The image of the future war

by Gotthard Frick*

All competing major powers are arming themselves. On 28 March, President Trump said that he wanted to build a “great relationship” with Russia and China, and on 4 April at the appearance with China’s Deputy Prime Minister Liu He he said that the money for the three major powers’ arms spending should be better spent on things that serve long-term peace (Strategic Newsletter 1 April, “Schiller Institute”). But in contradiction, the US wants to remain the dominant world power.

From 1990, Russia wanted to establish an amicable relationship with the West among equal partners. But the US does not want partners on an equal footing. Humiliating, they rejected Russia. Thus it has oriented itself towards Asia and is arming itself massively. After China had shaken off the long Western rule, it has become an important power and is beginning to compete with the USA. India has territorial conflicts with China, has great tensions with its arch-enemy Pakistan, is arming itself and seems to want to lean on the USA.

Switzerland practically defenceless

Do we really have to ask ourselves what a future war might look like? Did not the Federal Council tell about the WEA1 that war against our country was practically impossible? Should however a “military attack” take place, it says on 3 September 2014 in its explanatory report: “[…] special forces and command support (including Cyber-defense) have become more important, heavy terrestrial weapon systems, used in masses, less important”. Russia refuted him with the February 2016 report on the operational readiness of the 1st Guard Tank Army. Also the 7870 Abrahams tanks of the USA are a clear hint.
Not the “prevention of war” (BV Art. 58), the most important task of the army, indeed of our state, but the money still granted to it determines its possibilities. The Federal Decree of 29 September 2011 already set the benchmarks of “100,000 men and 5 billion Swiss francs”. Therefore, in the Explanatory Report of 26 June 2013, the task was – honestly – limited to “[…] the maintenance and further development of defence competence”, the “savoir-faire”, but “to the smallest possible extent”.The “ability” to “defend” Switzerland was expressly given up. These clear words were replaced by positive ones in the following Explanatory Statement of 3 September 2014 (the Army “protects”), but the WEA Army approved by Parliament in 2014 did not become stronger than already decided in 2011. On 18.3.2016, the Federal Assembly decided to create Mech Br 4. Despite its martial name, it is not a combat unit, but a reconnaissance unit with two artillery divisions. This did not strengthen the army. As early as 2015, the director of a large Chinese IT company suddenly asked the author at a friendly dinner in Beijing: “Why did the richest country in the world abolish its army? The general staffs, which are important to us, will also have recognised the defencelessness of our country and will have included military intervention in their war plans.

The picture of the future war

Today’s conventional means of war are many times more far-reaching, more precise and more destructive than earlier ones. This is joined by numerous new types of weapons: Airplanes and missiles of all ranges and types, high-performance air defence systems, cyber, space, hypersonic, radiation, immediate global strike weapons, drones and self-guided weapon systems. The use of biological and chemical warfare agents is also conceivable. The NEMP, the nuclear electromagnetic pulse, which deactivates all unprotected electronic devices from an altitude of several hundred kilometres, is another option. We must be prepared for the unexpected at all levels. A nuclear war does not need to be discussed, as it would probably mean the end of the modern world.
What could war look like? One of the greatest changes in the image of war is the connection between man and “artificial intelligence”, the use of completely new technologies, weapons and the inclusion of space.
The future land war will mainly be fought in cities and will be more deadly than all wars since the Second World War. Even the US ground troops can no longer – until now taken as granted – expect the air force to smash the enemy before they attack. Often the enemy territory must be occupied and the air defence there must be taken off before the air force can intervene.
The great powers, including Russia and China, have the ability to eliminate electronic means and communication between armed forces, even the American forces, the High Command and the White House. The battlefield will no longer be linear and coherent. The battlefields will be far apart, and there will be great gaps between one’s own forces. Being surrounded by the enemy will become the norm. The troops have to find their way around with map and compass again and learn to fight in complete isolation, without any wireless communication and in a limited electronic environment.

Mobility and autonomy

Because of the highly perceptive sensors, the probability of being detected is very high. Thanks to the precision of today’s weapons, whoever is detected will be hit. General ­Milley: “If you are in the same place for more than two to three hours, you are dead.” The combat units would have to move constantly far apart, pull together very briefly for an attack, and immediately move far apart again, otherwise they would be destroyed immediately. Each unit must have the full range of weapons at its disposal, including more wide-ranging and more effective ones, including a very sophisticated air defence system, in order to defend its own airspace.
The volume of messages and false alarms, combined with high technology, will plunge the situation assessments into chaos and will paralyse decision making, provided that the electronic systems for communication, command and control and fire control function at all. In this environment, crises develop extremely rapidly, which extremely shortens the time required for decision-making and operations.
Leaders must be able to lead their units completely autonomously, often without any contact with the higher command. Therefore, they must learn to act against order in order to achieve the overall goal. If it is possible to open the supply lines to the combat units, only robotised or remote-controlled supply units may be used to avoid the risk of total destruction of the crew. Troops in the combat zone have to resign themselves to extreme renunciation and misery, since the luxury common in the US armed forces with pizza huts, fast food, showers and mail can no longer be routinely maintained in modern war.
The supply over the oceans to areas in war is no longer guaranteed, therefore it must be brought there beforehand. According to unverified reports on the Internet, the USA is bringing large quantities of heavy material to Europe and storing it, among others, in unused caverns in Norway.
Switzerland would have to examine impartially how it should prepare for this kind of war, if our people finally were to realise that we need a “war-preventing” army.    •

* Major Gotthard Frick, former Battalion Commander, 4103 Bottmingen

1    WEA = Further development of the armed forces (reorganisation project for the Swiss Arm, which has been implemented since 1 January 2018).
Source: The article was first published in the Allgemeinen Schweizerischen Militärzeitschrift (AMSZ) 6/2019.

(Translation Current Concerns)

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