Leadership: April 17, 2003

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A major asset for coalition forces in Iraq was the poor Iraqi military leadership. The Iraqis had weapons that could have caused a lot more problems, like RPGs, landmines and anti-tank missiles. But poor training and leadership prevented these weapons from being as lethal as they could have been. You don't have to fire too many RPG rounds to develop some accuracy. Moreover, this training quickly indicates the 5-10 percent of troops who are quite expert with the RPG. Following the Somali and Afghan experience, the Iraqis could have formed RPG Hunter Killer teams, with one expert RPG gunner, and three or four other men to carry additional rockets, and use their rifles to protect the gunner. These teams have, in the past, proved capable of hitting enemy targets quickly and accurately without putting their expert gunners at extreme risk. The expert gunners were also able of hitting hovering helicopters. The cost of such a training program is not excessive. You use cheaper (by over 70 percent) training rounds (with a dummy warhead) to give a hundred thousand men "RPG Familiarization." This is going to cost you about $10 million. Out of this you are going to get about five thousand ace RPG gunners. Spend another $20-30 million each year to let these guys fire a few training rounds a week to maintain their kills, and you have a very lethal anti-vehicle force. It was no secret that the M-1 tank and M-2 Bradley were pretty much invulnerable to RPG hits, but many other armored vehicles, and all trucks, are very vulnerable. But the Iraqi RPG gunners consistently missed these "soft" targets. More accurate RPG fire on these targets would have slowed down the coalition more and increased casualties considerably (doubled, tripled or more.) Landmines are actually more difficult to use than RPGs, since a well trained foe will always be on the lookout for them. One thing Iraqis might have done is built their main roads with hollow chambers beneath the surface, where an anti-vehicle mine could be placed in wartime. But poor training made it impossible for the Iraqis to even wire key bridges with explosives and destroy those spans when coalition forces approached. Anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) were another area where better planning and training could have caused far more losses to coalition tanks. Most modern ATGMs use top attack warheads, that punch holes in the thinner top armor. But these are far more expensive than RPG rounds. RPG training rounds cost $10-15 each, RPG live rounds cost $50-100 each. ATGM rounds cost several thousand dollars each, and training rounds only cut 30-40 percent off that price. Of course, you don't need as much live firing to become proficient with modern ATGMs. And during the 1973 Arab Israeli war, the Egyptians selected and trained several hundred very expert ATGM gunners. So it can be done. But the Iraqis chose not to do it. 

So the next time some well trained and equipped Western armies are invading some third world nation, scour the media for any reports of the defenders selecting and training RPG or ATGM gunners, or doing any other kind of systematic and intense training. If that's going on, expect to see a lot more Western casualties.

 


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