Lt Gen David Deptula on Desert Storm and Islamic State

This weekend Vago Muradian interviewed Lt Gen (ret) David Deptula, most famous for his involvement as a key planner for the Desert Storm air campaign.

I recommend watching the entire video, which is less than 8 minutes long. Three aspects caught my attention. I will share them here.

First, Lt Gen Deptula said that Desert Storm introduced five changes to the character of warfare. I noted that he used the term “character,” and not “nature.” If you are a student of warfare and/or strategy, you are most likely in the camp that says warfare has an unchanging nature, although its character can change. This is the Clausewitz legacy. A minority camp argues that warfare can change both nature and character.

Second, turning to the five changes introduced by Desert Storm, Lt Gen Deptula listed the following.

1. Desert Storm introduced “expectations of low casualties, for both sides.” I agree with the expectation of low casualties for the US, but I don’t think low Iraqi casualties were a primary concern. One could argue that stopping the war during the “highway of death” showed the US didn’t want to inflict large casualties on the Iraqi forces, but I still think low casualties were primarily a concern for US troops.

2. Desert Storm “normalized precision.” Even though a minority of the ordnance delivered during the war were precision weapons, their use steadily increased throughout all later conflicts.

3. Desert Storm introduced joint and combined organization and execution. This was indeed quite a step forward, although I recall reading that that USMC airpower took measures to remain as separate as possible.

4. Desert Storm put the concepts of “effect-based operations” into action. There is no doubt about this one. Lt Gen Deptula talks about a disagreement with Gen Schwartzkopf’s staff concerning disabling the Iraqi power grid. Air power achieved the effect of disabling the grid within 3-4 days, but Schwartzkopf’s team used traditional attritional models, noting that less than a certain percentage of destruction mean mission failure. Deptula was right; they were wrong.

5. Desert Storm was the first major conflict where airpower was the centerpiece and key force. Call me biased, and no disrespect to the land forces in the Gulf, but I agree with this one.

The third and final noteworthy element of the interview involved Lt Gen Deptula’s opinion of Islamic State. He said “it’s not an insurgency. IS is a state.” He said IS possesses the five elements of a state, namely:

1. Leadership
2. Key essential systems
3. Infrastructure
4. Population
5. Fielded military forces

I agree with his assessment. I also believe that Western leaders are unwilling to grant IS the legitimacy of it being a state, so they persist in calling IS names like ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and so on. I see no problem with that approach, since it incorporates political sensitivities. However, that approach also aggravates the perception that Western leaders are out of touch with reality.