Further Reflections on Unrestricted Warfare
By Robert Bryce
April 7, 2006
Special to Defense and the National Interest
It’s been seven years since two Chinese soldiers, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, released their treatise, Unrestricted Warfare. But their 228-page book should be read again by policymakers and warfighters because their points are directly relevant to the dangers facing the U.S. and its gargantuan military-industrial-Congressional complex.
Three recent events underscore the need to look at America’s predicament through the eyes of the Chinese. First and foremost: the March 16 vote by the Senate to raise the federal debt limit to $9 trillion. Second, the recent crash of yet another V-22 Osprey, a crash that illustrates the waste, fraud and abuse within the Pentagon as it pursues a weapon that is too expensive and too complicated. And finally, the ongoing scourge of roadside bombs.
First the debt question. It’s no secret that the U.S. government – and much of its citizenry – is living beyond its means. But America’s spendthrift attitude places it in serious danger. When creditors like China hold large amounts of American debt, then the U.S. can be forced to comply with lending terms it doesn’t like. And as that debt increases, so, too, does the amount of interest that U.S. taxpayers must pay to service that debt. And obviously, as the debt payments increase, other federal obligations are left unfunded as are more serious needs like education, infrastructure and health care. In 2004, one of the few truly brave men in Washington, comptroller general David Walker, who heads the Government Accountability Office, declared that “the greatest threat to our future is our fiscal irresponsibility.”
The Chinese soldiers recognize that fiscal irresponsibility as a strategic issue. They wrote, “Faced with warfare in the broad sense that will unfold on a borderless battlefield, it is no longer possible to rely on military forces and weapons alone to achieve national security in the larger strategic sense, nor is it possible to protect these stratified national interests. Obviously, warfare is in the process of transcending the domains of soldiers, military units, and military affairs, and is increasingly becoming a matter for politicians, scientists, and even bankers.”
The Chinese see bankers as warfighters. And that fact should worry every American.
One reason for America’s burgeoning debt: out of control military spending on useless weapon systems like the V-22. On March 27, a V-22 that was warming its engines at the New River Air Station inexplicably powered up and flew 30 feet into the air before crashing to the ground. No one was injured in the crash, but the right wing broke off and the aircraft suffered major damage. Here’s the punchline: despite tens of billions of dollars in research and development costs – and get this: 50 years of development – the V-22 is still a flying coffin that has (so far) killed 26 Marines and four civilians. At a cost of more than $100 million apiece, the V-22 tiltrotor could easily be replaced by standard helicopters like Sikorsky’s new S-92 model, which costs about one-fourth that of a V-22.
But the Marines love horsepower and the speed that comes with it. And the V-22 has 12,300 horsepower – nearly four times as much as that of the CH-46, the Vietnam-era helicopter it is supposed to replace. The V-22 also weighs twice as much and uses about three times more fuel than the CH-46.
Although Liang and Xiangsui don’t mention the V-22, it’s a classic example of what they call the “high-tech weapons trap where the cost stakes continue to be raised.” Breaking out of that trap, they say requires “lucid and incisive thinking. However, this is not a strong point of the Americans who are slaves to technology in their thinking.”
That slavery is led by President George W. Bush, who, it appears, has a faith-based belief that technology will be the answer to all of America’s military needs. In 2003, just a few days after the start of the Second Iraq War, Bush told workers at a Boeing plant in St. Louis who produce the F-18 that “From Kabul to Baghdad, American forces and our fine allies have conducted some of the most successful military campaigns in history. By a combination of creative strategies and advanced technology, we are redefining war on our terms.” 
Of course, redefining the ancient pastime of killing and dying takes lots and lots of advanced technology and that means lots and lots of money. And that relentless faith in technology is among the main reasons why the U.S. military budget now exceeds levels seen at the height of the Cold War and the height of the Vietnam War.
Finally, roadside bombs. The devastating toll that roadside bombs are taking on American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is perhaps the best example of how 4GW techniques are hamstringing the U.S. military. More than half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq have been caused by improvised explosive devices and those weapons have fundamentally changed how American troops approach the battlefield. First and foremost, the IEDs have changed the very idea of where the battlefield is. Second, the IEDs are employing modern technology that can easily -- and more important, cheaply -- defeat America’s huge horsepower advantage. By using a cell phone-activated detonator for an IED, an insurgent employs miniscule amounts of energy – less than one watt. Put another way, an insurgent employing 0.00099 horsepower can (given a large enough explosive charge) disable or destroy an uparmored Humvee (190 horsepower), an M2 Bradley tank (500 horsepower), or even an M1 Abrams tank (1,500 horsepower).
This is the very essence of asymmetric warfare. For the cost of a disposable cell phone, a detonator, and some (probably free) ordnance, an insurgent can destroy vehicles worth millions of dollars. And in the process, at no extra cost, he gets the chance to kill, maim or injure American soldiers whose training cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.
One sentence from Liang and Xiangsui’s book points to the change in military capability brought about by new, cheap, information technology. “We find ourselves in a stage where a revolutionary leap forward is taking place in weapons, going from weapons systems symbolized by gunpowder to those symbolized by information.”
While insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are employing ever-cheaper and ever-more-common information technologies to activate their IEDs, the U.S. military is spending billions to counteract the IEDs. In typical fashion, the military has created a huge bureaucracy to deal with the IEDs. What used to be called the Joint IED Defeat Task Force is called the Joint IED Defeat Organization, which now has a budget of more than $3.5 billion and hundreds of employees. That cost does not include the money spent adding armor to thousands of trucks and Humvees in order to protect them from the IEDs.
To use John Boyd’s language, the IEDs are allowing the insurgents to camp out inside America’s OODA loop. They have disrupted the military’s game plan and are forcing the U.S. into a reactive posture that is incredibly expensive and cumbersome. It’s also largely ineffective. During the first seven days of April, 19 American soldiers were killed in Iraq, 8 of them by IEDs.
Boyd’s name does not appear in Unrestricted Warfare. But for students of Boyd, this book is essential reading.
© 2007 Robert Bryce
Robert Bryce is the author of Cronies: Oil, the Bushes and the Rise of Texas, America’s Superstate. He can be reached through his website, robertbryce.com.
Full text of the book is available on the Web. See: http://www.terrorism.com/documents/TRC-Analysis/unrestricted.pdf
Richard Wolf, “Senate OKs raising federal debt limit to about $9 trillion,” USA Today, March 16, 2006.
Nicholas Kristof, “A Glide Path to Ruin,” New York Times, June 26, 2005.
Liang and Xiangsui, 221.
For a more detailed look at the V-22, see Bryce, “Texas’ Deadly $16 Billion Boondoggle,” Texas Observer, June 18, 2004. Available: http://www.texasobserver.org/showArticle.asp?ArticleID=1679%20