WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Two of the greatest generals in U.S. history won their greatest battles because they were out of touch with their headquarters or refused to be reined in by them.
The long, bloody stalemate in the U.S. Civil War that cost 650,000 lives out of a total population of only 30 million did not end until Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his Army of the West cut loose its telegraph communications with Washington and drove its way across Georgia and the Carolinas, breaking the back of Confederate resistance at long last.
In World War II, Gen. George S. Patton, easily the greatest tank commander among the Western Allies, repeatedly complained that over-cautious commanders at headquarters far back were trying to rein in his hard-charging Third Army as it drove spectacularly across Europe from Normandy to the outskirts of Prague.
And even in the German army, the early dazzling victories of Panzer Gen. "Hurrying Heinz" Guderian across Poland, France and Russia were eventually halted and ended by Adolf Hitler's obsessive caution.
Yet the assumption of the Future Combat Systems program, now being developed by the U.S. Army and other U.S. forces at a cost of at least $200 billion is that if an integrated, reliable software that can function well amid the stress of battle in real time can be created, the enhanced control from the center that it offers will make future wars far easier to win.
In fact, the opposite is more likely the case: Leading U.S. military theorists such as the late U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd and his longtime colleague William S. Lind, now with the Free Congress Foundation, have argued that blitzkrieg war, or as they call it, Third Generation War, was only made possible by the de-centralization of control, freeing front-line commanders and officers down to the small unit level to use their own initiative to probe for weaknesses in enemy fronts and dispositions.
Even the Soviet Red Army increasingly moved to this kind of decentralized and aggressive tactical combat doctrine during the years of its greatest victories in 1943 and 1944. And this ethos was also at the heart of the long run of spectacular Israeli military triumphs from the establishment of the state in 1947-48 all the way through the dramatic reversal of fortune that saved the Jewish state in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Even then, the battle achievements of Gen. Ariel Sharon against the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula were only possible because Sharon ignored Gen. Shmuel Gonen, his direct commander, who he despised, and exploited the key opening between two Egyptian armies to cross the Suez Canal and cut one of them off.
In terms of Boyd and Lind's concepts, however high tech the achievements of the FCS prove to be, they would really serve to ensure that the U.S. Army remains a centralized, regimented Second Generation War army like all the armies in World War I were until the German army pioneered many of the key concepts of blitzkrieg in its March 1918 offensives on the Western Front.
(Next: Clausewitz and Kelvin on the FCS)