How Effective Are Air Power & Precision Weapons in Urban Combat? 

August 4, 1998

Comment: #163

Discussion Thread:  #s 161, 162


[1] Comment by another experienced fighter pilot. (Attached)

[2] Comment by Herbert Fenster (Attached)

The two comments referenced respond to #162 by raising additional issues regarding General Wald's questionable claims for the effectiveness of airpower and precision weapons in urban conflict [made in #161]. The first is from an experienced fighter pilot and the second is from a very experienced lawyer who specializes in defense issues.

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Reference 1

Comment by another fighter pilot

Don't know who the "fighter pilot" is but he is right on the mark about the difficulties in utilizing air fires in an urban setting. Precision delivery is not precision effect. We have several obstacles to overcome-line of sight, scaleable weapons effect, standoff and all weather acquisition, targeting and guidance. Sound like fun discussions!

Reference 2

Comment by Herbert Fenster

The notion that precision guided weapons are (or are not) effective in "urban warfare" is something of an oxymoron. The reference necessarily is to weapons which have impact greater then one-on-one. The "urban" environment necessarily refers to one in which there is a largely indistinguishable mix of combatants (some of whom are generally civilians) and non-combatants. This is generally some manifestation of civil warfare.

As to ALL of this, we are rapidly coming to the understanding that it is no longer socially acceptable to place populations of civilians in harm's way in the name of suppression of violence. This is precisely the dichotomy in Bosnia. Precision guided weapons - no matter how "precise" (and, you are right, they are not very) are inappropriate as devices to suppress civil strife in urban environments.

Unfortunately, we are confronted with the very understanding that we all have been relentlessly trying to avoid: The suppression of violence in civil, urban settings requires the deployment of lightly armed troops, on the ground and in large numbers. It inevitably involves "mission creep" and "nation building," since we eventually are called upon to recreate governmental infrastructures. Precision guided weapons have very little to do with the recreation of governmental infrastructures.

It is time to get used to the nature and content of 21st century "wars."