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A Question For Military Guy


A reader asked:


Saw an analysis today claiming the Iraqis are using the Soviet (surprise, surprise) strategy of “maskirovka”: having us waste expensive ordnance on dummy targets, while they hide the real stuff; transmitting phony messages about troop movements, command-and-control status, etc.; not turning on radar to keep it hidden, not launching their missiles…yet.

I asked my military guy. His answer is very interesting:

Absolutely possible, and unless they are complete idiots, probably true to an extent. That said, they can also be complete idiots. This is a perfect example of Clausewitzian ‘friction’ that makes the Clausewitz dictum true: In war, everything is simple. It also is very difficult.”

Unless the Iraqi military and intelligence services were completely asleep at the switch, they went to school on what happened in Kosovo – where the Serbs were very successful in spoofing us regarding hard targets. The Serbs had an easier time of it, living as they do in a comparatively heavily populated, forested and hilly region

I got involved in BDAA. Bomb Damage Assessment Assessment. In short, we took a look at what the BDA people were calling kills and looked really, really hard. The Serbs were doing things like using the same bomb-damaged tank and moving it around over and over again. Since we were on a pretty predictable schedule (and the press helped them here, unintentionally) they knew we’d fly over, take pictures, process pictures, build the ATO (Air Tasking Order) and bomb where we saw the tank. The problem was, they knew the rhythm. After darkness, they’d move the tank, and put something else in there – like a tractor (so it would have an engine heat signature), stick a pipe on it (so the pilot would see (from very high, possibly through haze) a thing with a heat signature, and a long barrel looking thingy. Since that’s pretty much what he expected to see where he expected to see it – he ‘pickled’ his bomb. Still flying away, he’s watching the target through his targeting pod, sees the explosion, sees secondaries (gas tank) and reports a kill. Then, the Serbs come in with an already blown up tank, clear some of the junk (not very well, that’s how we finally figured it out) and left the burned out tank there for the post-strike recon.

So, Saddam can be doing the same thing – though he has less cover and concealment to do it. The other thing that militates against it being too successful is that we have been watching his stuff for months, literally. You should see some good classified imagery someday (after it’s been declas, of course!). We’ve watched his tanks move from motor pool to laager site, to battle position. We know what his tanks look like, the markings, etc. We know how much and what kind of transport he has. One difficult thing about moving around decoys is getting your tracks right. Real track marks, not a lot of tire marks, etc. He learned a long time ago not to turn a radar on if you want to keep your radar. Fire it up, and a HARM is riding the beam right back down to the emitter. Or a Maverick, if you are in the tactical zone. There are some great camera videos of gunners suddenly realizing that the gunner’s seat is about to become a very lethal place to sit, and they make Jesse Owens look slow.

From another perspective, for maskirovka to work, it is most effective when you are showing the enemy what he wants to believe, while you are doing something else. The problem here is in terms of force deployments, especially with JSTARS in the air, he doesn’t have a lot of options – he pretty much has to do what we want him to do with his heavy forces – there isn’t much more he can do other than concentrate them conveniently for us on nice flat open ground. And everytime he tries to move them and the JSTARS picture doesn’t match the commo intercepts, well, we look hard at what’s going on.

Do I think he’s doing things like that. Yep. Will they preserve his heavy combat power? Nope. His irregulars, however – that’s a different story. And he HAS managed to launch a few FROGs and maybe SCUDs without getting all his launchers whacked. So it can be done.

Frankly, at this point, I’m more concerned about the nightmare proposed by Formal Military Planning Guy. Though, I think it will be Widows and Orphans
day in Syria if Assad the Younger is dumb enough to move his tanks en masse towards our guys in the west. His window of opportunity is going to be open until we can get something like the 4th ID and/or 1st Cav in the region. The problem there is, that’s heavy metal sitting out there staring at Syria, not Saddam. And to get us to have to do something like that, all Assad the Younger has to do is move stuff closer. Not cross the border. Which GWB will remember, and Assad may then live the nightmare of unintended consequences and self-fulfilling prophecies.

Of course, it may be Tet all over again for us, too. Dammit.