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Targets! Give Me Targets!

[ 12 ] July 22, 2011 |

It’s important to read this:

NATO commanders requested the sophisticated surveillance aircraft after concluding that they were running out of military targets in Libya after four months of bombing and missile strikes against Kadafi’s military forces and command facilities, U.S. and NATO officials said.

….“It’s getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up,” said a senior NATO officer, noting that Kadafi’s forces are increasingly using civilian facilities to carry out military operations. “Predators really enable you study things and to develop a picture of what is going on.”

In context of this:

An air campaign starts with a target set, which might be informed by adequate intelligence and consists of targets, which are related to the casus belli and susceptible to accurate targeting. The promise of so-called surgical strikes against legitimate targets makes the use of force acceptable to policy-makers and opinion-formers on the left and the right of politics. However, as the air campaign progresses the intelligence becomes poorer and the targeting more challenging, even for precision weapons (which are only ‘precision’ in terms of means of delivery but are otherwise just as indiscriminate in such circumstances as any other munition). Therefore, inevitably there is ‘collateral’ damage. At the same time the intelligence becomes less reliable and the targets become more and more remote from the original set. Eventually the campaign ceases altogether to be intelligence-led and becomes capability-led: Rather than search out those targets which contribute to the campaign, the planners seek desperately for the targets which are susceptible to their available technology.

Comments (12)

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  1. actor212 says:

    “It’s getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up,”

    Didn’t Donald Rumsfeld say the exact same thing just before the Iraq insurgency?

  2. Ralph Hitchens says:

    So why is the intelligence getting poorer? No reason I can see why it should. I suspect the editorial you cite, from Warships, represents a bit of special pleading from one military community against everyone’s favorite strawman, airpower. I’m sure air planners on Peleliu and Okinawa back in the day realized at some point that they were out of big things to “blow up” and it was down to close air support. Kevin Drum’s short editorial in Mother Jones seemed to be pretty sensible. Why do you turn it into an attack on “airpower zealots?”

    • Robert Farley says:

      Intelligence becomes less reliable because it gets harder to collect in wartime environment; the enemy develops more effective methods of deception based on how the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of earlier strikes. Moreover, the enemy relocates surviving communications and leadership nodes as the conflict continues.

      And sorry, airpower isn’t a “strawman”; strong advocates of the effectiveness and decisiveness of airpower remain deeply influential.

      • Right. Even though this isn’t a situation in which air power was supposed to be decisive, these developments demonstrate the problems with viewing air power as decisive.

        It will always and everywhere be appropriate for a limited role or for supporting ground forces.

    • cpinva says:

      funny you should mention peleliu & okinawa. the air planners for those campaigns (and the canal) had few obvious surface targets (airfields, hangers, some buildings, etc), the real targets having been put underground by the japanese, prior to the invasions. for that matter, shelling by ships, prior to the landings did little effective damage to the defensive positions, and pretty much none on the command/control structure.

      ultimately, the pacific campaign required boots on the ground, slogging from one well-hidden tunnel/gun emplacement to another, which is why the allied casualties were so high, control of the air nothwithstanding.

  3. [...] am going to file this one under shock and awful. “It’s getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up,” [...]

  4. Mojo says:

    If “the enemy relocates surviving communications and leadership nodes”, that would imply that those targets still exist. Fielding more intelligence capabilities in order to find and assess those targets in order to strike them so as to eliminate the functions they’re performing would seem to be a logical move. And persistent surveillance, better able to distinguish a relocated command post from an apartment building, reduces the associated collateral damage.

    • cpinva says:

      true, except for the fact that they’ve been relocated to civilian areas, increasing exponentially the likelyhood of “collateral” damage. not good PR for us.

      is there a military dept. of double-speak? the terms used to describe, nicely, what are actually horrific events are nearly orwellian. collateral damage makes it sound like a church accidentally got a little damaged brick work, nothing that can’t be easily fixed. as opposed to the reality of the church, and all the congregants, got flattened into a bloody mess of severed body parts.

      • they’ve been relocated to civilian areas, increasing exponentially the likelyhood of “collateral” damage. not good PR for us.

        Or, what would be more in keeping with how this mission has played out, greatly increasing the likelihood that the they won’t be struck at all, and will remain up and running, because of NATO’s determination to avoid collateral damage. Did you ever read what the rebels where saying about NATO “abandoning” and “ignoring” Misurata before the Predators were sent? They let Khadaffy’s forces shell and rocket hospitals and residential neighborhoods for weeks, almost completely uninterrupted, because NATO didn’t want to mistake a target and kill civilians.

        Which was probably the right call, but I’m glad there was a technical fix. The day after the first Predator blew up the first multiple-rocket launcher that had been firing on the city, Khadaffy’s troops pulled back.

  5. NATO are victims of their own success. So much of Khadaffy’s military capability has been destroyed that there’s not a lot left to do.

    Not a bad problem to have.

  6. ajay says:

    If you read the article more carefully, you’ll see that they’re not saying “there is almost nothing left that needs blowing up”. What they’re saying is “it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the things that need blowing up”.

    Sorry to undermine the entire point of your post there.

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