One of the myths currently being spread by people ignorant of defense issues – such as Pierre Sprey and Winslow Wheeler – is that the quality of weapons and weapon technology is unimportant, and that troop training, military doctrine, and tactics are far more important to determining victory or defeat on the battlefield.
Some people even quote Israeli General Mordechai Hod as supposedly saying (though I have not found any such quote anywhere on the Internet, except the claimant’s blog) that the Israelis would’ve defeated the Arabs in the Six Day War even if the two sides had swapped weapons.
This myth is completely false, both in general and specifically regarding the Six Day War.
The truth is that the quality of weaponry and other military equipment is of PRIMORDIAL importance to winning battles and wars. A moderately competent military advanced with superior weapons will trounce a better trained, better-led, but inferior-equipped force everytime, unless the inferior-equipped force has virtually infinite resources and can either swarm the enemy with sheer numbers or keep losing on the battlefield and keep fighting until the better equipped military tires of the war and gives up.
History proves this rule without exceptions. Throughout history, the only occassions when the better-equipped force lost was when the enemy either overwhelmed it with sheer numbers or had virtually infinite resources, patience, and public support despite losing on the battlefield.
Such has been the case with Israelis during the War of Independence, the Six Day War, and the Yom Kippur War, as well as the 1982 air war with Syria. During each of these conflicts, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had far better equipment (not to mention leadership), and was better trained, than the enemy. But even if the Arabs had been better trained and led, they would’ve still lost because of Israel’s technological edge. Until the Six Day War, Israel had access to top-notch Czechoslovakian and French weaponry – and since 1967, the US has supplied it with the latest US weapons. The Arabs, OTOH, had only been able to procure obsolete Soviet weaponry.
How important technology is was proven beyond any doubt by the tank battle at the Golan Heights in 1973: just TWO Israeli-manned Centurion tanks were able to defeat an onslaught by 150 (!) Arab-used T-62 tanks and destroyed 60 of them. Just TWO Centurion tanks did this!
In another example, a small fleet of fewer than 400 F-15s has been able to achieve 102 confirmed air-to-air combat kills for NO own losses.
Some people will claim: “but the barefoot Taleban have beaten NATO troops in Afghanistan, the mujahedeen previously beat the Soviets there, the North Vietnamese beat the Americans in Vietnam, and the Israelis have been frustrated by Hezbollah and other Arab irregulars in Lebanon!”
True – but as I said recently, there is one exception to the above rule: it doesn’t apply if the technologically inferior force has far greater, virtually unlimited resources (human, material, financial) and/or popular support.
This is what happened in all these cases: NATO members, Israel, and even the Soviet Union could not tolerate unlimited casualties or costs or wage wars infinitely. Casualties and costs mounted, public opinion demanded withdrawal, and thus, policymakers – even those in Moscow – had to end these wars.
By contrast, the North Vietnamese, the Taleban (a loose movement of militias fighting against NATO), the mujahedeed (a loose alliance of Afghans resisting Soviet occupation), and Hezbollah and other movements resisting Israeli neo-colonialism had unlimited human resources and patience – not to mention huge popular support in their countries and – in the North Vietnamese’s case – around the world (recall the worldwide protests against the Vietnam War during the 1960s and 1970s?).
All of this brings us to Carl von Clausewitz’s summation of what war really is and how it is won. According to Clausewitz, war is the continuation of policy by other means. Its objective is to force the opponent to bend to our will (i.e. our political demands). We succeed if – and only if – he does.
To compel him to do so, Clausewitz says we must entirely crush his physical or his moral strength, i.e. he must lose either the physical ability or the willingness to fight.
Put another way, to wage war, the enemy – like us – most have both the physical capacity (the manpower, the weapons, the supplies) and the willingness to fight. If we deprive him of one (or both of these factors), the war will be over in short order.
But in those wars, the North Vietnamese, the mujahedeen, the Taleban, and Hezbollah lost neither their willingness nor the ability to fight: they still had virtually inexhaustible manpower resources, they were (except the Taleban) still supplied with very effective weapons by their foreign sponsors (the Soviet Union, the US, and Iran and Syria, respectively), and their will to fight was never broken.
To sum up, we can discern the following rule of warfare:
In war, the better-equipped (technologically superior) side wins unless a) it is very poorly trained or led or b) its opponent has far more immense resources (human, material, or financial) and/or immense and unshaken public support.