Intelligence: May 25, 2003


When the recent Iraqi operation was replayed in a computerized wargame, and the terrain changed to mountainous jungles or forests, the tactics that worked in Iraq didn't work so well. For one thing, the terrain did not allow the use of the "swarming " tactics that worked so well in the desert. The flat terrain of Iraq allowed American troops to advance in multiple columns, and their battlefield Internet and GPS insured that US troops always knew where everyone else was. American aircraft were usually first to spot the enemy, but the Iraqis rarely knew where the Americans were coming from. When an enemy unit was spotted, the nearest American air, artillery or armored units were directed to swarm in and destroy it. This was especially effective at night, because American units had much better night vision equipment. But in mountains and jungles, the attackers can't move just anywhere and their columns tend to get channeled into a few routes that can be more easily defended. The swarming doesn't work so well in these situations. Nor does the air reconnaissance. Jungles, forests and mountains provide more, and better, places for enemy troops to hide. Another problem with mountains is communications, as many American military radios are still "line-of-sight." Put a mountain between two units and they have a hard, often impossible, time communicating. This is why there is so much enthusiasm for moving to satellite communications. But this is expensive, and there's not enough capacity yet for the satellites to handle all the militarys communications needs. Iraq was another example of the old military maxim, "plains are easy, mountains are hard," at least if you are the attacker. The military professionals are aware of this, especially since most U.S. Army generals have served several one year tours in Korea. And there they discovered how difficult it is to travel, operate and communicate, amongst all those mountains. 


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