I recall having to study the principles of war – along with those of the different phases of war – during my various military courses, especially on the Combat Team and Battle Group commander’s courses. These principles are not something someone had just made up to ensure we had more work to study – although at the time, we suspected as much.
Grand strategy leads to military strategy. Military strategy aids in determining the doctrine. The implementation of the doctrine culminates in tactics – the art of deploying forces according to terrain and using their deployment, movement and firepower to overwhelm the enemy. To achieve success and to ensure that the battle is won, certain time-proven principles need to be employed.
Principles, in turn, are “battlefield philosophies” or “battlefield truths” that have been established over time to be vital in succeeding and surviving on the battlefield. But, when it comes to the general principles of war, these are derived from the political philosophy of the government the armed force serves.
When the state takes the decision to enter into a war, it ought to refrain from interfering in military matters as such interference can only hamper the military planners and commanders from attaining their aim. However, the political masters ought to lay down political guidelines that need to be factored into any military strategy and subsequent planning as the conflict remains an extension of the political policies (foreign policy) of the state. Thereafter, once politicians have committed to war, they should take a step back and leave the military to do what it is supposed to do best – go to war and win it. History is littered with cases where political intervention has simply prolonged the wars.
In order for an armed force to successfully carry out its mission, it should never rely purely on superior firepower, gadgets and technology. Nor should it ever base its plans on firepower alone as a poor plan cannot always be rectified by firepower alone. The unplanned, uncontrolled and uncoordinated use of firepower does not win wars.
Buzz-words lead to buzz-actions that serve little to no purpose when soldiers are under fire, out-manoeuvred and have lost the initiative.
Whereas the overall military strategy ought to be based on a well-defined military goal, it is a folly to attempt to achieve this too soon without thorough planning and preparation. Whereas it may look like a good idea to bomb the opposing president’s palace, and may even appear to look like a short-cut to winning the war, invariably it isn’t. This “shock-and-awe” approach is bound to create problems that were never foreseen by the planners and once the problems appear, they cannot be rapidly overcome. Such an action may also strengthen the national resolve of the enemy.
The different phases of war such as the advance, the advance to contact, the attack, the consolidation, the exploitation, the defence, the area domination and the withdrawal – all have principles that are vitally importance to success. Whereas the strict adherence to the principles will not guarantee a victory, they will ensure that detailed planning was done. Detailed planning allows for unforeseen contingencies on the battlefield to be rapidly overcome. It gives flexibility to commanders.
Soldiers who are lacking in basic training, discipline, poor leadership and inadequate command and control will not be able to win wars with technology and firepower alone. When their technology fails, they will find themselves in a vacuum they cannot easily extricate themselves from.