Rapid Dominance

The aim of Rapid Dominance is to reduce an enemy's understanding, ability, and will to respond to an attack, to create sufficient "shock and awe" to render the enemy impotent. Methods of inducing "shock and awe" can include direct force applied to command and control centres, selective denial of information and dissemination of disinformation, overwhelming combat force, and rapidity of action. The development of precision guided munitions is one enabling technology for the doctrine of Rapid Dominance.

In the closing days of the twentieth century American military planners believed that the US had practical military supremacy over any potential enemy. Looking ahead, however, it was believed that the military would be required to maintain the same level of supremacy with fewer resources, greater constraints, and an increased tempo of operations. The concept of Rapid Dominance was proposed as one way to achieve these goals.

The doctrine shows great similarities with the British Strategy of Indirect Approach and the German Blitzkrieg. The first detailed description of this doctrine however was in Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, a book written by Harlan K. Ullman and James P. Wade, and published by the National Defense University in 1996.

Shock and Awe

Shock and awe is a military doctrine similar to the guerrilla terror doctrine that calls for attempting to directly influence your adversary's will, perception, and understanding of events by inducing a state of shock and awe. It is not intended to replace the traditional military aim of destroying the adversary's military capability, but instead to integrate that destruction into a larger suite of actions intended to produce the psychological effect of "breaking the enemy's will to fight". The term was popularised by the United States in its 2003 invasion of Iraq, although a doctrine similar to shock and awe was employed by the German armies in World War II under the name blitzkrieg. Opinion as to the success of shock and awe in Iraq remains divided as of 2004.

The expectation that most Iraqi forces would capitulate after the shock and awe campaign appeared to have been validated when, during the third week of the invasion, coalition forces found that initial stiff resistance from irregular infantry units in many cities of southern Iraq melted away into a complete collapse of overt organised Iraqi resistance. However, it seems that the resistance merely re-formed in a decentralised, guerrilla style that exhibited increasing sophistication and coordination as the time went on. A military-historical consensus on the effectiveness of "shock and awe" tactics is thus not likely to be achieved until later, when Iraqi soldiers and officers can be interviewed and the impact of America's fighting doctrine on their actions be better ascertained.

Invasion of Iraq, 2003

Shock and Awe has been referred to as the official strategy of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and was widely talked about in the press in the weeks leading up to the opening of action. During this time the concept of shock and awe was not well explained by the press, which generally described it as simply being a larger version of the air campaign carried out in the 1991 Gulf War.

The campaign was, in keeping with the doctrine, aimed almost entirely at a limited set of command and control targets, a number of them in downtown Baghdad. When the air campaign opened these targets were all hit within a period of about 15 minutes, and follow-up raids have continued around the clock. In particular, key members of the Iraqi leadership were targeted, leading to speculation about the possible death of Saddam Hussein.

Although American officials had announced for weeks in advance of the invasion that they intended an unprecedented bombing campaign, the actual campaign seemed restrained to many observers. In addition, the selection of targets in 2003 was much more limited than in Desert Storm, and many economic targets, most notably communication, electricity, and other infrastructure, were initially spared.

Some military analysts questioned the ability of the United States to carry out a program of shock and awe by pointing out that Baghdad has extensive batteries of surface-to-air missiles which limit the ability of aircraft to stay near Baghdad, and has been in extensive contact with Serbia to gain information on how to resist an American air attack. The first night of targeted bombing of Baghdad cast doubt on the validity of this claim.

Thus far, the United States has attempted to resolve the contradiction between psychological impact on the enemy and PR impact at home by primarily targeting the symbols of the power of the Iraqi regime and by using third generation "smart bombs" when those targets are close to civilian structures. However, it has been pointed out that this strategy allowed the Iraqis to avoid military damage by basing military assets in civilian areas.

The Iraqi regime claimed that two civilians were killed and about 200 injured in the massive March 22 attack on Baghdad. The electrical, sewer, water and other public infrastructure of the city were still functional after this attack. This was intended to prevent a humanitarian crisis within Baghdad in which the sanitation system breaks down before the city is taken. Later in the war, the electricity supply to much of the city was knocked out. Also, after initially sparing it, the United States attacked Iraqi state television after it broadcast pictures of American prisoners of war.

The United States claimed that the attacks greatly interfered with the Iraqi ability to command and control troops. The complete collapse of Iraqi forces during the third week of the invasion, plus the lack of serious resistance preceding the fall of Baghdad lends ostensible credence to this view.

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