Deep Attack—And I Do Mean Deep

by Dr. Burton Wright III

    Current Army doctrine found in the 100-series field manuals discusses the domination of the battlefield in terms of attacks that are deep, close, and rear. During Operation Desert Storm, coalition air and ground forces carried out such attacks with speed, power, and determination. Iraq's army was hit from the forward edge of the battlefield back to Baghdad. But what if those deep attacks had involved operations against Iraq's industrial infrastructure before the war began? That would have reduced the enemy's means of supporting an army in the field. If the attacks had been devastating enough, there would have been no war.

World War II Saboteurs

    In the summer of 1942, eight agents from Germany landed on the shores of the United States. They were not spies, but saboteurs. They came specifically to attack American industry. The German Military Intelligence Service (the Abwehr) had spent months training these men. The Abwehr had taught them how to use both prepared and improvised demolitions to cripple or destroy factories, rail lines, and shipping. The German agents came armed with a plethora of ingenious sabotage equipment.

    Although German dictator Adolph Hitler did not think much of U.S. industrial capabilities, some of his subordinates did, and they believed that if American industry could be crippled, it could not become the "arsenal of democracy." Whether they knew it or not, those members of the Abwehr who planned the sabotage that was dubbed "Operation Pastorious" had the right idea. However, in those days, eight operatives were not enough to do the job. It would have taken hundreds. That is not the case today.

Increased Capabilities

    Today, science has given well-trained individuals the ability to magnify their numbers and to do horrendous damage to the industrial underpinnings of a nation. Weapons of mass effect (WME) have this capability, and I am not referring just to nuclear weapons. Technological, chemical, and especially biological weapons can be used to attack key industrial facilities and wreck a nation's ability to move its military to key areas and support them there.

Biological Threats

    Food is as much a necessity of war as anything else. Damaging a nation's food sources could inhibit its ability to wage war effectively. Troops no longer can just live off the land.

    Right now, there is an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in England. There are rumors it has reached North America and mainland Europe. This disease is highly contagious and fatal to cattle and other cloven-hoofed animals. Humans cannot get hoof and mouth disease, but they can die from eating the meat of animals infected with mad cow disease, which also has plagued English cattle in the past few years. The hoof and mouth disease outbreak, combined with the minor outbreaks of mad cow disease, may have crippled the English beef industry for the time being.

    The situation with the English beef industry presents an example of how a biological WME could affect a country. Suppose someone wanted to damage the English beef industry. Since hoof and mouth is so contagious, it would be easy to spread the disease to all the cattle-producing areas of England. The saboteur would need only a live virus, a means of dissemination, and a car.

    Using other types of biological WME that are not lethal—that is, not aimed at humans—a clever country with a reasonable plan could bring about chaos in the world, in a specific area, or in a single nation. For example, if the wheat crops of the major wheat-producing nations were infected with "wheat blast," a fungus that destroys wheat plants, many people soon would be short on rations.

    During and after World War II, the Army Chemical Corps' biological experimentation facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, spent a considerable amount of time developing crop diseases as well as ways to defend against them. The United States had decided early on that not only its military and civilian populations but also its animals and crops were at risk. Fort Detrick spent as much time developing defensive capabilities as it did offensive capabilities. Eventually, this important job was turned over to the Department of Agriculture. Today it would be difficult for an enemy to infect U.S. livestock or crops without the Department of Agriculture discovering it and taking action, but it could be done.

    In 1918, a pandemic influenza (flu) ravaged most of the known world. Today, we expect flu every year. We have flu vaccines, but they are not 100-percent effective. A specialized, virulent flu virus not affected by vaccines could threaten a nation's security. A nation suffering a rampant flu epidemic would be vulnerable not only to direct attack but also to subversive attack.

Technological Threats

    If the United States is to have an army capable of highly technological operations in the 21st century, it must have an industrial base to match. The weapon systems the Army takes with it often are complicated, expensive, and difficult to replace, and they require a mountain of spare parts. If the support base cannot supply the spare parts, then the weapons are useless and the war cannot be won.

    Industries, which have more security than do agricultural concerns, also are vulnerable to attack. Take the "I Love You" computer virus as an example. The person who developed it was not a computer genius. Yet the virus cost millions of dollars in lost revenue and tied up computers for several days. A nation could cripple another nation's computer systems.

Likelihood of WME Attacks

    Could WME attacks happen in the United States today? Yes, they could. Using WME makes sense for several reasons. First, it would be easier to use biological, chemical, or technological WME against industrial or agricultural targets than against government or military targets because there is usually less security surrounding industrial or agricultural operations. Second, it would be more difficult for a target to determine that it was under attack if the attacker used commonly expected diseases and artfully infected the host at irregular intervals so as not to alert the U.S. Government to a pattern. Finally, even if a nation was identified as the perpetrator, how could the United States retaliate militarily when there was no direct military attack on the American people? Would Congress authorize an attack against Iran if they were identified as having spread hoof and mouth disease in the United States?

Worst-Case Effects of WME Attack

    WME can be especially effective if they are used at the right psychological and economic time. Envision a country in a deep recession, and then pile on more and more unfortunate problems (all planned in sequence by an enemy, of course), such as an outbreak of a particularly bad flu, crop problems, and computer viruses. More people are out of work, more people become apathetic, and the population becomes restless, thereby causing radical behavior by either the Government or individuals.

    Hitler came out of such a milieu. Remember that Germany was just beginning to climb out of its post- World War I economic problems when the depression hit in the United States and spread to Europe. With millions of people out of work and others nearly destitute, the mood of the German people began to swing radically right. Someone like Hitler normally would have ended up as a political sideshow, but Germany was ripe for his message, and people began to believe him.

    All major industrial nations are vulnerable in many ways to the type of warfare described in this article. Dominance on the battlefield is based heavily on weapon systems produced by a powerful industrial base. Take that base away, and the military becomes less and less powerful over time. It also is less able to project its power around the globe, which allows an enemy to make headway.

    It is very possible that in the next two decades, a small nation with a good research and development program will develop WME. Such a nation has little to lose and everything to gain by using those weapons. With a WME program, it could "level the playing field" without real danger to itself. If a WME program ever is developed, it will be used.

    If we as a nation realize this danger and come to grips with it, we can snap back much more quickly because an attack can be recognized from the beginning. It will be nearly impossible to stop such an attack; there are just too many ways to smuggle the necessary ingredients into an open society. If such an attack happens, we must act aggressively to contain it and minimize the damage done. Forewarned is forearmed.

    Today, eight saboteurs landing at Kennedy Airport in New York can do far more damage than those German agents could six decades ago. They now have the power.

    Dr. Burton Wright III is the historian at the Army Chemical School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.