Dr. Powers talks to Defence IQ on "the crazy thing about warfare"
Posted: 06/15/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT
Defence IQ recently spoke to Dr. Earl William Powers, a Research Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies’ Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities (CETO), about the role of irregular warfare on NATO forces today and how close air support is impacting operations.
What do you believe are some of the lessons we’ve learned from asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan and Libya?
I actually think most of the lessons we’ve learned have been re-learned. There are things we’ve known before but maybe forgotten because we have done this so much in the past until the war in Afghanistan. I think some of those important lessons are the detailed planning that’s required in order to be successful. Some of the challenges we have, especially when thinking about irregular warfare because it takes place among the population, so we’re talking about close air support (CAS) which is easy in conventional operations as you’re only worried about your own forces, but in irregular warfare you need to worry about the populous as well. You don’t want to hurt anyone if you can help it. So I guess they are couple of the things that are really important that we’ve re-learned as we go into irregular warfare in operations.
What are some of the challenges of operating in a counterinsurgency (COIN) environment – you’ve mentioned the impact of war in a civilian area – but how are these challenges overcome?
Probably the biggest challenge is that in conventional warfare you know where the lines are, you know where the forward lines of troops is so it’s fairly simple to keep track of who’s where; but in irregular warfare there are no lines. You don’t know who’s who, you don’t know where they are an especially for the kinds of operations that are going on in Afghanistan, which we called distributed operations. This is when we have small units that off by themselves, alone and many miles from their headquarters and many miles from theire support so you have to be very careful about where they’re located and how to get timely support to them. It’s very difficult to get those things properly coordinated unless you plan thoroughly ahead of time.
Would you say there’s still a lot of things we can learn in an irregular warfare environment?
That’s the crazy thing about warfare. No matter what kind it is, but especially in irregular warfare, there’s always something to learn. You’re going to learn something everyday. In fact you will adapt your tactics, needs and procedures pretty much on a daily basis based on what happened to you yesterday. So there are lots of things to learn, especially as we keep introducing new technologies and consider how we incorporate those into our TTPs and how we use them to do our job better. There’s a constant learning curve anytime that you do close air support, but especially in irregular warfare.
Is there a more pronounced emphasis on training in irregular warfare now after Afghanistan and Libya?
I’d say for the last ten years there’s been a great emphasis on training for irregular warfare but the problem is we don’t want to forget that there is a broad spectrum of warfare too. I think irregular warfare is the type we’ll see in the future for some period of time but we have to be prepared for other types as well. Irregular warfare is very difficult so you need to train for it thoroughly, especially with things like identifying friends from foes, but we also need to be trained and be prepared for other kinds of combat as well.
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