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Defense Focus: Quantity not quality

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   Aug. 20, 2007 at 2:11 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 (UPI) -- A new analysis of the Israel-Syria military balance of power by Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies think tank in Washington concludes that while the Syrian army is much larger than the Israeli army, it remains far inferior in its quality.

That assessment may be less reassuring than it sounds, because often in wars, quantity in weapons systems and other military equipment trumps quality.

Massed firepower is certainly decisive and will almost always annihilate far more numerous but less skilled forces that attack frontally. This well-established principle lay behind the German victories over the Russian Imperial army at Tannenberg in 1914, the Nazi Army Group Center's victory over the Red Army crushing the Soviet Mars offensive in the winter of 1942-43, and the U.S. Eighth Army's decisive battlefield victories over the Chinese People's Liberation Army in the Korean War in 1951. It also accounts for the Iraqi army's victories over Iranian human wave assaults during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

But provided a modern army or air force has reached a sufficient level of training and operational capability with relatively modern weapons, it can usually defeat armies that have far better weapons, but not enough of them, or that do not use them properly.

The Wehrmacht had far better tanks than the Red Army in the great battle of Kursk in July 1943, but it didn't have enough of them. The Germans were technically far more advanced than the Russians, especially in their latest armored models. But they were so obsessed with pushing to the edge of the performance envelope with quality, they neglected the importance of cheap, cost-effective mass production.

The Russian tanks were not as good as the best German ones, but they were still very good, and there were vastly more of them. The Soviet Union won its production battle with Nazi Germany in tanks and ground support aircraft hands down.

Similarly, the Germans produced easily the most advanced fighter plane of World War II -- the Messerschmitt Me-262 swept-wing fighter plane.

The Me-262 was a marvel that could fly at well over 500 miles per hour and was armed with 30 mm cannon, giving it an unrivaled punch. Despite appallingly stupid production mistakes, the worst of them perpetrated by Adolf Hitler himself, 1,200 were produced for combat, which sounds like a lot. But the U.S. Eighth Army Air Force had infinitely more North American P-51 Mustangs -- easily the greatest combat/air superiority fighter of the war -- to throw against them.

Also, the standard of training and experience of the USAAF pilots by that period of the war was so great that far more numerous P-51s using far superior combat tactics pulled off turkey shoots of the Me-262s.

Similarly, in the battle of Normandy, German battle tanks were bigger, vastly better armored and had far more of a punch with their heavy guns than all the Allied ones they faced. Most of the British-produced tanks during the war were simply awful, as were the early American Grants. But the Sherman, while no match one-on-one for a German Panther or Tiger, was good enough, and wonderfully robust. Best of all, there were endless numbers of them. And that proved decisive.

The bottom line is that modern full-scale conventional war, as fought over the past 150 years, demands prodigious quantities of weapons and ammunition. Too much of an obsession with the very best that is technically possible results in far smaller numbers of weapons actually being delivered to the soldiers on the battlefield. And the strain and chaos of war also takes a disproportionate toll on experimental, untested and over-complex technologies. The U.S. M16 rifle kept jamming during the Vietnam War. The older, Soviet-made AK-47, or Kalashnikov assault rifle, didn't.

Israeli military technology in fact is very good. The Israelis historically have done a very good job of designing and mass producing cheap, simple-to-use and reliable weapons that also have impressive performance characteristics like the legendary Uzi sub machine gun and the Galil assault rifle, it self a development of the AK-47. But like the U.S. Army they so admire, the Israelis have increasingly shown a partiality for cutting-edge tech while ignoring the importance of old fashioned and far from sexy heavy industrial infrastructure to make possible huge production runs of older but still essential weapons and spare parts.

In war, it isn't enough to have the Right Stuff -- you have to have lots and lots of it.

© 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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