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Hezbollah on Steroids

Everybody from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Army Chief Gen. George Casey has said “hybrid warfare” is the strategic challenge planners have focused on to guide future war plans and force construction. The Hezbollah fighting force that roughly handled the Israeli military in the 2006 Lebanon war has become the hybrid enemy archetype: an enemy equipped with high-end, precision guided weapons, that fights guerrilla fashion in distributed networks of small units and cells.

But the Hezbollah of today is not the Hezbollah of 2006. Just as the U.S. and Israel, studied and, in the case of the Israel Defense Forces, adapted to lessons learned on the 2006 southern Lebanon battlefield, Hezbollah has gone to school as well, learning, adapting, rearming and adjusting its war plans to better prepare for the next go round, said Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s Dakota Wood. Hezbollah has tripled its inventory of rockets and missiles, now possessing upwards of 30,000 guided and unguided weapons. They’ve also been teaching the Syrians and Iranians lessons from battling the Israelis.

War is a constantly evolving competition, as the U.S. military learned battling a very adaptive insurgency in Iraq. The “adaptation rate” of current and potential enemies has greatly accelerated in recent years, facilitated by the web, where digitally captured lessons have essentially limitless distribution. During the height of the IED war in Iraq, U.S. commanders said insurgents were at most three to four weeks behind U.S. tactical and technological adjustments. Hezbollah demonstrated, strategist Frank Hoffman said, “the ability of non-state actors to study and deconstruct the vulnerabilities of Western-style militaries and devise appropriate countermeasures.”

One of the countermeasures hybrid enemies have fixed on is the force multiplying effect of precision weaponry. Armed with the traditional guerrilla weapons, the AK and RPG, Hezbollah units would not have posed too much of a challenge to the heavily armed, armored and technologically advanced IDF. But Hezbollah hunter-killer teams carried loads of advanced, precision anti-tank guided munitions that greatly increased their lethality; a battalion’s worth of Israeli armor was shot to pieces in a matter of days.

Smart weapons, once the near monopoly of the U.S. military, are now proliferating to non-state actors. That was the true shock of the Lebanon war. CSBA’s Wood said that “proliferation of precision” will greatly accelerate in coming years as munitions become more precise, with increased range, easier to use and more widely available to irregular warriors. CSBA ran a series of war games for DOD that took the 2006 Lebanon war as a starting point, and asked, given the continuing development and proliferation of precision weaponry, what would a similar hybrid war scenario look like ten years down the road? Call it: “Hezbollah on steroids.”

I spoke to Wood recently about the war games and the broader implications of precision and irregular war. He said CSBA is trying to get planners to think about how to fight this type of enemy and how to train, equip and organize forces to defeat it. The real game changer is guidance and precision, he said. CSBA calls it the “G-RAMM effect”: Guided Rocket, Artillery, Mortar and Missile. In modern warfare, the majority of casualties are caused by artillery and mortar blasts and fragments. Those munitions are now getting ever more precise. What makes the IED such an effective weapon is it allows insurgents to put artillery rounds precisely on target.

The implications of the proliferation of precision are huge. If an enemy lobs a few hundred rounds and only a few hit the intended target, its harassment fire. But if the enemy fires 100 rounds and they hit with precision, “ then the concern must turn to the enemy’s inventory levels,” Wood said, “and how it matches up to the limited set of equipment that I have.”

Insurgents can now go after “big effect” targets. The firing of the occasional 120mm rocket into the sprawling Camp Victory on the outskirts of Baghdad was a nuisance. What if insurgents, using a GPS guided rocket, could have precisely targeted the dining hall, and hit it during lunch hour? Or, the random rocket and mortars fired into the Green Zone no longer became so random as specific houses, checkpoints, fuel or ammunition depots could be hit. Suddenly the operational environment changes, the secure FOB with Burger King and coffee house becomes something more akin to Khe Sanh.

The point Wood makes is that there is a world of difference between indirect fire and precision indirect fire. I recently read Martin Windrow’s superb account of Dien Bien Phu, The Last Valley (I’d resisted reading Windrow’s book because I thought: How could anyone improve on Bernard Fall’s masterful treatment of the battle? Windrow does.) It wasn’t that Giap’s regulars buried the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu under a deluge of artillery fire. It’s that the Viet Minh blasted French positions with very precise artillery fire, in most cases firing over open sights.

Wood said irregular enemies in the future will have access to what they've lacked in the past: an effective battle network. The U.S. military has the most sophisticated battle network ever fielded, linking communications and sensing satellite constellations, sensing and targeting aircraft such as JSTARS, and an ever growing fleet of aerial drones, all to commanders and troops on the ground. Now, hybrid enemies have access to open source battle networks of their own, including targeting with Google Earth, command and control with cell phones and the internet (as seen in the Mumbai attacks last year), and immediate battle-damage assessment from media reports and internet posts.

Wood said that participants in the war game, "the Blue team," had a difficult time even conceptualizing the implications of greater precision and stuck to their familiar operational concepts. “That right there is an insight in and of itself,” he said. And that isn’t going to fly on future battlefields where enemies will be fighting on their home turf, they will know the terrain and they will have weapons that can strike with precision any spot they want.

Using Google Earth, ADC city maps, or a GPS locator, they can “pre-site” most any target, forcing changes in how U.S. troops are even moved to a war zone, Wood said, before they even enter the fight. Now, not only airfields can be hit, but the runways, parking aprons, refueling points and supply warehouses can be precisely targeted. Ships can pull up to only certain types of piers to offload. Now, irregular enemies will know where a ship is likely to pull up and they can precisely target and hit gantry cranes or fueling points with precision mortar rounds fired from 10-15 km away. In 2006, Hezbollah hit and severely damaged an Israeli corvette with a Silkworm anti-ship cruise missile. “Why would you flow your ships into the port like we’ve always done?” But that’s what the Blue team did, Wood said.

As guided weapons proliferate, their costs drop. That will allow potential enemies to pursue a “cost imposing strategy,” fielding guided missiles that cost tens of thousands able to defeat weapons systems that cost tens of millions of dollars. “We field million dollar MRAPS to counter $500 roadside bombs,” Wood said. “I’m only buying a fixed number of these platforms whether it be MRAPs, or tanks or MV-22s because they’re so expensive and so complicated, and yet the munitions are becoming ever more affordable and ever more capable, with guidance systems.” State actors can put those advanced guided weapons into the hands of a proxy force, with plausible deniability for the state, and inflict enormous casualties on U.S. forces.

A look at the G-RAMM components:

Rockets: During the 2006 war, the IDF was never able to stop Hezbollah firing thousands of rockets into civilian centers. These were mostly unguided, short-range Katyushas. The Guided MLRS rocket, uses a GPS guidance package, a maneuverable warhead and has a 70 km range. It has proven itself in Iraq and Afghanistan. As CSBA said, “the cat is now out of the bag”, and guided rockets can be expected to proliferate anytime after 2010, depending on foreign nation development timelines.

Artillery: The U.S. developed guided artillery rounds in the 1980s with the 155mm Copperhead, a laser guided round designed to kill tanks using top attack; no tank in the world can survive a direct hit from a heavy artillery round on its thinly armored roof. Although Copperhead suffered reliability problems, it was a technological breakthrough, requiring high G-force hardened electronics that could survive being fired out a cannon tube. The Russians quickly followed suit in the mid-1980s, developing the 152/155 mm Krasnopol laser-guided round and the Kitolov 122 mm round. Krasnopol was considered superior to Copperhead, with greater accuracy and range. The newest U.S. programs are primarily GPS-guided, such as Excalibur and LRAP. CSBA said these weapons have not yet been used by terrorists, but they are available now.

Mortars: Guided mortars are what CSBA calls the big, near-term, irregular warfare threat. They’re attractive to terrorists and irregular fighters because they’re cheap, easy to use, agile and very lethal. Laser guided mortar rounds have been around for some time. The more dangerous development is fire and forget rounds, such as infrared homing anti-armor rounds, anti-radiation and GPS. These rounds take the man out of the loop and require only the most basic training to achieve unheard of accuracy. For example: the Israeli built Fireball 120mm mortar round has a 1 meter CEP, compared to the 110 meter standard. The range of guided mortar rounds is increasing as well.

Missiles: A wide variety of guided missiles will flood future battlefields, CSBA said. Advanced man portable anti-aircraft missiles will be particularly prevalent, as will be heavy anti-tank-guided missiles used both against vehicles and as portable artillery for direct fire support. The 2006 Lebanon war was certainly not the first time Israeli armor faced large numbers of anti-tank missiles. There are stories of Israeli tanks on the Golan strung with guidance wires from so many Sagger missiles being fired at them during the 1973 war. The Sagger required the operator to guide the missile into its target using a small joystick controller. The missiles were slow and targeted tanks could often move fast enough to get out of the way or fire at the operator and cause him to miss. The newest anti-tank missiles are faster, have greater range, are “fire and forget” weapons, meaning the missiles lock onto their targets, and the warheads can defeat all known tanks.

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