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Posted by Jack Heslin on 20:02:33 06/09/22

Effective Fire / Enemy Mass / Point of Contact

There have been millions of words written and spoken about the Ukraine Russia conflict. Most of it is written and spoken by people who have never faced the reality of the white hot fire of combat. Countless articles have been written about the various weapons systems that are used by the warring countries and we hear many times that this new system will be a game changer. The commentary rarely talks about the relative effectiveness of the various systems to deliver fire against a vulnerable enemy mass.

All weapon systems consist of weapons and people to operate them. Most of the conversations seem to center on the weapons and ignore the fact that they are useless without the trained people to operate them. All weapon systems are designed to deliver fire against an enemy mass on the sea, in the air or on the battlefield. However, the delivery of fire against an enemy mass is useless unless the enemy mass is vulnerable to the kind of fire being used. When a weapon system is used against a vulnerable mass then, and only then, is it effective fire.

To illustrate this point, I will draw on the experience of the Vietnam War. It has been reported that there were more American bombs dropped during the Vietnam War than all the bombs dropped by America during the entirety of WW II. I think that may be a stretch but, it makes the point that there was an enormous number of bombs dropped against the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces in South Vietnam, in North Vietnam and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia. The vast amount of these bombs was totally ineffective in achieving the military results intended because they were not delivered against a vulnerable enemy mass. Most of the time, the NVA soldiers were able to dig deep bunkers that protected them or they were so dispersed that the saturation bombing had little effect on the troop strength of the North Vietnamese Army.

I fully understand that many of the close air support missions flown by fixed wing aircraft that delivered bombs and attack helicopters that used rockets and machine gun fire, provided effective fire against NVA troops in contact with American and South Vietnamese forces. Often, these forces were exposed in the attack which made them a vulnerable mass. Many times, I have personally benefited directly from that effective fire. The effectiveness of that fire was often attested to by the North Vietnamese commanders who did all they could to get as close as they could to American and South Vietnamese units to negate the effectiveness of close air support. The expression they used was to get so close that they could grab the enemy by the belt buckle.

On March 30, 1972, the Army of North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam. The battle that had been in the making for years had finally begun. The enemy opened three major fronts. The first was in I Corps where he sent 30,000 troops streaming across the DMZ. The second was in III Corps where the NVA attacked out of his Cambodian sanctuaries and tried to capture the city of An Loc. The third was in II Corps where the equivalent of three NVA divisions tried to capture the provincial capital of Kontum. By late June, for the most part, the offensive was over. The South Vietnamese were able to defeat the attacks and none of the provinces fell to the NVA.

The success of the South Vietnamese was a direct result of the courage of the South Vietnamese soldiers, their combat leadership, American advisors and, most especially, the very effective fire of American B 52 bombers. While artillery played a role for both the attacking NVA forces and the South Vietnamese forces, it was never of sufficient quantity to turn the tide for either side.

The battle area in Kontum Province was about 40 by 60 miles or roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island. During the period of January 1st through June 9th there were 820 ARC light strikes in Kontum Province alone. I charted all of these strikes on a map. An ARC light strike was the term used to define an American B-52 bombing mission. Each mission usually included a three aircraft cell flying in a V formation. Each B-52 bomber carried a mix of 30 to 40, 500 and 750-pound bombs. Each strike usually covered an area about half a kilometer wide and a little more than a kilometer long. Since the B-52 bombers were flying at about 20,000 feet, they could not be seen from the ground and they could not be heard. When the bombs hit it was usually a total shock to anyone in the target area and the pattern of bombs were very destructive to anything above ground. The NVA forces caught in the open suffered very heavy casualties from these strikes. During the period of 15 31 May there were 84 such strikes in the defense of Kontum city. On the night of May 25th, General Ly Tong Ba, the 23rd ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) Division Commander, ordered his soldiers to pull back from their forward defensive positions around the city and at 2:00 AM ARC light strikes were dropped as close air support on the defensive perimeter totally destroying the attacking NVA formations to include personnel and tanks. This was an example of extremely effective fire. It was estimated that during this battle there were more than 16,000 NVA soldiers killed and there were about 4,500 South Vietnamese soldiers killed. I flew a helicopter over the battle area and the destruction was truly horrific.

In the current Ukraine Russia conflict, it appears that the Russian military is able to employ large amounts of artillery fire in their attacks, however while not all of it is effective in destroying the defenders because the Ukraine forces are in well prepared defensive positions, there is a psychological effect on the defending Ukraine soldiers from having to endure the constant artillery fire on their positions.

One of the most important components in an armed conflict is to have a clear definition of the enemy mass. It should be a political decision of what constitutes the enemy mass, rather than a military decision. That decision defines what is an appropriate target for fire. When the civilian population of your enemy is included in the definition of the enemy mass the conflict can be defined as a total war, otherwise, by definition, it is a limited war.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there were 2,403 Americans killed with most being Navy personnel. There were only 68 civilians killed. The enemy mass, as defined by the Japanese, was the American military forces not the American civilian population. If the Japanese had included the American civilian population in their definition of the enemy mass, the Japanese would have also bombed the civilian population centers on Oahu. They did not.

The American political / military response to the attack was clear, the entire nation of Japan, to include its civilian population, was defined as the enemy mass. In his book Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan Clay Blair said that six hours after the attack, a message from the Navy Department sent out to the Pacific submarine fleet stated that unrestricted air and submarine warfare would be waged against Japan. That meant, all Japanese ships, to include civilian transport, would be appropriate targets for American fire. Once the entire population of Japan was defined as part of the enemy mass the fire-bombing of more than 60 major cities in Japan and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were inevitable. Even though hundreds of thousands of Japanese were killed in the fire-bombing of their cities, those attacks did not bring about an end to the war. When the very effective fire of two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the political leadership was shocked into an awareness of their own mortality and that fact brought them to signing an unconditional surrender.

In the current Ukraine Russia conflict the Russian political leadership has not defined the Ukraine civilian population as part of the enemy mass. They have not wantonly bombed civilian cities. If the Russian political leadership had defined the civilian population as part of the enemy mass, they clearly have the capability to destroy any city they wanted to. However, if the Ukraine military took up defensive positions within civilian cities, of necessity, they became the target of Russian fire and collateral damage to civilian cities was unavoidable.

The use of precision guided missiles by the Russian forces has added a dimension of effective fire not seen in other conflicts. It is allowing the Russian military to create effective fire against specific, vulnerable targets (mass), even within population centers, without extensive collateral damage to the cities and without large numbers of civilian deaths that we have seen during other recent conflicts.

At this point, it appears that the point of contact for the conflict will be contained within the borders of Ukraine. There are however many voices in the public arena that appear to be pushing to expand the point of contact beyond Ukraine. There are people who want the conflict to continue for reasons that totally disregard the cost of continuing the carnage. Most of the people who are pushing an agenda of continuing the war have never faced combat and have no intention of putting themselves or any of their children at risk. Having lived through two years of very heavy combat in Vietnam I am saddened that these voices are being listened to once again.

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