“Like academic military historians, surprise attacks theorists have fallen into the habit of ignoring the central element of War – the fighting. Like some utilitarian historians, and many contemporary observers, they tend to focus on only one level of command, usually the very highest civilian authority, such as the president or prime minister. It is therefore to other analytic traditions or approaches that we must turn in order to learn how to dissect military misfortune.”
-- From “Military Misfortunes. The Anatomy of Failure in War,” by Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch.
By Jose Miguel Pizarro
Today we are well into an era of nonstop international conflict – a time when the most dangerous adversaries for traditional or conventional armies are in fact irregular forces supported by a constantly changing and seemingly invisible network. Just as the old rules of conventional warfare do not apply in this new environment, neither does the old way of analyzing battlefield intelligence related to these new all-too capable enemies.
The Contemporary Operational Environment (COE) is defined by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) as: “a composite of the conditions, circumstances, and influences that affect the employment of military forces and bear on the decisions of the unit commander.” (Joint Pub 1-02). Yes, I got that. But considering that in the 21st Century the population is now a key unconventional element that adapts to its terrain -- just like any other friendly, neutral or enemy force does -- then my question is: How the local population fits into the new Operational Environment (O.E)? In other words, if more than 90% of all daily combat engagements will be inside urban areas, villages and around thousands of innocent civilians, how is the Chilean Army preparing its troops to fight inside that specific combat scenario? Where is the doctrine to understand this new operational environment?
Believe it or not, many Chilean Army and Air Force generals are convinced that the Peruvian army will order its troops to deploy into a WW2 defensive formation in the middle of the desert. This convenient (and vastly accepted assumption) will comfortably allow the Chilean Army to destroy the Peruvian formations well beyond the horizon and help the Chilean Air Force to safely pursue any surviving units with a series of bomb runs well away from populated areas. But trust me… that it’s not going to happen.
I believe the Chilean army is training today to fight a conventional war of attrition that will never come and using a conventional mentality that it is fundamentally different from the threats and realities of today’s complex asymmetric battlefields in which guerrilla and irregular forces are in fact the main enemies. If Chile ever goes to war, its armed forces will be directed to capture enemy locations -- deep inside enemy territory -- and instructed to maintain those provinces for extended periods of time. But if neighboring countries don’t have tanks, mechanized formations or heavy forces the Chilean army will then quickly capture towns, cities and villages without ever engaging into major conventional battles. This particular scenario will leave between 20,000 to 40,000 Chilean soldiers occupying cities deep in the heart of an enemy nation of which our soldiers and commanders don’t know anything about.
Lots of tanks but very few UAVs and computers
There is a dramatic need – at the brigade level and below – for finer training, institutional doctrine and electronic equipment for targeting individuals instead of tanks, and for gathering accurate data about enemy populations. For instance; What do we know about the Peruvian Army and its relationship with the 15 million-strong Aymara and Quechua Indian community? Will the indigenous people of Alto Huallaga and from the VRAE region support the central government in Lima or instead, be indifferent to a border war with Chile?
The operational environment it is extremely influential in determining the outcomes of military and nonmilitary actions in urban settings. It constantly evolves and in fact constantly morphs into different shapes and characteristics. Within one southern Peruvian city, one can find the intersections and collisions of people, organizations, culture, religious beliefs, attitudes, motives, technology and personal needs that are completely different from another city of similar size in the north or in the jungle regions of the country. Since Chile's adversaries need the support of the population to survive, we must understand the local population to win the war. To grasp the influences that drive behavior, we have to collect data specific to that environment (i.e., city, villa, province, etc.) and we have to smartly keep on collecting that data to keep it updated. Unfortunately, the Chilean Army HQ in Santiago is trying to simply draw a line in the sand and declare that we now have all the relevant data we need on an operational environment like Peru and Bolivia.
Times have changed, and the intel community in Santiago must accept that it needs to change accordingly. Conventional operations are those traditional, force-on-force, state-versus-state major combat operations typified by Operation Desert Storm, the first two months of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the tank battles between Egypt and Israel during the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Forces in major combat operations are characterized by mass and a decent degree of predictability. Conventional forces generally operate as formed units or groups such as brigades and regiments, ships and task forces, squadrons, wings and groups and perform within generally accepted parameters and functions. Although irregular forces do not follow those rules, the Chilean army has failed to prepare, train and equip its army to face such an aggressive and elusive enemy.
For the Chilean Army, the terrain of crucial interest in major combat operations is that of the physical environment over which operations are conducted. That’s all. The "local population” are generally an obstacle that will usually not participate in operations and -- it is assumed -- will take what steps they can to quickly vacate combat zones. If anything, they may be a consideration in operation planning as potential obstacles or constraints in force application. Today, the people who are of primary interest for the Chilean intelligence community are the enemy leadership (civilian and military) of the opposing nations. In Santiago they still believe that the opposing president and his government are the ones who historically determine whether their nation fights or falls. While that might be the case with Bolivia, the Peruvian Marine Corps and the Army Special Forces will welcome the opportunity to kill Chilean soldiers by following their historical tradition: “… to grab their assault rifles and backpacks and fight the Chilean Army for decades.” And believe me, they are very good at that.
Every single one of the wars that have characterized the 21st Century lacks the comfortable form and function of conventional conflict. The operating environment today is substantially different from that of the conventional conflicts that characterized the past 60 years. Surprisingly, when you review the order of battle of the Chilean army today, you see the same old force design and rigid formations of the U.S. Army in Korea in 1951. So long as we continue to think in terms of conventional warfare -- as the sole purpose of the army -- we will keep on preparing to fight the wrong war and with the wrong enemy.
Understanding the Human Terrain
Chilean soldiers are trained to observe and report enemy troops and vehicle movements. Chilean doctrine mandates that if a scout patrol spotted four Peruvian BRDM wheeled vehicles or a ZSU tracked vehicle on the move, we will immediately use that information as potential combat indicators. After confirming their presence (on a particular location), we could then apply a general decision-making template that might lead us to determine where the other key elements of that enemy force might be. Once we were reasonably certain of their location, those elements could then be engaged with weapons of mass effect such as cluster bombs, 160 mm artillery barrages or with a pair of F-16s. The problem is that today modern armies are moving away from an era of platform-based tracking to one of tracking individuals. And that is a far more fundamental and relevant concept for the contemporary environment than the much-abused "we are fighting for our country” slogan that is traditionally used in South America to justify mistakes, lack of intellect and sheer incompetence.
Well, so what’s new? The thing we fail to understand is that after the conventional war is over, the real fight will start. In the modern Irregular Warfare (IW) environment, our equivalent combat "indicator" might simply be two men and a taxi loading bags in the trunk. But in all probability they are just two men and a taxi with no supporting doctrinal template that might expose other elements of their force. So what do we do? Stop them? Follow the taxi with a UAV? Disregard the information and keep on looking for armed civilians? What does the doctrine says about this? Oh, I am sorry… I forgot. There is no doctrine for irregular and unconventional warfare in the Chilean Army. To effectively target an adversary force element in an IW conflict, we first need to understand its local environment in all its forms: cultural, physical, intentional, economical, political and informational. That's at least five more aspects than the tactical and operational levels of conventional conflict. In conventional battle, the concerns are: What is it? Where is it? (the physical aspect) and What is it going to do? (the intentional aspect). That’s all. The Chilean Army is very good at identifying the characters in the environment, but not so good at identifying the characteristics. In irregular and unconventional wars, we want to know much more about every aspect of the operational environment. We need to see beyond the obvious and ask our commander for more than the conventional considerations that might relate mostly to cover, concealment and mobility of enemy regiments and vehicles. Really? Why? Well it is quite simple; in irregular warfare (IW) there are no enemy regiments. The only way we can know about these things is to get out there and gather the data with our own troops. The human terrain system scouts and the new intel collectors, the "every soldier a sensor" concept and the data held by host nations and nongovernmental organizations, each contribute to what is a crucial function in the contemporary environment. Unfortunately, consideration for these sources is not considered necessary -- let alone important -- in the Chilean Army current doctrine of operations.
In Chile, the real weakness in this area is not the ability to collect the data but the ability to process it. Our current force design does not include the equipment, the personnel or the means of collection to support the higher resolution necessary in today's environment. Worst, doctrinally speaking we haven't adapted our human intel processing system to either manage the sheer bulk of data now collected or fuse and process it into products that contribute to our tactical commanders with anything other than random tactical gains. In other words, while we may be using this data to get short-term wins, few of these contribute to longer-term and sustainable objectives and measures of success. Even before that, we need to frame the problem and get the questions right so that the answers are not irrelevant. We can't do that either without current relevant data and the technological means to interpret it relative to the environment.
We Chileans pride ourselves with military forces trained for major combat operations and with modern formations capable of handling anything in the spectrum of conflict – from large scale combat operations to low intensity warfare. However, the past 10 years of war on planet Earth would suggest otherwise, showing a clear need for our forces to refocus for a different style of war. Military transformation allows us the flexibility and adaptability to defend ourselves in a changing world. Just as Chilean ingenuity continues to strive to create the overwhelming strategic advantages that we have enjoyed for so long, so will our adversaries continue to search for our asymmetric vulnerabilities. We, in turn, must counter these vulnerabilities with superior intellect, with constant innovation, and with change. Today's challenge is also preparedness — preparedness to deal with a dangerous world filled with a variety of changing threats. And preparedness to respond decisively, if necessary, to aggression against our nation and to our interests.
Mr. Pizarro, 42, is a former Chilean Army artillery officer with an extensive operational background in both the Latin American region and with the U.S. armed forces. He also served in the U.S. Marines and later as a senior security advisor/contractor for four years in the Middle East. Mr. Pizarro also worked for CNN en Español as a military analyst. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org