 November 2005.

18  Philip H. Gordon, “Air Power Won’t Do It,” Washington Post, 25 July 2006; Human Rights Watch, “Fatal Strikes: Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon,” August 2006.

19  Jon Lee Anderson, “Letter from Beirut: The Battle for Lebanon,” New Yorker, 7 August 2006,

20  “As Fighting Continues, Lebanese Author Says New Poll Shows Overwhelming Support For Hezbollah,” Democracy Now! 27 July 2006, transcript at www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/07/27/1423248.

21  These weapons, which typically result in massive civilian casualties, have been used for decades by the US and the former Soviet Union.  During the first Gulf War, the US used thermobaric bombs primarily as anti-personnel weapons.  “Behind the Invasion of Iraq,” Aspects of India’s Economy 33 & 34, December 2002.  Counter-terrorism analysts fear they will eventually be employed against the US by resistance fighters and/or terrorists.  “Thermobaric Terrorists?” Defense Tech, 28 January 2004.

22  Associated Press, “Bush Admin. Drops ‘Bunker-buster’ Plan,” USA Today, 26 October 2005.  www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-10-26-bunker-buster_x.htm Officially, the US no longer intends to build a nuclear bunker buster, but investigative journalist Seymour Hersh believes the weapon already exists and may be used against Iran. Hersh, “The Iran Plans,” New Yorker, 17 April 2006.

23  “U.S. Sends Israel Bunker Buster Bombs to Kill Nasrallah,” Al Jazeera, 25 July 2006;  Alastair Crooke & Mark L. Perry, “How Hezbollah Defeated Israel Part One: Winning the Intelligence War,” Asia Times, 12 October 2006.  (Italy’s RAI News has reported that Israel used a radioactive bunker buster against the Lebanese village of Khiam.  This was apparently not a fission weapon, but it may have employed enriched uranium to increase penetration, much like the notorious US anti-tank ammunition tipped with depleted uranium.  Flaviano Masella, Angelo Saso, Maurizio Torrealta, “Khiam Southern Lebanon: A Bomb’s Anatomy,” RAI News, 11 November 2006.)

24  Network-centric Warfare, or NCW, has been defined as a “concept of operations . . . that translates information superiority into combat power by effectively linking knowledgeable entities in the battlespace.”  D. Cammons, J. Tisserand III, D. Williams, A. Seise & D. Lindsay, Network Centric Warfare Case Study Volume I, US War College Center for Strategic Leadership, June 2006, p. 13.  Like much recent military theory, NCW is modeled on innovations in the corporate sector, which has successfully used networking techniques in the workplace to extract greater surplus value from a smaller labor force.  For an overview, see Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski, U.S. Navy, and John J. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare: Its Origin and Future,” Proceedings of the US Naval Institute, January 1998.

25  John Luddy, “The Challenge and Promise of Network-Centric Warfare,” February 2005 (Lexington Institute white paper).

26  The platoon that killed Tillman was directed from a remote high-tech Forward Operating Base using real-time satellite data.  Scott Lindlaw and Martha Mendoza, “Startling Findings from Pat Tillman Investigations,” Associated Press, 10 November 2006.

27  A Marine lieutenant vividly captured the limitations of technology on the battlefield: “If you put a hole in a paper map, you have a map with a hole in it.  You put a bullet through a computer screen, what do you have?  A piece of junk.”  “Point, Click . . . Fire,” Business Week, 7 April 2003.

28  John Luddy, op. cit.

29  US intelligence can easily intercept radio transmissions, e-mails and, in occupied or cooperative countries, landline telephone calls.  Its ability to monitor cell-phone conversations remotely is well-known; less known is the fact that the US can often pinpoint the location of a given mobile phone, and hence track its user — even when the phone is apparently powered off.  Colombian drug smuggler Pablo Escobar and alleged Al Qaeda kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were both assassinated in this fashion.  Mark Bowden, Killing Pablo (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001); “Cell Phone Tracking Helped Find al-Zarqawi,” CNN News, 10 June 2006.  By contrast, US “HUMINT” (human intelligence) is notoriously inadequate in the Middle East.  Nearly four years into the Iraq War, the US still cannot recruit the required numbers of Arabic speakers, let alone reliable informants, and is bedeviled by double agents.   See Scott Johnson and Melinda Liu,  “The Enemy Spies,” Newsweek, 27 June 2005.

30  US Congresswoman Jane Harman put her finger on the problem in a March 2004 panel hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations: “My bottom line is, we have to penetrate these cells.  The only ways we will know the plans and intentions of these people is to have somebody in the room, or as close to the room as we can get it.  Signals intelligence — what we can hear flying around with very impressive air and satellite power . . . — is not enough.”  “After Iraq: New Direction for U.S. Intelligence and Foreign Policy,” Federal News Service, 8 March 2004.

31  See John Prados, “Blind in Baghdad,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February 2005, p. 18.   US inability to gather useful intelligence on Iraq’s cellular resistance groups has been cited as a major reason for its resort to mass detention and torture.  Seymour Hersh, “The Gray Zone: How a Secret Pentagon Program Came to Abu Ghraib,” New Yorker, 24 May 2004.  Cellular organization, however, is designed to resist torture.  As an Iraqi resistance officer advised an American reporter: “I think my organization has about 2,500 men. . . .  But I only know the names of my men and two men: the one above me and [another cell commander based nearby].  If they torture me, I can only tell them two names of commanders.  Each of those commanders only knows a few names and none of my men or the other men in the cells.”  P. Mitchell Prothero, “Leader of Terror Cell Reveals Data on Command Structure,” Washington Times, 8 December 2003.  washingtontimes.com/world/20031208-111942-6488r.htm

32  Anthony H. Cordesman, “Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, draft revised 22 June 2006, p. xviii.

33  Alastair Crooke and Mark L. Perry, op. cit.

34  Iason Athanasiadis, “How Hi-tech Hezbollah Called the Shots,” Asia Times, 9 September 2006.

35  Cordesman, “Preliminary Lessons of the Israeli-Hezbollah War,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, draft revised 17 August 2006, p. 12.

36  “Science Fiction Gets Left Behind,” Strategy Page, 19 May 2006.

37  “A Marine Reports from Iraq,” Washington Times 22 November 2005.

38  Ibid.; “M240G Medium Machine Gun,” Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network.

39  Although it is not yet widely available in the field, a shoulder-mounted thermobaric assault weapon, the SMAW-NE, was reportedly used to destroy entire buildings during the 2004 siege of Fallujah, crushing any fighters or civilians inside.  However, “[d]ue to the lack of penetrating power of the NE round, we found that our assaultmen had to first fire a dual-purpose rocket in order to create a hole in the wall or building.”  “Marines Quiet About Brutal New Weapon,” DefenseTech.org, 14 November 2005.

40  “A Marine Reports from Iraq.”

41  Ibid.; 2005 US Army Weapons Systems Handbook, pp. 138-39, available at the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists Military Analysis Network, www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/wsh/138.pdf.

42  Among US forces in Iraq, the ratio of wounded to killed among US forces in Iraq is about 8 to 1; in Vietnam it was 3 to 1.  Nearly 3000 US troops have been killed in Iraq, but more than 20,000 have been wounded; of these, only half have returned to duty.  Military analysts concede that “wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of operations than killed.”  “U.S. Casualties in Iraq Rise Sharply,” Washington Post, 8 October 2006.  While there may be less impact on homefront morale when soldiers are wounded and not killed, from a purely military point of view there is little difference.  To the resistance fighter, the US preoccupation with wartime death tolls reflects a weakness: while demoralized Western armies must go to extraordinary lengths to hold down casualties, the guerilla’s greater willingness to sacrifice for his cause means that losses are more easily sustainable without damage to morale.

43  Donna Miles, “New Device Will Sense Through Concrete Walls,” American Forces Information Services, 3 January 2006.

44  Nuclear bombs are known to generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that can destroy electrical and electronic equipment, particularly computers and radios, over a large radius.  Although the US has not yet dared to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East, it is widely believed to have developed conventional E-bombs that use high-powered microwaves to generate EMPs.  See Carlo Kopp, “The Electromagnetic Bomb — A Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction,” Air & Space Power Journal, U.S. Air Force, 1996.

45  By now, of course, the value of strategic E-bombing in Iraq or Afghanistan would be nil, since neither country has much in the way of electronic infrastructure left to destroy.

46  “E-Bombs And Terrorists,” Popular Mechanics, September 2001.  India is among the nations believed to have tested E-bombs.  Ibid.

47  “The Electromagnetic Bomb — a Weapon of Electrical Mass Destruction.”

48  Not to be confused with laser-guided bombs.  The total cost of the laser-based component of the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as “Star Wars,” has been estimated at $194 billion through 2015.  Economists Allied for Arms Reduction, “The Full Costs of Ballistic Missile Defense,” January 2003, p. 60.

49  Defense Science Board Task Force, “High Energy Laser Weapons Systems Applications,” June 2001.

50  “Blinding Laser Weapons,” BMJ 315:1392 (29 November 1997).

51  Jacob Levich, “John Kerry’s World of Hurt,” CounterPunch, 10 June 2004.

52  Stew Magnuson, “Directed Energy Weapons Face Hurdles,” National Defense, March 2006.

53  Ibid.

54  “US Used White Phosphorus in Iraq,” BBC News, 16 November 2005.  The use of chemical weapons against human beings is, of course, a war crime.

55  Cordesman, “Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War,” p. vi.

56  It has been estimated that the total cost of every IED used in Iraq through 2005 is lower than the replacement cost of a single downed Cobra attack helicopter.  Cordesman, “Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency and the Risk of Civil War,” p. xxv.

57 “The Enemy Spies,” Newsweek, 27 June 2005.

58 E. Cohen, Lt. Col. C. Crane, Lt. Col. J. Horvath & Lt. Col. J. Nagl, p. 51.

59 “Battle Plan Under Fire,” Nova, PBS, aired May 4, 2004, transcript at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3110_wartech.html.


Jacob Levich may be contacted at jlevich@earthlink.net.  This article was published in Aspects of India’s Economy (No. 42, December 2006), and it is republished here with the permission of the publisher and the author.

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