The “weapons and technology is unimportant; doctrine and tactics matter far more” myth


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.

6 thoughts on “The “weapons and technology is unimportant; doctrine and tactics matter far more” myth”

  1. “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.”

    Quality of weapons is not unimportant, but most important aspect of weapon’s quality is its impact on the user. And technological assessment is useless, one has to know how weapon is likely to be used in an actual war and what challenges it is going to face across the board (this means not only challenges resulting from the enemy activity, but from weapon’s own characteristics, natural environment and logistical issues). Best fighter in the air is useless if it can’t take off due to air strip having been bombed.

    “A moderately competent military advanced with superior weapons will trounce a better trained, better-led, but inferior-equipped force everytime”

    Disproven in:
    – 1940 Battle of France (Germans had inferior weapons and numbers, their only advantages were in training and communications)
    – 1940-1941 North African Campaign (first British steamrolled over Italians, then Rommel came and chased British deep into Egypt, then Montgomery came, held Rommel until achieving numerical superiority and steamrolled over Axis; for specific battles:
    — Operation Battleaxe in 1941: British had 25.000 men, 190 tanks, 98 fighters and 105 bombers, compared to Axis who had 13.200 men, 196 tanks, 130 fighters and 84 bombers. British lost 969 troops, 91-98 tanks and 36 aircraft, while Axis lost 678 troops, 50 tanks (of which only 12 were permanent losses) and 10 aircraft. 65 of the British tanks lost were heavy Matilda tanks, which were superior to any German tank at the time. Germans won.
    — Battle of Gazala in 1942: British had 110.000 men, 843 tanks, 604 aircraft. Axis had 90.000 men, 560 tanks (of which 228 were mostly useless Italian tanks) and 542 aircraft. British lost 50.000 men and 1.188 tanks, compared to less than 7.000 men and 400 tanks lost by the Axis.
    — Battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943: Allies had 30.000 men compared to 22.000 Axis troops. Allied losses were 10.000 troops and 183 tanks compared to Axis losses of 2.000 troops and 34 tanks. It changed nothing in the end, because US could replace losses while Germany could not. In all three battles above, Rommel’s troops had mostly inferior tanks and comparable infantry weapons and artillery pieces.
    – Battle of Prokhorovka in 1943: Germany had 2 Pz I, 4 Pz II, 11 Pz III, 42 Pz IV, 4 Pz VI, 20 Marder III, 20 StuG III compared to 1 KV I, 18 Churchill, 226 T-34, 148 T-70, 12 Su-122, 16 Su-76 that Soviets had. Out of German tanks, only Pz IV, Pz VI, Marder III and StuG III (a total of 86 AFVs) could be counted as comparable or superior to T-34 and Su-122 (a total of 238 AFVs) in terms of direct combat ability. Yet Germans lost 7 AFVs destroyed (of which 4 Pz IV, 2 Marder III and 1 StuG III) and 25 damaged (of which 12 Pz IV, 1 Pz IV, 1 Marder III, 11 StuG III) compared to Soviet loss of >134 AFVs destroyed (of which 81 T-34 and 8 Su-122) and 125 damaged (of which 76 T-34 and 2 Su-122). This was primarily due to German advantages in training and communications, and the fact that every single German tank had a radio.
    – Battle of Badung Strait in 1942: Allies had 3 cruisers, 7 destroyers and 2 submarines vs Japanese 4 destroyers. Allies lost 1 destroyer sunk and 1 cruiser + 1 destroyer damaged, Japanese had 3 destroyers damaged.
    – Battle of Savo Island in 1942: Allies had 6 heavy, 2 light cruisers and 15 destroyers vs Japanese 5 heavy, 2 light cruisers and 1 destroyer. They lost 3 heavy cruisers, 2 destroyers sunk, plus 1 heavy cruiser scuttled and 1.077 killed, while Japanese lost 3 cruisers damaged and 58 killed.
    – Battle of Tassafaronga in 1942: USN had 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers against 8 Japanese destroyers. US ships all had radars while no Japanese ships had radar or radar warners; as a result, USN force had element of surprise on its side. But US decision to use guns allowed better-trained Japanese crews to easily target and attack US ships with torpedoes; only one Japanese destroyer used guns in the battle, and that one was sunk. USN on the other hand lost 1 cruiser sunk and 3 cruisers heavily damaged.
    – Battle for Vukovar in 1991: despite vastly superior numbers – 36.000 compared to 1.800 defenders – and technology deployed, JNA troops failed to make any headway against the city until they reorganized, retrained and brought in more capable commanders; in the end, ZNG lost 879-1100 soldiers in Vukovar compared to JNAs loss of 1100-1500 at least.
    – During the 1991 campaign in Croatia, Serbs had 2,5 times as many troops, 5 times as many tanks, 5,5 times as many APCs and 1,8 times as many artillery pieces; yet they only managed to take over parts of Croatia where, before the war, they were majority, plus some minor gains in East Slavonia and around Dubrovnik.

    “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. ”

    During War of Independence and Six Days War, equipment used by both sides was largerly comparable:

    War of Independence:
    IDF Cromwell and M4 tanks roughly comparable to Arab Panzer IVs in terms of armor and firepower
    most other tanks were light tanks which were again largerly comparable
    Arabs had superior artillery
    IDF had P-51s which were slightly inferior to Spitfires in the air, though Spit had less range
    IDF had comparable infantry weapons, but lesser range of choice

    Six Days War:
    IDF had M50/51, M48, Centurion and AMX-13 tanks, while Arabs had T-34/85, T-54, T-55, M-47, M-48, M-48A1 and Panzer IV.
    IDF had Dassault Mirage III, Super Mysterie, Mysterie IV, and Ouragan, while Arabs had MiG-21, MiG-19, MiG-17 etc. Mirage III had clear advantage over anything in the air, but Mysterie and Ouragan variants were roughly comparable to MiG-19 and MiG-17 (in particular, Super Mysterie was apparently a close match to MiG-19, though latter had advantage in energy management)

    “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!”

    And that was a result of Israeli training and Arab stupidity as much as any technological advantage. Arabs attacked a heavily defended position head-on, and Israeli knew about it in advance.

    As a matter of fact, Syrians had advantage of night vision sensors, which Israelis did not have. They also had many infantry anti-tank missiles. What screwed them over was too much centralization and politically appointed leadership, as well as inability to adequately employ maneuver tactics.

    http://trace.tennessee.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2012&context=utk_chanhonoproj

    “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.”

    Mostly due to advantage in training that US and Israeli pilots enjoyed over their counterparts.

  2. 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.

    This summary contradicts your premise, which was that a more technologically advanced military is more important than high-quality personnel manning it. Yet, Finland won the air war in 1940 with the disastrously awful Brewster Buffalo.

    Moreover, the ultimate Mig killer was not the F-15 Eagle, but the tinier, simpler, and much cheaper Mirage III. They shot 48 Arab warplanes out of the sky, and destroyed almost all of the rest on the ground in the Six Day War, at a loss of only 4 Mirage IIIs in air-to-air combat. During the Yom Kippur War, they scored 246 confirmed kills, again with only 4 losses. By contrast, the bulkier F-4 only scored 85 kills in air-to-air combat in the Yom Kippur War, against 5 losses.

    At the start of the Yom Kippur War, the IDF had 125 F-4 Phantom IIs, but only 45 Mirage IIIs and 40 Neshers. The smaller Mirage III and Nesher numbered only 40% of the IDF’s fighter force, but as we’ve seen above, they scored 140 of the 225 kills (62%). The larger, more complex, and more expensive F-4s also suffered substantially heavier losses, with 32 F-4s lost versus 11 Mirage IIIs and no Neshers. While that’s a 25% loss rate for the F-4 and a 24% loss rate for the Mirage III, combining the Mirage III and the Nesher results in a loss rate of only 12% — half that of the F-4, despite being the most-engaged with the enemy. Moreover, 125 F-4s only succeeded in scoring 85 kills (1.47/F-4), versus 140 kills for the 85 Mirages (1.64/Mirage).

    The F-15 is going to be retired long before it will ever have a chance to achieve 150 kills, let alone the 300+ the Mirage III scored long before the F-15 entered service.

    Even the lowly Mig-21 Fishbed was more effective in air-to-air combat than the F-15 Eagle. VPAF Mig-21s shot-down at least 140 US aircraft in the Vietnam War, 52 of them in 1972 alone — and in that same year, the US military achieved only 34 kills against the VPAF. That’s more kills for the $2 Million Mig-21 in just a few years than the $25 Million F-15 achieved in it’s entire operational history! Moreover Egyptian Mig-21s also a confirmed kill against Libyan Mig-23 Floggers — a more technologically advanced aircraft than the Mig-21 — without losses to them, in 1977.

    What the IDF, VPAF, and Egyptian Air Force had that the Arabs, Libya, and the US didn’t was more training, more combat experience, and more mission hours (not just empty “flight” hours). The IDF for example managed an average of 200 flight hours/pilot/year in the year leading up to the Six- Day War, Yom Kippur War, and the Battle of Bekaa Valley, while the Arab air forces only managed 80. Egypt had nearly doubled their pilot flight hours, but Libya didn’t. The VPAF’s pilots were on active duty non-stop from the beginning of the Vietnam War to it’s very end, while the US military’s pilots were only active for year-long “tours”, which were never consecutive.

    The bottom line is, better people always defeat worse people, and the reliability, availability, and maintainability of simpler weapons means they’re always holding all the cards.

    1. “This summary contradicts your premise, which was that a more technologically advanced military is more important than high-quality personnel manning it.”

      No, it does not. It confirms what I’ve said: the side that is technologically more advanced typically wins, UNLESS its troops are piss-poorly trained or led, or are employing a bad strategy or tactics.

      “Moreover, the ultimate Mig killer was not the F-15 Eagle, but the tinier, simpler, and much cheaper Mirage III. They shot 48 Arab warplanes out of the sky, and destroyed almost all of the rest on the ground in the Six Day War, at a loss of only 4 Mirage IIIs in air-to-air combat. During the Yom Kippur War, they scored 246 confirmed kills, again with only 4 losses.”

      Oh, how wonderful, a few hundred kills and only 8 own losses… It’s a great record indeed… except the F-15 Eagle has by far the best combat record of ANY fighter aircraft in human history, with 102 confirmed kills against NO own losses. ZERO. AUCUNE. NADA. NULL. NONE. This achieved by an aircraft designed in the 1960s and deployed in the 1970s, just a decade after the MiG-21.

      And yes, I know the F-4 has had an awful A2A combat record compared to the Mirage III and the Nesher (an Israeli Mirage 5 variant). But that’s not surprising considering that – unlike these two aircraft – the F-4 was NOT originally designed to be an air superiority fighter at all. It was designed to be a fleet defense interceptor, intended to defend US CBGs against Soviet bombers and their cruise missile payloads using radar-guided missile – a mission that neither the F-4 nor any other a/c has ever executed, because no US fleet has, so far, come under attack since the beginning of the jet age. The F-4 was thus not intended, and is not, maneuverable, nor does it give its pilot an all-around view from the cockpit – that cockpit is only designed for the pilot to look straight ahead. It’s not designed to maneuver – it’s designed to fly ever higher and faster.

      The Mirage III and Mirage 5, by contrast, were – like all other Dassault fighter jets – designed for maneuverability, agility, good pilot vision, and ease of maintenance – a trend continued by the Mirage F1, the Mirage 2000, and finally, the Rafale, the best fighter in the world today other than the F-22.

      No wonder that IAF pilots say the best jet fighters they’ve ever flown were the Mirage III and the Nesher.

  3. There are more and even bigger holes in the logic of this article. For example…

    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!

    The Centurion was the first-ever MBT (Main Battle Tank), and to give you an idea of *how* old it was, it was classified as a Cruiser Tank when it first entered service — in World War 2.

    Moreover, the Centurion was originally armed with an 84mm gun when it first saw service in 1945. It carried that gun into the Korean War, where it was considered adequate against North Korea’s T-34, but wasn’t expected to so much as scratch the paint on China’s JS-2s. When the JS-2 did in fact enter the conflict, the 84mm gun dispatched them easily.

    Fears that the Centurion’s 84mm gun wasn’t be adequate against the new Soviet T-54, armed with a 100mm gun, saw the British Army re-arm them with a 105mm gun; but panic reigned in the early 1960s, when it was discovered that the USSR had put a new MBT into active service armed with a 115mm gun (the T-62), which is the main reason why Britain developed a completely new MBT with a completely new gun (the Cheiftain, with a 120mm gun).

    A decade later, Israeli Centurions armed with 105mm guns easily dispatched the much-vaunted T-62s, as did M48s armed only with 90mm guns.

    Not that state-of-the-art tanks were *ever* a big deal. In the Six Day War, M4 Shermans armed with 76mm and low-pressure 105mm guns had already dispached T-54s and JS-2s. In the Battle of Lam Son 719, ARVN M41 walker Light Tanks armed with 76mm guns again felled T-54s.

    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.

    This further contradicts the premise of the above article, which — to reiterate — holds it is a myth 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.

    Yet, North Vietnam and the Mujahadeen indisputably won, while Hezbolah and the Taliban are still in the fight, despite all four being at an overwhelming technological disadvantage. Many are in denial of this, but the facts are that the Fabian tactics of North Vietnam and the Mujahadeen ground the US and Soviet war machines down to a stump, while Hezbolah and the Taliban are still a factor in the War on Terror.

    It was noted that Al Qaeda had a budget of approximately $5 Billion at the beginning of the War on Terror. Yet, the much more heavily-funded US military that consumes over $1 *Trillion* every year hasn’t been able to defeat them after more than two decades of constant warfare.

    Their training, doctrine, and tactics have prevailed against the quality of US weapons technology. A military force of any kind that isn’t willing to make such preparations for war is no different than a howitzer with no ammunition to fire — just a hollow shell.

  4. Hi! I was curious as to your source on the two Israeli tanks that supposedly destroyed 60 Syrian tanks.

    I have been looking for it on search engines and all I keep getting are blogs or Web journals quoting this without a source.

    Thanks!

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