Statement of Dr. Eliot A. Cohen
Professor and Director of Strategic Studies
Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I want to thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the role of air power in the war with the former Yugoslavia. To begin with, at any rate, the contribution that I would like to make to your deliberations will be by drawing on my experience as Director of the Gulf War Air Power Survey, the US Air Forces official study of the role of air power in the 1991 war with Iraq. With your permission, I would like to supplement this testimony with a copy of an article that I published some five years ago, summarizing the work of the GWAPS and adding some further reflections of my own. These, I believe, remain relevant to the situation today.
Let me begin with some comparisons between where we are today in the war and where we were at a comparable point in Desert Storm, bearing in mind the scantiness of the data available on Operation Allied Force.
Sorties/strikes. During the Gulf War, coalition aircraft flew something like 118,000 sorties over a month and a half, some 42,000 of which were strikes, i.e., involved attacks on discrete targets. In roughly five weeks NATO has flown perhaps 11,000 sorties, of which something like 4,400 have been strikes. Doing the arithmetic, this reflects a level of effort that is an eighth that of the Gulf War. Even allowing for the smaller size of the target, the increased use of precision guided weapons, the absence of a large fielded army like that possessed by the Iraqis in Kuwait, we are seeing an air effort that remains a fraction that of the Gulf War.
Number of aircraft/weight of responsibility. According to Pentagon statistics, the United States supplied something over fifty percent of the aircraft for the initial strikes. With the additional reinforcements announced an planned, however, the United States will be contributing something more like three quarters of the force. This is roughly comparable to Desert Storm, although with less of an excuse, given the proximity of Europe to the Balkans. As in the Gulf, the United States provides unique assets like the EA-6B Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) and stealth aircraft.
Technology. Unlike Desert Storm, the American portion of Allied Force has been almost entirely a precision weapon campaign (the same is not true, however, of our allies). The technologies used do not, however, represent a quantum change in type from the Gulf War, although new planes such as the B-2 have been used, making an important contribution to our ability to attack fixed targets in poor weather conditions.
Operational concept.. The Desert Storm concept for air operations was initially devised by Colonel John Warden of the Air Staff. It involved a massive use of air power from the outset of the war, and simultaneous attacks at the integrated air defense system and major targets such as leadership and command and control. This plan evolved and matured in the six months leading up to the war, but these qualities remained. By way of contrast, Allied Force began with sustained attacks on air defense, and only then broadened out to attack other targets. It is a far more incremental, even hesitant, use of air power than we saw in 1991. The attacks on ground forces, which consumed slightly more than fifty percent of the strikes in Desert Storm, were directed against large armored forces deployed in a desert, in generally good, if imperfect weather conditions. Here the ground forces being attacked are small, dispersed, concealed in villages, cities, and forests, shielded by hostages, and often cloaked by poor weather.
To sum up: the air effort in the Balkans has been a fraction that of Desert Storm, measured by virtually any standard. The technology employed is more sophisticated, but not by a dramatic margin. The strategic object is different and more difficult, the higher direction of the war infinitely more diffuse and hence timid and incoherent; the operational concept incremental and traditional.
Allocate responsibility for it as one will, one cannot escape the conclusion that ALLIED FORCE represents a poor use of air power, and one which cannot, and indeed could not, achieve the central objective with which the campaign began, namely, the rescue of the Kosovar Albanians from mass murder, rape, and deportation.
With your permission, Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer one suggestion for a practical step this Committee might undertake. It seems to me that Congress, in its exercise of its oversight function, has an extremely important role to play not only in shaping the public debate about next steps, but in extracting lessons from what has already occurred. In particular, I hope that the Congress will commission a formal, independent, rigorous and, if at all possible, unclassified study of ALLIED FORCE, which will examine such critical issues as the planning of the operation, the weight of American versus allied efforts, the command arrangements, and the military advice solicited by and offered to civilian leaders. Left to its own devices the Executive branch is highly unlikely to do this; without such an honest accounting, however, the country will lose the benefit of what I suspect will be uncomfortable but important lessons about how we wage war at the dawn of a new century.
Eliot A. Cohen
Disclosure of Federal grants and contracts
As an employee of Johns Hopkins University I have participated in a large contract held by Syracuse University, in connection with Johns Hopkins University to conduct executive education for the Department of Defense. I believe that the contract totals several million dollars over five years, but do not have at hand the precise amount.
In addition, I am the owner of a small executive education firm, Strategic Education Associates LLC, which has recently completed work on a $7,000 contract with the National Institutes of Health for leadership development.