Modern war question - reduced tempo?

After reading about the Tomahawk missile attacks on Libyan targets, and reading that they cost about $1 million each, I got to wondering if the following would be true:

Let’s say that for some weird reason, the US and EU were to go to war over something. It seems to me that you’d have a really intense initial phase where both sides are burning their advanced weapons at a prodigious clip.

Then it seems like you’d have a significant drop in intensity when the two sides had used most of the advanced weaponry stockpiles, and what fighting that would be done would be with artillery shells and dumb bombs. This lower-intensity fighting would last until one or both sides could produce advanced weapons in quantities high enough to sustain high-tempo operations.

Or you might have a situation where some weapons are produced and used in quantity, and others are more closely husbanded for particular offensive or defensive operations.

I also wonder about what the plan would be if we lost significant numbers of F-15, F-16 and F-18 fighters in the fighting? Would we do something extreme like refurbish F-4s, or would the air war be lower tempo until we built the fighter fleet back up?

You use your smart weapons in the initial phases to go after hard targets and high value targets. The goal is to seriously diminish the other guy’s ability to wage war. So, cut off Command and Control, cut off communications, disable air defenses (missile batteries and such).

After that you can start using “dumb” bombs (which even then can be guided although far cheaper than a Tomahawk). Even a truly dumb bomb, with no guidance at all, can be delivered pretty accurately with the modern avionics in most strike aircraft.

Thing is you need to clear the area as much as possible for your strike aircraft to operate at will. Against the likes of Libya or Iraq the US does not have much trouble doing that. Against the likes of the EU who also has advanced equipment with well trained pilots things get a lot more dicey.

Against the EU we’d want to put in the F22 Raptor and F117 Nighthawk and B2 Spirit. IIRC in some war games two Raptors were able to defeat over 20 planes…even when they allowed the other side reinforcements. I recall one pilot saying he could visually see the Raptor out his window but could not get a lock for a missile or outmaneuver it for guns.

The pace of modern war will be such that the actual manufacturing during war will have a negligible effect. It won’t be like WW2 - it will be decisively resolved much quicker. You go with what you have stockpile of - and the logistical train of getting the right stuff to the right place will be more important than any manufacturing done during teh war.

The F-117 has been retired for quite a while.

Eight years is much quicker than six?

I must be misunderstanding you. Modern wars seem to be dragging on much slower than the old. Not only now and the Gulf War, but Vietnam too. I guess you mean a truly world war among the superpowers.

Yes but they were mothballed and not scrapped. They could be returned to service relatively quickly if the military felt the need.

Counter-insurgencies can last a long time. An actual hot war between major powers would be resolved very quickly.

What makes you so convinced that it would be resolved so much faster? I’m working under the assumption that there’s rough parity between the adversaries both technologically and in numbers, and that’s why it wouldn’t be resolved that fast.

That’s kind of my point- once you go past the really high intensity, high tempo fighting without a resolution, what would happen? The advanced weaponry or ammunition would run short fairly quickly- NATO kept what… 30 day stockpiles of ammo, fuel and supplies?

Forces today are much more mobile with much more firepower than in the past. The vehicles are faster and more reliable, the logistical trains are very efficient, the intelligence/recon/pull cycle is extremely quick. Artillery has overwhelming firepower and accuracy, air power is precise and powerful.

Whatever the conflict was over would probably be militarily resolved before the stockpiles of the high tech weapons ran out. Even if not, moving existing reserve supplies into the theater will be more relevant than the pace of manufacturing - at least in terms of tanks and planes and stuff. Munition production may be relevant.

Modern weapon systems are complex and expensive and not quick to manufacture - conversely, warfare is fought at a faster pace than at any time in history. That makes a protracted, gradual, whole-economy fight like WW2 impractical. Wars will be more like, say, the 6 day war. Not necesarily in the 6 days part, but in terms of how they’re resolved and fought.

If it’s within visual range, would a heat-seeking missile not work for some reason? Flares?

(Disclaimer: Eh, I’m no expert. No answers here, just a ton more questions.)

I’m having trouble visualizing a situation where two modern armies would go to war against each other for such a long period, across such a big area, that logistics would be drained. What would their objective be?

There’s usually a specific battleground, right? Not just two countries trying to destroy one another from afar, leapfrogging all the other countries between them?

In an invasion scenario, wouldn’t the attacker have a pretty big advantage thanks to cruise missiles and smart weapons vs the relative immobility of defenses, command-and-control facilities, major population centers, factories, roads, etc.? Absent an unbelievably effective missile defense system, how would the defenders be able to hold out for long? Once the defenses were down, it’d be a matter of attrition and/or occupation and counter-insurgency, no? It seems like keeping the peace post-conquest would be a far more difficult task.

Otherwise, if both sides were battling over a contested middle ground, wouldn’t that become a no man’s land in record time? The challenge then would be to just hold the territory, but I have a hard time seeing the two sides continually pumping additional forces into the contested area instead of going directly after the enemy’s force projection capabilities – destroying their carriers, airstrips, factories, power plants, roads, etc. or otherwise disrupting their supply lines such that reinforcements can’t reach the battle anymore.

The whole idea of battle lines is a lot less meaningful thanks to weapons that can, for the most part, fly through them with impunity. How do you wage a long-lasting war when an enemy can strike at your capital the very first hour? And if civilian casualties aren’t a factor, the enemy can pretty much destroy your entire infrastructure not long after that.

And I mean, how would you get to this point in the first place without one country or the other resorting to nukes? And if they’re unwilling to escalate it to that level, it seems that the bottlenecks would remain political or economic, not logistical.

IANAPilot so I do not know.

Everything I have seen suggests you need a “lock”.

With a heat seeking missile I think I should be able to shoot and have it fly to the first hot thing it sees. Of course then there is a chance your buddy could get hit by you.

Still. Most movies (and yeah I know…movies do not equal reality) they have the plane beep-beep-beeping as it tries to gain a “lock”.

What is so hard?

You are looking at empty sky!

Radar or heat seeker who cares?

See that big, empty space missile? See that blip? Go blow it up!

Why is that so hard?

(I am sure if the people making these things could make them perform so simply they would…I just do not get it. Seems simple.)

I think that’s the whole concept of “stealth” aircraft. They’re not easily picked up on radar and they’re designed to give off less heat than most, so they’re difficult to trace by heat seekers too. So your missile would have to depend on sight to track its target. The target is painted to blend into the sky and is doing loops in 3D around your own airplane, inside a cloud. Do you trust your missile enough to launch it anyway?

The firepower and mobility in deploying it fast are the exact reason why wars would be so slow pace. You can’t destroy even the smallest of armies without blowing away half of the country around them so you have to work very carefully.´

I’m sure the coalition could physically damage the Libyan army more, but they can’t actually. In the specific example of EU vs. US, EU’s only nuclear terrent are the submarines, making them very trigger easy if hunted. The US would then have to avoid threatening them in any way. This would enable them to strike with cruise missiles if needed. This would muffle the US eagerness to strike in EU cities. So nobody would probably do nothing in the end. At least if any sanity was involved.