Thursday, August 8, 2013

Bloodless War: Myth or Reality?

There was a time when fighting was all about -- chivalry, bravery and gallantry. Soldiers rode to battle and engaged the enemy face to face; there was no hiding behind the bush. Today close quarter battles and shinning bayonets are a thing of the past. Infantry is getting obsolete. Modern battlefields are long distance wars. A soldier firing a missile does not even know who he going to kill 1000s of miles away. He does not hate the enemy he has never seen or might come face to face with…Even otherwise death at close quarters is an unpleasant sight… Even seasoned soldiers may wish that the enemy is killed in an artillery barrage or drone attack -- instead of their dagger. Wars will never stop but in all probability future wars will be bloodless. 

By Neeraj Mahajan

Gulf War, Rwanda,  Desert Fox, Kargil, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka–  250 wars have left 50 million dead and millions of others homeless, injured, or orphaned in the last 20 years. Even at this moment—some country, somewhere in the world-- is fighting a war. Wars are associated with bloodshed. Imagine the gory sight of flies hovering over human blood on the battlefield, badly bleeding, maimed soldiers with missing limbs or dismembered bodies and name tags being dumped in body bags. And the hopelessly unrecognizable ones being buried in faraway lands with a sign stating, “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today…”

The stereotype image of a war is that-- soldiers kill the enemy on being ordered by their superiors. Soldiers are trained to kill or get killed; the enemy is to be hated eternally. This is far from truth. Warfare is very traumatic, even for the battle toughened soldiers who are as reluctant to kill as being killed. “War is not for killing, which may be a part but not the aim or purpose of war. Even if there was such a war it can never be a success as you can only kill some people… not everyone,” says Maj Gen (Retd) Afsir Karim, former member of National Security Advisory Board.

There is an anecdote how former President George Bush, who served as a Navy pilot during World War II was moved to see a sailor being mangled by an aircraft propeller on board their ship and the chief petty officer on the deck, called for a broom to sweep his guts overboard in the South Pacific. To see death at close quarters is an unpleasant sight – even for seasoned soldiers. They may wish that the enemy is killed in an artillery barrage than from their dagger. In the midst of Iraq war Bush summoned his commanders to Camp David. He was concerned about casualties. Not just American but Iraqi casualties as well. He told the Commanders that he wanted minimum casualties on both sides and personally asked each one of them if they had understood his orders laud and clear.  

War is not about killing. Its aim is to capture territory, subdue and overpower the enemy. Victory in war comes when the enemy’s power disappears and he accepts your conditions. War is about imposition of will. Indian mythology mentions a dialogue between Emperor Alexander and King Porus after he was defeated. “How would you like to be treated,” Alexender asked. “Like a king should treat another,” Porus replied. Emperor Alexander did that and freed King Porus. The 1971 war is another such example in which the 90,000 Pakistan Army or paramilitary personnel – the largest number of prisoners-of-war since WWII who surrendered unconditionally were not subjected to brutality or humiliation
by the Indian Army. To treat the enemy with respect and win them over requires greater courage than to humiliate or torture them. “When we reached Dhaka Gen Niazi had 26,400 troops with him. He could have fought on for two more weeks’ atleast. The UN was in session. Had he fought on even for one more day, the UN would have ordered us to withdraw.” says Lt Gen (Retd) JFR Jacob one of the architects of the Indian victory in 1971 war.

Planning for war needs weapons and people who are prepared to use them in other words prepared to kill or get killed. This is what the arms industry wants. The forces get the arm their inventory; politicians get mileage while the shareholders of the company and its distributors make money and jobs are created. Everyone is happy. Likewise even to negotiation or maintenance of peace needs preparation, organizing, planning and calculation.

Brunt of modern wars is borne by civilians. Villagers in Punjab are the first to be affected by any tensions with Pakistan. Hostilities invariably lead to 'ethnic cleansing' and genocide—the biggest price for it, again is paid by women and children—the soft targets. Significantly about 10% non-combatants were killed in World War I, this number rose to 50% in World War II. More than 600,000 Iraqis were killed in Iraq. Today over 90 % people being killed in wars are civilians. “What’s wrong if in the bargain to kill Osama bin Laden, 25 other people get killed? This is the price that humans have to pay for war. Ideally the choice is not between war and no war, but when there is war you can never stop such things from happening.” says a retired defense officer who does not wish to be quoted.          
In all wars so far, infantry has been called upon to defend, hold ground or advance to capture enemy territory in an offensive role. While the elitist cavalry rode to battle in their majestic tanks, protected from enemy small arm fire, the artillery gun positions were atleast 20-30 km away. The infantry always does the dirty job and suffers the heaviest casualties. Almost 50% of the total casualties suffered by Indian Army in 1947-48, 1962, 1965, 1971, Sri Lanka, Kargil, Counter-Insurgency and UN peace are of young Infantry officers and men.  In Kargil too where over 90 % casualties on either side were Artillery inflicted the maximum number of deaths were of course of infantrymen. Long distance warfare – seems to have arrived. The Kargil war highlighted the difficulties in mountainous war where to evict 5 Battalions of Pakistan Army’s Northern Rifles the Indian Army had to fire over 2,00,000 rounds and eventually ran out of ammunition. “The days of hand to hand fighting are over… today you destroy the enemy positions using artillery, armor and airpower and walk over…hand to hand fighting has no meaning in this new kind of war…,” says Gen Karim.

There was a time when wars were fought on ground as well as the minds of the Generals. Bravery, valor, motivation, morale, dedication, devotion to duty and toughness of the soldiers determined the outcome of Battles which were mostly close encounters or hand-to-hand fight with the enemy. Terminology like aakhir goli aakiri dushman (last man, last round), lado ya maro (fight to finish) was specially coined to motivate them. The greatest honour for a soldier was to face the enemy bullet in his chest. The Battle of Saragarhi is a finest example of a fight to finish by 21 troops of 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment, surrounded by 10,000 Afghan tribesmen. Till date 12 September is celebrated as Saragarhi Day every year. Another legend about the defense of Rezang La symbolizes a last man last round fight and supreme sacrifice by 123 men of 13 Kumaon C Company led by Maj Shaitan Singh at Rezang La pass in Ladakh at 16,000 feet on 18 November 1962. Their orders were to protect Chushul town. The enemy kept arriving in waves. And while the Chinese were trained in mountain warfare and had machine guns, the improperly clad, yet motivated Kumaonis had pride and patriotism in his heart and an outdated .303 rifle on his shoulder.

Maj Shaitan Singh PVC
Each Indian soldier was the cause of atleast five Chinese deaths before breathing his last. The battle for Rezang La lasted for five hours. And when it came to an end there was hardly anyone alive. The Chinese suffered over 500 casualties. Major Shaitan Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra. This operation also saw eight Vir Chakra and four Sena Medals being awarded posthumously for gallantry. Major General Ian Cardozo (retd) in Param Vir Chakra: Our Heroes in Battle recounts: “When Rezang La was later revisited, dead jawans were found in the trenches, still holding on to their weapons… Every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullet or splinter wounds.  

It is not a pleasant sight to see dead bodies of our soldiers being brought back in coffins. This leads to a public backlash that makes the Politicians and Top Generals uncomfortable. Even when civilians are killed the human rights organizations and media play it up. This is something leaders all over the world like to avoid. This is the logic behind, a bloodless war. Wars are inevitable. No one can stop wars. But can there be ways of fighting without damage to the civilians and with lesser casualties of combatants? Kill if you must but at least do so from a distance that your own soldiers are not at a risk. This is the new doctrine of war. This was the mindset why Gen Sunderji reorganized many infantry battalions to form the Mechanized Infantry. The foot-slogging infantrymen were always doing a thankless job. If not the landmines or enemy bullets – the sores on their feet and body, disease or hunger killed them. Hence Mechanized Infantry was formed as the youngest regiment. It was part of the more lethal and swift strike formations of the Indian army. Unlike the past where infantrymen had to walk on foot, mechanized infantrymen rode to battle with pride in their BMPs –called Taxi to War. The BMPs were formidable mobile battle platform which could swim across water obstacles, climb mountains, cross the desert or marshy terrain. The BMPs had speed, mobility, firepower and better armor protection.  

Unlike in the past where you had eye-contact with the enemy a few yards away, now the enemy is miles away. Technology has now made it possible to engage people you have never met- never even will -- at the other end of the world. Introduction of automatic, remote-controlled drones with pilots sitting safe across the world -- has meant that  price of war both in terms of money and lives, may be significantly reduced. With proper training and practice a sniper – using long-distance weapons, ammunition, and improved ballistic aids can accurately kill anyone from a distance of over 1.25-kilometre – taking into account all factors that influence a bullet's trajectory and point of impact. Devices such as laser rangefinders, meteorological equipment, handheld computers, and ballistic-prediction software can contribute to increased accuracy.

In all probability the future wars, will be bloodless with just a few human soldiers, robots, computer guided weapons systems, remote controlled gizmos and communication equipment on the battlefield. Future battlefields may see the use of more and more non-lethal weapons, lasers and unmanned aerial vehicles UAVs or computer controlled pilotless drones. Of late, more and more UAVs (also known as RPV) are being used to avoid losing pilots in hostile territory. Non-lethal weapons disable or destroy an enemy’s capability without causing fatal injury. These include disabling, less lethal, non-injurious weapons that incapacitate personnel without causing fatal or permanent injuries. Almost like the rubber bullets and water cannons used by police forces around the world.  The Gulf war saw the use of special carbon-fiber filled warheads that were fired on electric power stations to blind the Iraqi air defenses. The strategy was used again in Bosnia to avoid civilian casualties.

From the military point of view it makes better sense to release a small virus that not only cripples a soldier's immune system and making him vulnerable to all kinds of diseases than to manufacture bombs, bullets and missiles with his name on them. Such an infected soldier– like a human bomb is capable of infecting hundreds of others in his barrack and battalion. Makes sense considering the fact the cost and the risk involved.

Employment of drones has transformed and shrunk the battlefield, with the battalion commander having real-time data about the landscape across miles in every direction. This is proving to be a force-multiplier—expanding the capabilities of small, isolated units. Drones-- from tiny spy planes, that can fly for about 10 minutes and fit into a backpack to larger one that cost Rs 650 million apiece or even larger ones almost equal in size of a 727-- have enhanced the attack as well as Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities of modern armies. Drones have the ability to fly undetected by the enemy radar, something not always possible for human pilots to replicate and can hit far away target. The biggest drone has a wingspan of more than 400 feet and can stay fly nonstop for five years. It can any day go on to replace surveillance satellites at a much lesser cost. Nanotechnology is making, sensor guided UAVs even smaller and more effective in dominating the ground, air and sea.

US Government had sanctioned over 300 drone missions in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Mali and Mexico. The drone strikes in five years of Obama’s rule far exceeds those sanctioned by George W. Bush’s during eight years in office. Bureau of Investigative Journalism, USA, estimates that above 399 to 500 strikes reportedly killed over 3000 people including innocent civilians between 2004-to-2013. This includes 891 civilians killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan alone since 2004. UAV’s infact may be the reason why Americans have suffered only 2000 causalities in last 5-7 years in Afghanistan. “Drones can’t replace human beings on the ground … you will always need actual people to capture and hold ground,” says Gen Jacob. 

There was a time when outcome of wars was decided by a combination of strength, stamina and will to fight and win. Future wars may see lesser need to send soldiers into the danger zone as let the robots fight the war. This will affect the nature, character and complexion of war. Recently an unmanned aircraft guided by an onboard computer was used for refueling another unmanned plane – in mid-air – completely on its own. Apart from this mini-helicopters are capable of delivering frontline supplies by remote control. Similarly throwbots or throwable robots fitted with miniature machine guns and grenade launchers can prove to be extremely useful to commanders in battlefield management as well at command and conrol..  “The attack on Osama bin Laden shows how effectively night vision and drones were used. But then drones can never replace complete human beings. It will have to be a combination of drones, people, air force, infantry, armor and artillery. Even if Kargil was to happen again… it will never be the same war,” says a former defense officer.    

Examples of long distance wars are Op Desert Storm - a 45 day military campaign and Operation Enduring Freedom. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were unequal wars – a far superior America and the coalition forces attacked a weaker power, yet couldn’t gain a decisive victory. The best way to “win a war” is not to fight it--after fighting for nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest engagement after the American Civil War, both World Wars and wars in Korea and Vietnam – the Americans are discovering that it was all a mistake. “You cannot keep the land occupied forever, even if you are America. You have to vacate, eventually. If you can’t keep the territory or you cannot subdue the enemy, then the war has not achieved its purpose. Only thing in your hand is destruction. A country can be destroyed partly but you have to eventually stop. It’s a new kind of warfare,” explains Maj Gen Karim. “Tactics, strategy and weaponry of war is changing… wars will never be the same…” he says.

Even the machines develop snags. Can the drones do a better job or replace the humans? Case in point is how a US stealth RQ-170 UAV flying over western Afghanistan lost control after its guidance system failed and was captured by Iran. The RQ-170 Sentinel is a stealth drone developed by Lockheed Martin for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. A U.S. satellite pinpointed the damaged drone’s location. All options for retrieving the aircraft or bombing the wreckage were consider and dropped. In such a situation, who should be held responsible—the commander who sanctioned the mission, representative who sold it, manufacturer, programmer or developer?

The fact that a bloodless war is a low cost and low risk option there is a possibility that it might be used more frequently, without thinking about the consequences. That’s always a danger. 

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