“No one should be deluded into believing that the military capability that can easily defeat an army with 4,000 tanks in a desert is going to be the decisive factor in a jungle or urban guerrilla war.” Dr. William J. Perry, who was Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, 1977-81, gave this warning in his authoritative article, “Desert Storm and Deterrence.” It appeared in the fall 1991 issue of Foreign Affairs, over two years before he became Secretary of Defense.
Dr. Perry was a principal architect of the high-tech weapons and systems that enabled our forces to overwhelm Saddam Hussein’s Soviet-equipped army. In the Clinton administration he first was appointed Deputy Secretary of Defense and later Secretary of Defense. He strongly advocates our forces being adequately funded to improve their highly effective communications, command, control, and intelligence capabilities, and to develop even better precision guided weapons and means to suppress the enemy’s defenses. But unlike many of America’s political leaders and some generals, Secretary of Defense Perry recognizes limitations of our high-tech weapons and target acquisition devices designed primarily for use in deserts and other open terrain.
U.S. forces will not be able to attain the capabilities needed to win jungle wars against resolute guerrillas armed with modern weapons — or to help our tropical allies win such wars — until the President, key members of Congress, and most of our Army’s generals realize we lack and need those capabilities. Remedial actions should be taken before U.S. or allied forces have suffered disastrous defeats in jungle or other limited wars.
This chapter primarily recounts ongoing developments in weapons and other equipment that will enable well armed, highly motivated foot soldiers to defeat mechanized conventional forces in jungles, urban areas, and mountainous parts of the world. Will the United States develop and equip the kinds of infantry needed to defeat such highly motivated enemy foot soldiers and to protect our tanks and APCs? And will the United States be willing to commit our elite infantrymen to close combat, with numerous fatalities assured?
In 1988 when I began writing this book, like many Americans concerned with developing U.S. capabilities to win limited conventional wars I believed that our armed forces would improve the personal equipment and training of American infantrymen. But in the late 1990s the emphasis is on high-tech preparations for conflicts, to minimize casualties. Combat-proven jungle equipment has been eliminated.
After U.S. mechanized, computerized high-tech forces have failed to win a war, the detailed information given in this book will become much more useful to high ranking generals and civilian officials with the power and determination required to equip and build integrated forces capable of winning wars in jungles and other difficult environments.
The U.S.-made Stinger antiaircraft missiles used by Afghan Freedom Fighters to destroy hundreds of Russian aircraft typify the types of man-portable high-tech weapons that will enable foot soldiers to be decisive forces in most armed conflicts involving the United States. The Stinger is the most successful modern weapon proven in combat to be a war winner without being part of a complex system.
According to “Afghanistan Lessons Learned”, an official U.S. Army study commissioned in 1989 by Army Chief of Staff General Carl E. Vuono, the 340 Stingers that were fired at communist aircraft downed 269. The study concluded that those extraordinarily high losses “immediately changed the terms of combat,” that “Because [Soviet-Afghan] air interdiction was ineffective, unrestricted movement of [resistance] troops and supplies became the norm,” and that the Stinger “was the war’s decisive weapon.” This in spite of the Soviets’ using decoy flares and other countermeasures against the infrared and ultraviolet seeking missiles of this remarkable shoulder-fired, 34.5-pound weapon with a maximum slant range of 3.1 miles. The unexpected, demoralizing loss of 269 planes and helicopters was a main cause of the withdrawal of Soviet forces supporting the communist government of Afghanistan.
“The U.S. Government paid the Stinger manufacturer between $25,000 and $35,000 per unit,” according to an Associated Press article of December 3, 1992. The Wall Street Journal in 1992 reported that Afghan rebels were charging the CIA up to five times that price for the return of some of the hundreds of unused Stinger units. (A Stinger unit includes a variable small number of missiles.) Once an airliner is shot down by a Stinger missile, the going price will skyrocket.
Unfortunately, in 1993 China succeeded in buying at least one Stinger and was showing no sign of refraining from making and selling increasingly deadly weapons. Within a few years there will be several sources of Stinger-like weapons. No doubt the Russians have greatly improved their shoulder-fired Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs).
Once enemies of the United States possess large numbers of excellent Stinger-like weapons and start using them against us, the air mobility and resupply capabilities of American forces will be greatly reduced. Then our forces will have urgent need for soldiers well equipped and trained for footmobile operations, especially in jungles, other forested areas, and mountains.
The Soviets during their war against Afghan Freedom Fighters had shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons that were more effective than the SAM-7s which they supplied to our North Vietnamese Army (NVA) enemies shortly before American forces were withdrawn from Vietnam. “The NVA was equipped with Soviet tanks, artillery, rockets, and, most ominously, with shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles,” Major General John K. Singlaub wrote in his perceptive book, Hazardous Duty. Published by Simon & Schuster in 1991, it recounts his action-filled, world-ranging career.
Singlaub justified the use of the word “ominous” when describing the supplying of SAM-7s to our enemies by citing page 39 of Jane’s Land-Based Air Defense, 1980-90 (Coulsdon, Surrey, UK: Jane’s Defense Data, 1989). That authoritative source states that 35 U.S. and South Vietnamese aircraft were shot down by SAM-7s in the six months following the North Vietnamese Easter Offensive in 1972. Those losses motivated American inventors to use our superior capabilities for miniaturization to invent and produce the best shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons, including the Stingers that inflicted unacceptably high losses on Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan.
The worldwide race to deploy superior man-portable weapons goes on, with several countries besides the United States having the high-tech capabilities to be successful innovators of improved types. The Russian SAM-10s of the late 1990s no doubt are more deadly antiaircraft weapons than were the Soviet SAM-7s used against us in the Vietnam War. However, no account that I have read which recounts U.S. aircraft losses in Vietnam — including The Helicopter War, by Philip D. Chinnery, Naval Institute Press, 1991 — contains an extrapolation to worsening aircraft losses destined to result in future wars as increasingly effective shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons are developed and widely deployed.
The increasing vulnerability of high-performance aircraft to shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons was paradoxically revealed in accounts of U.S. jets successfully bombing the Bosnian Serbs into ceasing their attacks and talking peace. Army Times of September 18, 1995 headlined an article. “Bosnia A Tough Target”, stating that Navy and Marine Corps pilots had to stay above the cloud cover and bomb through a few occasional holes, to give “... them enough time to react to the smoke trails of ... occasional shoulder-fired missiles” that “rose up from the ground below.” None of our bombers were hit. But what would have been our losses if sizeable numbers of the most improved shoulder-fired missiles being manufactured in 1995 had been simultaneously launched by the Bosnian Serbs?
Generals and civilian officials empowered to change policies at the highest levels should realize that within not many years some of America’s enemies probably will be able to buy or manufacture large numbers of improved shoulder-fired and other man-portable weapons at least as effective as our U.S.-made Stingers used in 1989 in Afghanistan. To help counter the increasing power of enemy soldiers who fight on foot and in armored vehicles, U.S. forces will need infantrymen better equipped and trained for footmobile operations.
A few American infantrymen in 1997 desert maneuvers carried the new Javelin anti-armor missles, “lightweight”, “hand-held”, “lethal”, and capable of hitting targets “up to 2000 meters away”, according to the April 28, 1997 issue of Army Times.