WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- In his classic work "Command in War," Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld describes how the German General Staff in the first years of the 20th century under Field Marshal Alfred Count von Schlieffen was determined to bring scientific rationalism and perfect comprehension to the battlefield by micro-managing the deployment of millions of men with overwhelming firepower to crush France in the very first weeks of any conflict.
Instead, the complexity of the systems that Von Schlieffen and his disciples created and the very unprecedented magnitude of the forces that massed for the knockout blow proved their undoing.
When the German Army finally struck against France in the West in August 1914, its top commanders scores or hundreds of miles behind the lines in their headquarters quickly lost contact with even entire armies and had no idea of where they were or what they were doing.
Eventually, as van Creveld relates, the crucial assessment that led von Schlieffen's successor, Field Marshal Helmut von Moltke the Younger, to conclude that the battle in the West was lost, was provided by a lowly lieutenant colonel called Hentche: He desperately traveled round lower-level command centers as near to the front line as possible to amass exactly the kind of immediate tactical intelligence on the deployments of his own army that the most advanced communications systems ever deployed by any army in history had failed to provide.
Van Creveld concluded that far from ensuring certainty of knowledge throughout the battle in real time, the micromanaging and communications systems installed by the massive German General Staff bureaucracy only served to ensure confusion and defeat instead.
A century after von Schlieffen, former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his favored top lieutenants, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, made the same ambitious attempt to become invincible, all-knowing and omnipotent in the battlefield as von Schlieffen had aspired to be so long before. They ordered the transformation of the U.S. Army into a new age of cybernetic, high-tech reliance in the Future Combat System program to centralize information, targeting and the use of precision-guided firepower.
Yet now, only a year after Rumsfeld left the Pentagon under a dark cloud following his repeated bungles and mis-assessments in the Iraq conflict, the FCS faces huge numbers of difficulties. The Democrat-controlled 110th Congress is not willing to blindly fund it, sight unseen, as Republican-controlled previous congresses were. But neither do the Democrat masters of Capitol Hill today want to risk appearing weak or irresponsible on defense by pulling the plug on such an enormous undertaking.
Yet like von Schlieffen's plan, the FCS is based simultaneously on a fantasy and on a lack of experience of what war is really like.
For the FCS to work, a vast array of cutting-edge, pioneering technology software systems will have to work flawlessly for their users in the most chaotic and machinery-degrading environment known to humankind, that of front-line war.
Further, the FCS concept assumed that the software systems being developed would not be vulnerable to asymmetric attack from viruses and computer programmers in hostile nations and their allies that were seeking to disrupt the U.S. systems.
Instead, as U.S. military software programmers know, even the current software systems used by the panoply of the U.S. armed forces in times of war would likely be subject to every kind of cybernetic attack. U.S. military programmers are continually engaged as it is in a feverish effort to anticipate, guard against and outwit potential threats from programmers in China, India, Russia and elsewhere. Yet if the U.S. Army and Air Force's combat systems are eventually almost entirely integrated in their software, as FCS anticipates, the consequences of a paralyzing attack on individual parts of the system are far more likely to be devastating and far less likely to be contained.
(Next: War is not a video game)