By 1937, the German Army, the Wehrmacht was confident enough to show off its new Panzer armored combat tactics to visiting military delegations from other nations. Senior officers from Germany’s ancient enemy France were especially impressed – and appalled – at the radical new weapons systems and tactics on display.
According to one story, which may be apocryphal, a French general asked a senior German officer where the new concepts came from. “But we just read the book of your own great armored theorist, De Gaulle,” the answer came.
The French generals were even more puzzled: none of them had heard of their own lowly Colonel Charles De Gaulle, author of “Vers l’Armée de Métier” (“Towards a Professional Army”). Only 700 copies were sold in all of France.
In Germany, Heinz Guderian and other senior commanders eagerly seized on De Gaulle’s teachings of integrated armor, artillery and infantry forces. They developed the Blitzkrieg techniques that conquered the large nation of Poland in only five weeks in September through early October 1939. Still the French generals would not listen to De Gaulle. The following year, their own nation -supposedly the supreme military power in the world – fell to the Wehrmacht in only eight weeks.
Today, the United States and its allies have received a military wakeup call and warning in the Middle East as epochal as the Conquest of Poland was in 1939.
For a new Revolution in Military Affairs has just begun. Three brigades of the Saudi Arabian Army armed to the teeth by the United States in Riyadh’s $90 billion a year military budgets have just been wiped out by a handful of Houthi rebels from Yemen employing military equipment that was largely adapted from commercial models now easily available in chain stores all across the United States and the rest of the developed world.
The Houthis used cheap and easily available Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones and small, precision-guided missiles and ordinance. Neither the US-supplied Saudi Hardware nor the US-inculcated Saudi tactics proved a match for them.
Ironically, the US armed forces have introduced the military use of drones for surveillance and targeted assassinations on an enormous scale. But they have failed to take the next step and integrate this new military technology with all its myriad potential into tactical combat doctrine for full-scale land battle.
In very large part, this is because since the catastrophic decisions of George W. Bush and his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the US Army over the past 18 years has been sucked into endless, exhausting counter-insurgency campaigns around the world – always without any realistic political framework or strategy at all.
The British Empire made the same mistake in its own long counter-insurgency campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s in Ireland, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan – all territories that have an eerily contemporary ring.
When the great land clash of armies to decide the fate of Europe came in May 1940, therefore, the British Army and its High Command were woefully unprepared for it: The US Army leadership over the past two decades has gone down the same rabbit hole.
The brilliant Houthi military victory over the Saudis fulfilled the predictions in military doctrine made by America’s own De Gaulle, a retired US Army Colonel, Douglas Macgregor with an outstanding combat and command record who has been treated over the past 20 years by most of his own country’s four star generals and civilian theorists with contempt: Just as the French Army ignored De Gaulle’s armored warfare doctrines 90 years, when they were being read and applied passionately by the generals of Germany.
Macgregor observed after the Houthi victory in September that that there was no reason for surprise. Sure enough, two and a half years earlier, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) on March 7, 2017, he stated:
“The skies over the battlefield will be crowded with loitering munitions, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones). These agile cruise missiles are designed to engage beyond line-of-sight ground targets. With proximity-fused, high-explosive warheads, these systems will remain airborne for hours, day or night. Equipped with high resolution electro-optical and infrared cameras, enemy operators will locate, surveil, and guide the drones to targets on the ground… When these loitering missiles are integrated into the enemy’s Strike Formations armed with precision guided rocket artillery that fires high explosive, incendiary, thermobaric, warheads including sub-munitions with self-targeting anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions warfare as we know it changes.”
Macgregor was even more prescient in predicting the previous Houthi precision missile strikes that wiped out half the production capacity of Saudi Arabia’s oil refineries earlier in September. Those attacks humiliatingly exposed the ultra-expensive, endlessly praised US missile defense systems sold to Riyadh as worthless dinosaurs.
Yet, writing in his book “Transformation Under Fire” published back in 2003, Macgregor had said: “The idea is to link maneuver and strike assets through a flatter operational architecture empowered by new terrestrial and space-based communications throughout the formation… Long-range, joint precision fires and C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] offer the possibility to reach over enemy armies to directly strike at what they hope to defend or preserve. Precision strategic strikes closely coordinated and timed with converging Army combat forces would present a defending enemy with an insoluble dilemma.”
In an article in “Joint Force Quarterly” in 2011, Macgregor concluded that such “precision effects (kinetic and non-kinetic) using a vast array of strike forces enabled by the rapid and timely dissemination of information through networked ISR capabilities point the way to a fundamental paradigm shift in the character of warfare.”
Thanks to the lowly Houthis, supposedly reduced to the status of cannon fodder for Saudi Arabia’s hot shot F-15 pilots and the most expensive munitions the United States could sell to its Riyadh ally, that paradigm shift foreseen by Macgregor has arrived. Its effects will soon be felt all across Asia and Europe as well as in the more obscure corners of Arabia. We are about to enter dangerously interesting times.
During his 24 years as a senior foreign correspondent for The Washington Times and United Press International, Martin Sieff reported from more than 70 nations and covered 12 wars. He has specialized in US and global economic issues
Originally published in Strategic Culture online journal. The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
Image source: US Armed Services Committee on Armed Services.