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Shock & Awe: U.S. war plan for Iraq has roots in new doctrine called `rapid dominance'

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon's war plan for Iraq has roots in a new doctrine called "rapid dominance," introduced in a book by military theorists Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade Jr.

Though neither is well known outside defense-policy circles, "their names are going to be stuck in association with this war, for better or worse, for some time to come," said John Pike, a leading independent analyst of military affairs in Washington.

Ullman and Wade were early advocates of the idea, embraced by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, that with the United States having a vast technological edge over any potential foe, it no longer needs to field the kind of massive forces it employed in the Persian Gulf War.

The rapid-dominance doctrine, developed in Ullman's and Wade's 1996 book "Shock & Awe," says that a regime like Saddam Hussein's can be so overwhelmed at the outset of war—so blinded by the loss of computers and radar, so deafened by the loss of all communications, so worn down by relentless, escalating bomb and missile strikes—that it loses even the ability to think clearly and submits to the inevitability of defeat.

Even though the U.S. military did not open the war Wednesday night with the kind of shock-and-awe display that had been widely predicted, such a massive use of firepower would be the next step if the surprise attempt to decapitate the regime failed.

The war in Afghanistan was an imperfect test of the doctrine. Special forces, working to guide precision weapons, helped topple the Taliban without the introduction of large numbers of U.S. forces, but the Taliban had no modern army, only a collection of militias.

Wade, a former undersecretary of defense and a member of the government Defense Science Board who describes himself as "70-plus" in age, said he had no specific knowledge of the current U.S. war plan for Iraq.

But he retains close ties with the Pentagon and says: "They're using the results of our work."

Ullman, 61, a Vietnam veteran and former Navy destroyer commander who now writes full time, said he came to realize that America's military leaders had adopted his and Wade's theory when he heard generals and admirals using their book's title to describe what awaits Iraq.

Ullman has compared the affect of rapid-dominance theory to what befell Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the atomic bomb attacks that ended World War II.

The Japanese people, he said, were prepared to fight a suicidal battle to ward off invasion of their home islands. "Then we drop two bombs," he said, "and they quit."

That, he said, was "shock and awe."

The psychological aspects of such a war against Iraq are under way and were demonstrated last week with the testing of a new weapon, the Massive Ordnance Air Burst, dubbed the "mother of all bombs," at an Air Force base in Florida.

The kind of casualties in Iraq that resulted from atomic bombs are not anticipated by the military. Quite the contrary. The Pentagon is counting on what it calls "effects-based targeting"—taking troops or equipment out of action without destroying them—to limit damage to people and infrastructure.

Wade, who has continued with the help of a number of former four-star generals and admirals to refine the new doctrine, cited as an example of effects-based targeting the nearly certain U.S. efforts to knock out all electrical power in Baghdad.

If this is done with an electronic weapon—rather than explosives—electrical plants would be as disabled as if they had been bombed, but after the war they could be reactivated.

Satellite-guided weapons, in similar manner, should be able to hit specific military targets without widespread damage in neighborhoods around them.

Ullman and Wade were hardly alone in thinking about how the U.S. military could reinvent itself after the Cold War as a lighter and more flexible force.

They worked on their studies with several distinguished retired military leaders, including Adm. L.A. Edney, former vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Fred M. Franks, a corps commander in the Gulf War; Gen. Charles A. Horner, who led all allied air forces in the Gulf War; and Adm. Jonathan T. Howe, former commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe.

What Wade calls a "senior group" of one-time commanders continues to meet at the offices of Defense Group. Inc., a company he operates in Falls Church, Va.

Top-level connections at the Pentagon got the group a full, official hearing of their ideas in September 1999, when a government panel was convened.

"The next result of this meeting was recognition of how important the concept was," Wade said.

The co-chairman of the panel happened to be Rumsfeld, who four months later would become defense secretary.

Rumsfeld and three former defense secretaries, Harold Brown, Frank Carlucci and James Schlesinger, jointly wrote a letter to then-Secretary William Cohen saying the doctrine had "sufficient merit to warrant further evaluation and experimentation."

Its acceptance today can be seen in the array of forces the Pentagon has sent to the Gulf. In 1991, the Army had five heavy divisions in the region. Today, it has the equivalent on only two.

Some in the Pentagon and in military circles are predicting that after the overwhelming initial onslaught of cyber warfare, information warfare and precision-guided bombs, the foot soldiers may not even have to confront Saddam's army around Baghdad.

But the United States is taking a risk in having lighter and fewer ground forces.

Howe, in an interview, said: "The concept was always that, if (the new doctrine) doesn't work, there should be follow-on forces. ... If what we do doesn't work, then we'll have to go back to traditional methods."

Said Ullman: "I hope it works."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.