Strategic vs Tactical Bombing

Discussion in 'Modern' started by mikewint, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Been reading, following, and posting on the thread "Accuracy" and thought I would like to hear some opinions on the two types of bombing. Can you break an enemies "moral" or "will to fight" by carpet or fire bombing entire areas or cities? Is it cost effective? When does such bombing become Genocide" Is it better to strike small "nerve center" targets military or civilian, command posts, supply depots, generating centers, water supply, etc.
    From my experience in Vietnam I feel that attrition of any type short of genocide does not work and only hardens the enemy. The VC and NVA had been at war for 20 years and had whole cities under-ground, had hollowed out whole mountains, were experts in camouflage moving whole trees or lashing their tops together to make truck parks. They had been bombed for 20 years and were still in business.
    Did the fire bombing of Dresden shorten the war by even one day? We could have hit Hanoi and bombed it into a large crater and erased the port. Would that have ended the war?
    In the Mid-East we saw Stealth bombers with guided bombs go in, take out carefully selected targets just prior to the invasion. That invasion was practically unopposed.
    To use an allegory: I don't have to kill every cell in your body to kill you. Just a small bundle in you heart will stop the entire organ
     
  2. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    #2 Colin1, Oct 20, 2010
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
    There are answers which cover most of the bases but no cure-all.

    First of all, carpet-bombing was a weapon of its time, in the present day it would be regarded as genocide.

    In the majority of cases, carpet-bombing has failed to bring an enemy to his knees, he has simply shipped his production out of town and continued it in bunkers, copses, railway sidings, out-buildings, anywhere that doesn't attract attention or is too dispersed to be influenced by further carpet-bombing. In one sense, the carpet-bombing has worked as the enemy now has to negotiate tricky runs to bring all the dispersed sub-assemblies together, you have added risk and lead time to his war production.

    In isolated cases, carpet-bombing worked spectacularly, the Luftwaffe did no more than simply fly bombers over Kobenhavn and the Danes surrendered. Text book - mark one up for terror bombing.

    Vietnam's not my strong hand but my impression is that US Forces were asked to fight a war over there that was being prosecuted from Washington and further to that, under the most one-sided set of Rules of Engagement in history. That maybe explains more than anything why the VC were still in business after 20 years.

    Yes, in Iraq we saw stealth bombers go in and when the air element was done, the ground element walked in virtually unopposed but in Kosovo we did the same and found to our rather unpleasant surprise that Milosevich had artfully moved his ground forces out of town and husbanded large quantities of armour in subways etc. If it had gone to a ground war, we'd have had our hands full (read public opinion-swaying casualties).

    What is your question regarding tactical bombing?
     
  3. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Colin, i did not mean to confine this to Vietnam, and perhaps my vocabulary is wrong but to me, what we did in Iraq was tactical bombing or surgical strikes.
    Kosovo would be a failure of intelligence rather than a failure of the tactical bombing
     
  4. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    Mike
    I don't believe my answer implied that you had and from the horse's mouth, I don't think you did

    True enough, bombing can only go where it's pointed but my point was to establish a connection between the counter-measures between carpet-bombing and the present-day technique of precision-bombing; Milosevich had the same grandstand view as everyone else of what the USAF were capable of during Gulf War I and it was evident that your 'experts in camouflage' even 'cities underground' if I may borrow the term - hadn't gone away.

    Bifurcating intel from the pointy end is what happens during the blame game post-op when that op goes pear-shaped.
     
  5. diddyriddick

    diddyriddick Active Member

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    There is an element that we are missing on strategic bombing in WWII here. One of the implicit reasons for the strategic campaign was to force the Luftwaffe into battle. Let the Allied Air forces achieve air superiority before the invasion.
     
  6. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Colin, Excellent last statement :laughing3:
    but I still maintain that for tactical bombing to be effective, as it was in Iraq intel must be spot on which is in some cases a very difficult thing to do. an essentially closed ethnic community can be impossible to penetrate i.e. we could take bin-Laden out today IF we knew where he is located.
     
  7. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Diddy, good point but is that required? knock out their HQ, airfield, fuel, etc. and it matters not how many planes or pilots they have because they can't get in the air to begin with. Hitler had the RAF stretched to the breaking point until he decided to terror bomb cities leaving air bases and coastal installations untouched. Give the spits little or no warning, no command structure, no fuel, no landing field, no repair and who has superiority?
     
  8. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Unquestionably Strategic bombing is not as accurate as Tactical bombing, and unquestionably bombing alone cannot break an enemy completely. But then statistically, tactical bombing is not all that flash either. If the objective is to kill or incapacitate the enemy then statistically airpower is responsible for less than 5% of casualties. Thats a figure somewhere below small arms (ie the persoanl sidearms of the individual soldier).

    Some years ago the US army looked into this in detail. Over 60% of casualties continue to be inflicted by traditional tube artillery, followed by mortars and RPGs followed by MGs follwed by armour. Then comes small arms and a distant last is airpower.

    Yet this simple scalp counting devalues the contribution of tactical bombing in the extreme. Most observers will acknowledge that without the threat of airpower, it is virtually impossible for ground forces to win battles. The experiences of the Germans in Normandy attest to that. Tactical bombing has an essential mission, but its not what most people think it is.

    Similarly, strategic bombing also has a mission, and achieved far more than a simple 'did it win the war" question will give. I'm not a vietnam vet, but I was trained by guys who were. They were adamant...airpower was absolutley necessary to defeat the VC. The most important mission for airpower isnt tactical or strategic strike....in fact its recon and resupply to be honest. However I will bet the house that the VC, whilst not defeated by airpower (and i would point out, they were not defeated at all, by any arm) would have been very happy and far more effective if the heavy bombing campaign directed against them had been discontinued.

    In the context of WWII, strat bombing did not win the war, but it sure had a massive influence on the outcome. There were direct effects on production, manpower availability, equipment and acquisition choices by the enemy, destruction of enemy airpower and the list goes on and on. I see this critique about strategic airpower as being strangely incongruous. Why are we not raising the same concerns about the US sub camapaign aginst Japan for example.....it didnt cause the surrender of Japan, yet it would be a brave person to claim that the campaign was anything but a resounding success.

    The achievements of airpower are only a failure in WWII if measured against the bombastic claims made by the prewar suporters of airpower. Similar conclusions can be drawn about the effects of airpower made during the Vietnam conflict. There were political reasons for the inflated claims made on behalf of bombing there. The effects of airpower during the falklands or a myriad of unreported naval missions repeatedly show that airpower is absolutely essential, in whatever guise it takes. Returning to WWII, without strat bombing, the British in the dark years of 1940-42 would have had no hope of any prospect to hit back at the enemy.

    As for the genocide debate, that doesnot wash with me at all. In the case of the germans, they brought it all on themselves, and could expect no mercy, no quarter, until they threw their hands up in surrender. modern war means war on the entire population as far as I am concerned. If war was waged in that fashion, which is the way it had been until very recently, we would not be nearly so quick to race for the gun each time there was a dispute between nations.....if Bin Laden knew that the response to his tom foolery was a massive retailiation on all that he holds dear, including nuclear strikes, he would not have done what he did

    There are many, many, intangible s to consider in this debate.
     
  9. Matt308

    Matt308 Glock Perfection
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    That was a great post, Parsifal. What appears to be a new parameter in the modern assymetric war equation is cost effectiveness, or tactical bombing vs an enemy who does not wield a standing army. One can certainly argue that bombing alone virtually won the Gulf War. Certainly there is no question as to the effectiveness of precision bombing on a target vs bomb expenditure. But rather, the question becomes whether precision bombing against an enemy who maximizes the effectiveness of assymetric war wherein the enemy melds with non-targets/focuses upon non-combatants to wage public support is equally effective.

    An assymetric war where C3I is paramount to our offensive killing efficiency, minimizes the effectiveness of most of our air assets from a purely economic aspect. In effect, the "less capable" enemy bleeds us out... morally, economically and socially. Until we can address how to kill a single goblin without having to expend all of the operational and maintenance resources for an air asset and use a killing weapon costing thousands (if not hundreds of thousands of dollars) per expenditure, we are doomed to be on the losing end of the equation.

    Makes one wonder if the strategic bombing concept is truly (politically AND TECHICALLY) no longer cost effective.
     
  10. Matt308

    Matt308 Glock Perfection
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    ...and now having said that, I think I'll sit back and watch. The political aspects of this discussion could quickly get out of hand and I don't want my position contributing. So I'll let my comment lie. Be careful with this guys.
     
  11. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Matt and Parsifal - i had and have no intention to make this post in any way shape of form political which is why i tried not to pin it to ANY conflict. I mention Vietnam because I know it better than anything i just read about. As i read and contributed to the "Accuracy" thread it seemed to turn more and more on the strategic/tactical question.
    Unlimited and unrestrained air power can win wars IF you are willing to approach genocide. As we move away from that extreme we (in my opinion) approach terror or will to win i.e. hurt them enough and they'll quit. attrition was our policy in Vietnam for many years,i.e. march up a hill, kill everything, leave or rolling thunder (I BDA many of those and while some were spectacular with secondaries going off for hours the vast majority just tore up the jungle).
    Modern warfare is technological and that complicated technology is highly subject to tactical bombing and takes away the ability to make war. The big caveat here is the intel necessary to know WHICH building between the hospital, school, and church to hit
    One last point, aircraft are a form of artillery just longer ranged, more expensive, and hopefully more accurate
     
  12. Matt308

    Matt308 Glock Perfection
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    No worries, Mike.
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Hi Mike

    I wasnt viewing this as a political thread either, I am just quoting the theory as a starting point. the theory says that airpower, of itself, cannot win wars, but neither can any of the other arms of a conventional army win wars without airpower, or only if they are prepred to take exceptional casualties to achieve victory.

    Your last point about airpower being a form of artillery is interesting, because i think it highlights a significant, if subtle difference between the Anglo view of airpower, and those of the US military. The Australian army does not view airpower in quite the same light. Thats because airpower cant provide the same sustained and on demand fire support that artillery can. as you say, its also expensive to deliver, and for us poor relations, it means it gets meted out fairly sparingly
     
  14. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    Parsifal, one of our posters has a very apt screen name: Bomb Taxi. arty launches explosive devices into the air which travel a given distance fall and explode. Air craft do exactly the same thing just over longer distances. If we go back to the thread on "accuracy" that problem is compounded with long range arty. 15 - 16 inch naval shells might make 20 miles that's a lot of air to travel through. The Germans made two or three railroad guns with similiar range but they had to travel by rail and took days to set up. There are experimental "Rail-Guns" with the potential of launching devices into orbit which would be ultra-long range arty but now we're traveling through hundreds of miles of atmosphere without guidence
    again if you are willing to spend bombing via aircraft can be around the clock
    there's that cost-effective equation again
     
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