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Storming Past a New Threshold in Warfare

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IN a narrow military sense, the significance of the coalition forces' victory over Iraq will not be fully understood for a long time. We have witnessed an unprecedented military operation. Yet many of its most critical aspects may be lost to the public because of their complexity. They should not be. They may mark a major change in the nature of future war, of military industry, domestic social requirements, and coalition diplomacy. Some of the realities of this battle stand out by historical comparisons. It exceeded the largest tank battle of World War II, Kursk in Russia. About 2,500 German tanks fought 3,000 Soviet tanks for two weeks. They had small caliber guns, and air support was trivial.

The German invasion of Poland was on a similar geographical scale, but was 18 days in length as compared to 100 hours against more evenly matched ground forces. To be sure, the air phase extends the length of war to 43 days, and it should be seen as a 43-day war. The casualty ratio between the sides has been emphasized, and ``miraculous'' is not hyperbole in describing it. How are we to explain such an outcome?

Both Soviet and American military planners have recognized for nearly two decades that the microchip and laser technologies have dramatic military applications. After the Vietnam war, American planners turned their attention to the large Soviet forces on the European central front. How could they be defeated by smaller NATO forces? ``Air-Land Battle'' was the answer, a doctrine made feasible only by the new weapons.

Rather than face waves of Soviet forces at the front line as they arrive in sequence, US forces would engage such attackers long before they reached the forward area of the battle. At the same time, they would have to fight them on the front lines. Thus two battles would proceed simultaneously, a main battle at the front and the battle in the rear aimed at breaking up the enemy's offensive.

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