US Navy SEAL’s Audacious Plan for Defeating North Korea

A former US Navy Seal has come up with a potential strategy to take down North Korea from the inside without putting a single American boot on the ground. How? Cell phones.

Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal turned author, motivational speaker, and podcast host recently answered how he would solve the North Korean threat. His answer is as unconventional as you would expect from an unconventional warfighter.

Image result for jocko willink

When asked what he would do to solve the North Korean threat, he offered an elegant solution.

“Drop 25 million iPhones on them and put satellites over them with free wifi.”

So why is this worth our consideration?

North Korea’s current state is one where the majority of the people are kept ignorant of the outside world through a strict police state’s control of all news media. Just as terrible, they are kept blind to the violations to their own rights that occur daily.

Yun Sun, a Stimson Center expert on North Korea argues that the plan might work:

“Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown.”

Consider the effects of nearly every person in North Korea getting a smartphone capable of not only learning of the outside world, but also to share what is going on in the deeply opaque dictatorship.

Pros:

It doesn’t surprise me that a special forces guy would make the argument for insurgency. Much of the role for Special Forces is to be trainers, equippers, and coordinators of local forces. The hardest part of this is coordination for actions, intelligence sharing, and finding out who would be willing to fight in adequate number. By handing out phones that can be watched by our CIA, the activity of the would be insurgents can be tracked and prodded along to connecting with others. Every person who uses the banned devices would automatically be considered a potential agent. Whoever controls the system can hand pick people to introduced to one another, connecting potential rebel military units and commanders with civilians to aid them via a means that they would never survive in the current atmosphere of extreme paranoia and brutal rule.

Apps can also make it possible for information to be requested and captured, automatically sent to intelligence agencies for analysis. Effectively, the hardest nation on the globe to penetrate would suddenly be inundated with hundreds of thousands of spies reporting back anything they think might be damaging to the despotic regime.

Additionally, in the event of an invasion, there would already be cooperative leaders in place to take over. One of the key failures of the War in Iraq was that the leader which the American forces wanted to prop up was unreliable and was too deeply disconnected with the Iraqi people after a long period of exile. If the potential leader of a coup were a local member of a nationwide fifth column, that would provide legitimacy so that the nation’s human assets fall quickly into place, preventing a breakdown into chaos.

As for costs, let’s just play the game of saying everyone got a iPhone X and its $1000 pricetag. That’s $25B plus another $500 M for a satellite, plus let’s add another billion to create the headquarters and operations staff to run it, as well as assume another billion to create all the background applications for the people to use. They are going to have to find a way into the country, so whatever, let’s just throw a billion there, as well. Those are broadly conservative estimates already, but let’s round it to $30 B. For a point of reference, the Iraq War cost the United States some $1.7 trillion, and the last Korean War came out to $341 billion in today’s dollars. That said, paying a tenth of that to completely disrupt the Korean state, a much, much deadlier entity today than it has ever been in such a way that puts few American lives at risk sounds like a good investment in a conflict the world knows is coming eventually.

Cons:

Even if this is considered non-violent, North Korea will view this as an act of war. They may even retaliate far, far too quickly for any networks to form, forcing the United States to intervene anyway in what may be a reaction to North Korean strikes against South Korea and allies around the region. This is not to mention the very slim possibility of an attempted attack on US soil.

How China will respond is also crucial. They’ve made statements before that if North Korea attacks the United States, such as in Guam, the Chinese will not prevent US retaliation, however, if the US strikes first, China gave vague warnings that they would prevent a US takeover of the peninsula. This being an obvious attempt at destabilizing the country by the United States, I have to assume China wouldn’t take it too well.

Beyond that, many North Koreans are going to die. The North Korean military has over 1 million soldiers. You don’t keep that many men in a country with only 25 million people if you aren’t planning to use them to subdue the population. The military is the crucial cog of the Kim regime’s ability to keep their population under control, even amid the nation’s horrific human rights record. They haven’t been sitting around waiting for fifty years, feeding all those soldiers, for the next war with America. Sure they say they do, but the military of North Korea is a force of subjugation. That said, when a major coup is orchestrated by the Americans, the North Koreans will come down on their people in any attempt to smash the insurgency before it can begin. Rife with paranoia and a justice system willing to shoot first and ask questions later for traitors, even among the General officers, many people are going to die for even being suspected of involvement in the plan.

In the worst case scenario, this may trigger the North Koreans to fully commit to war as a show of force to its people. Estimates hold that artillery could see over a million citizens of Seoul killed in the first hour alone and a full scale ground war would visit devastation unheard of in the 21st century.

Conclusion:

Whatever the case, this would bring about the war we’ve all been fearing for fifty years. What form that war could take is anyone’s guess. While brilliant, I have doubts that there would be enough time for the phone bomb to build the kinds of networks necessary for an insurgency to grow out of the ground, making way for a US led invasion. It would need to something coordinated to happen along with such an invasion for it to have any potency. What the world would like after that, heaven only knows.

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Uncertain Future – Part XII – National Defense

As mentioned before, the vast majority of contractors trace their roots to service with the US military, or the militaries where their company operates. The cream rises to the top, so the best contracts are awarded to those with proven success and training, namely to services like the Navy SEALs, Army Delta Forces, Rangers, or the United States Marine Corps infantry, particularly any of these with experience in combat. Less prestige and pay may be warranted to someone of non-combat military jobs, police officers, and security specialists, and the lowest level bids will likely go to local militia and hired gunman. It must always be remembered, though, that the demand will always come for those elite operators, the Special Forces team members of the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Like any industry built on recruiting the best of a different industry, the first, which expends all the resources to make those operators so valuable, suffers the long term effects of the brain drain. It will be the US military that foots the bill, paying for years, sometimes decades, of training into making civilians into the most lethal warriors on the planet. During their times in, they will amount to the tip of the spear, deploying with units like the SEALs, Marine Raiders, and Army Rangers, to conduct missions in the service of the United States. They will face dangers no one else in the world could handle, able to push through with only the value of the extensive training hours they have logged, the teams they learned to be a part of, and the massive logistical behemoth at their back. As a friend of mine would say, “They are the Dudes of Dudes.”

At some point though, many just get done with all that. Perhaps they just want to do something else with their life. Underwater basic weaving, maybe. Or crochet. These dudes have enough man cards racked up from 12 years in the SEALs to become professional crochet artists if they want. Many want to retire to their families, while some see the reality that, if they take the PMC jobs, they will experience a better lifestyle with far better pay than the military could ever provide, easier missions, and less chance of death or maiming. It needs to be understood that Benghazi was a freak event. From 2009 to 2012 only 5 members of the Global Response Staff were killed [70]. During the same time 1,808 Americans troops lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan .[71] This includes events like Operation Red Wings, the largest single loss to the US Navy SEALs in its history, when four SEALs on advanced recon were attacked, killing three and a quick reaction force helicopter sent to in to rescue them id was shot down with a rocket propelled grenade, killing all eight Navy SEALs and all eight U.S. Army Special Operations aviators on board. [72]Quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame anyone for hanging up the uniform at that point, and it is a wonder why so many of them still don’t. But many do, for all the reasons listed before.

Now it’s important to think about what this means to the military as a whole. The military’s job, be it Marines, Army, Navy, or Air Force, are to be the strong arm of American diplomacy and the backbone of defense in NATO. Over the last fifty years, however, we have seen the military reduce in strength, rather drastically, to the point that today we have fewer active duty military than we did prior to the start of World War II. [73]

Moreover, the prevailing strategy over the last thirty years has been to obliterate the enemy using advanced weaponry and devastatingly superior technology. The problem we’ve seen, however, is that the military is proving more and more often to be under equipped to handle the manpower requirements necessary to successfully pacify an occupied territory such as Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone both. Regardless of the number of drones we have in the air, without boots on the ground, we simply don’t have enough men to keep the peace. This is particularly true when we consider expending and $80,000 missile on a $200,000 bombing run to kill two insurgents in a tent a sustainable wartime strategy.  [74]

Instead, the United States has centered its focus on Special Warfare, creating units whose primary focus is in black ops intervention and direct action operations. These forces are truly lethal, the creme of the crop in every sense of the word. They are, as they say, the point of the spear. The problem is, they are only one small point, and not capable of being everywhere at once. For an example, the SEALs are who everyone talks about. For as much as they are mentioned the US Navy SEAL community only has about 2,500 active duty members [75]. There is a reason they are special. Of the three hundred million Americans, almost none of them have what it takes, including the physical desire just to do it, that is required to be a part of these elite teams. This is also why we can’t just train to be like them [76]. Of those who try, more than 80% will fail, and according to Marcus Luttrell, the subject of the book Lone Survivor, more candidates die in training than do active duty SEALs in combat. [77]It takes a very special person to even consider joining up with the SEALs, but the problem is, there just simply don’t seem to be enough special people to accomplish the missions which are placed on the nation’s special warfare community. There is a real need for a larger presence on the ground, which given the direction of the American military back towards an isolationist point, doesn’t exist in the numbers needed either.

Considering this, if the military is getting smaller and smaller, focusing more of its efforts into the actions of very small, very elite units, and those units are the primary source for private military contractors, it lends one to really consider the threat the PMCs have on the standing military. For the last 7o years, the US military has been the go-to force for international peacekeeping and creating security, protecting international sea lanes, and ensuring that diplomatic efforts stay open. In that time, and despite the constant “If it Bleeds, It Leads” sensationalist news to the contrary, the world has become a pretty awesome place. There are fewer violent deaths, fewer deaths from disease, fewer wars, and increased wealth across the globe. Look at this graph. It’s a nice graph. Do yourself a solid and realize that Coca-cola and the Kardashians didn’t cause this. Globalization did, and globalization doesn’t happen without someone ensuring everyone playing the game is playing by a minimum acceptable set of behaviors.

That job of “globo-cop”, in the words of Ian Morris in his book War – What is it Good For? Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots, has traditionally fallen on the Americans. Now considering that the world’s current state of relative peace is reliant on a strong force to serve as its backbone [78], what happens when the backbone of world order is weakened, or removed altogether?

When that backbone, in this case the US military, is suffering from attrition both in the form of budgetary cutbacks in a belief that it can get by with replacing thinking soldiers with more advanced, but ultimately fewer remote controlled or autonomous systems [79], as it continues to pull back it’s overseas holdings [80] and is constantly being cannibalized by the United States’ own State Department, CIA, and numerous multinational corporations to provide for their own security needs, where does that put the rest of the world?

Focusing on the PMCs, when the highest order performers, in this case the Special Forces operators, no longer provide the kind of support often needed of people with their skillsets, but instead act as a force of protection for VIPs, they are not fulfilling their true potential or carrying the burden the world needs of them. They babysit high value targets rather than killing terrorists and dethroning evil regimes. Instead of getting things done and making peace, they simply serve as a force ensuring peace for those they work for. I want to be clear, I have nothing but respect for these men, and everyone should feel free to enjoy life and pursue happiness, but one has to ask if this path the United States is setting itself on will make for a very, very ugly world twenty years down the line when the best of the best simply aren’t where the world needs them anymore.

Quite frankly, this story is already starting to play itself out. Military .com posted a review of the United States Army where an industry think tank warned the service was “weak” and incapable of performing the necessary role of sustained conflict in two theaters.  [81]Add to this a recent Gallop Poll asking asking if Americans still had faith in their military. The results weren’t good. [82]

The answer is increasingly ‘no,’ according to a new Gallup poll. Last year the number of Americans who thought they were protected by the world’s strongest military was 59 percent, but this year that number has dropped to 49 percent – the lowest figure in the 23 years Gallup has recorded the trend.

While polls are only polls, it does point to a very disturbing trend. People are losing respect for the United States military, and when the world’s most important enforcer of global security is no longer respected, one has to wonder what the next twenty years are going to look like. Quite frankly, the United States will be fine. We won’t see any existential threats to our way of life any time soon, but the rest of the world may not be so lucky without us. The Middle East, as I have made abundantly clear, is only getting worse as the United States continues to remove itself from the region. Their conflicts are spreading through North Africa and now into Europe and India. Russia is starting to pick up the slack, for better or worse, but their track record for making the world a better place within their shadow is abysmal at best. Perhaps China? Since they have shown little ever to provide security to any foreign counterparts in spite of their massive military, I don’t see security happening outside of the private sites they lease from host countries. Also considering their increasing internal struggles to balance unnatural growth expectations with a workforce growing more demanding every year, and older at the same rate, I doubt they will ever be able to truly challenge American hegemony in the next century. So if no one is capable of ensuring the kind of peace we have grown to expect up to today, what can we expect of tomorrow?

I’m not one to usually give into pessimistic fears, but if you want to start getting scared, I wouldn’t blame you. The next twenty years are going to get a lot more volatile, and in many places very dangerous. Those who will fare the best will be those who can accept the danger and create a plan to mitigate it.

Uncertain Future – Part XI – High Value Protection

High Value Body Guards and Military Contractors

Executive security is the industry of protection for VIP and High Value Individuals. While this includes those who specialize in shuttling primped up primadonna starlets like Justin Beiber from show to show, unharassed by throngs of fans, there is a much deeper need for experienced, battle ready security teams.

Due to the attention grabbing nature of these massive catastrophes, many other acts of overt criminal activities have grown in practice, but go relatively unnoticed by those not engaged in foreign policy news. First among these is the threat of kidnapping. While assassination or general acts of terror surely rank high on the list, kidnapping has a special role to play in the story of international chaos that exists today and which will continue in the future.

To understand why this is, one needs to understand how criminal empires and murder crazed caliphates primarily get funding. According to documents discovered following a raid of a prominent ISIS leader [56], the organization is funded massively through the use of kidnapping with the purpose of ransom. CNN and Business Insider investigate further to show the staggering amounts of money generated by these tactics [57] and the rationale for why the act of kidnapping is really such a good idea for such criminal and terrorist organizations. [58]

The kidnapping of Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa rattled the international press for this reason. This time, however, it wasn’t for the sheer barbarity that their fellow news agents were experiencing, (those attempting to report the news in the region are a favorite flavor of victim for the Islamic State, along with female humanitarian aid workers  [59]) but the magnitude of the ransom being demanded. The Islamic State demanded of the government of Japan $200 million for their safe return. Like so many others, this negotiation broke down and both were eventually beheaded in brutal fashion.

ISIS’ rationale seems similar to other terror groups: Kidnappings help raise money and, if ransoms aren’t paid, make a point, such as the groups are not to be messed with and even civilians are in danger.

$200 million is sizable demand and one which could drastically help fund the operations of the terrorist organization, which is currently already expanding its reach internationally as its borders shrink locally. While these two did not turn a profit, others did. The French have denied that they have paid ransoms [60], but according to a New York Times Report [61]they succeeded in buying back the freedom of kidnapped Frenchman from the Islamic State from ISIS. A second group working for a french nuclear firm were also freed by an al Qaeda affiliate in return for money. In perhaps the greatest coup for the terrorist state, 49 captives of Turkish origin were returned, seemingly for no reason at all to Ankara. Those following the report, myself among them, strongly suspect a major payoff for their safe and uneventful return [62]. There are other reports of three hundred Christians being charged more than $30 million for their release. One victim gave in an interview with New York Magazine that his captors forced him to call his family and a friend while he was being tortured, in hopes that his anguished screams would move them to pay the ransom money. [63] [64]

“We were blindfolded and chained, and every day they would torture us,” he said. “They would come in, one at a time, and electrocute us or beat us with anything they could find.”

“But they didn’t kill me because they wanted to ransom me. One time, they made me speak to my family on the phone as they were electrocuting me. Then, they made me call a friend, who told them he would pay.”

However, the practice of criminal kidnapping for profit is not limited to the ISIS threat. Moving to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia in one last example, one only has to recount the story of Captain Phillips.  [65]There, Somali pirates attempted to take an American vessel hostage along with its crew. This practice has become common in the narrow straits between Iran and the Horn of Africa. Massive ships with massive shipments worth billions are capable of attracting huge payouts to the pirates and the warlords who control them from the mostly European companies who control them. In the case of Phillips, though, the problem wasn’t solved by a financial transaction so much so as the extremely potent delivery of precision fire from the muzzle of US Navy SEAL Snipers.

Regardless of the success of the Phillips case, piracy and kidnapping for ransom are not going away. In fact, seeing the financial and propaganda potential for such violations, the value of making such attacks has prompted many, many more. This, perhaps, has only been exacerbated by the American shift in policy that some would say encourages the practice by providing a means for private individuals to pay the ransoms of their friends and families, thus encouraging more like kind kidnappings.

Having said all of this, it is no longer safe for most Westerners to travel to the Middle East, and the growing troubles of the region are only spreading more and more throughout the Islamic world, as millions sympathetic to the ideals of the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State begin to copy their tactics and methods. Still, people still have business to do, so Westerners are still going to go there. This leads to the need for private military contractors (PMCs).

Mention of the practice of PMCs is one that elicits fear and suspicion in most people unfamiliar with how they are actually used. Often, they can’t be mentioned without imaginations of secret mercenary black helicopter events and Orwellian fears of off the books private armies. In all honesty, very few such companies are used for anything other than bodyguards for individuals of extremely high value in the region, rather than elite soldiers willing to kill for the highest dollar. The US State department often contracts with these companies to provide a greater level of security than they can do otherwise with the military for their foreign dignitaries and ambassadors, and the CIA for their foreign case officers. This is outlined well in the opening chapters of the new book 13 Hours – The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi. The book begins by detailing the lives of the contractors involved, both professional and personal. All of those in the book possessed varied military experience, some US Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Marines. They may have in their experience sets Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice, stints as the local police chief, or run warrants as bail bondsmen, and PIs stateside. Other PMCs may come from more diverse backgrounds; internationals with the French Foreign Legion, British SAS, and any number of other places and backgrounds. When I was deployed to Iraq, one team which frequented our Entry Control Point in Al Anbar Province had team members that came from as far off as South Africa, Romania, and Singapore, lead by an English Special Air Service soldier.

For the CIA and State Department, the go to is the Global Response Staff, an open secret of an organization created after the attacks on September 11th, 2001. The GRS gathers together teams of the best and most experienced operators from within the United States military with the knowledge and experience to be able to covertly guard its most valuable assets anywhere on the globe. What distinguishes these individuals from the common military they appear to be is the benefits package. Some PMCs today take in over $150,000 annually for their work overseas, on average, around three to five times what they could have expected in any given military career doing much harder work. Why they are useful is their flexibility and potency. Small teams deployed to a city can easily intertwine with the area, and adapt to cover any target that needs their level of protection. They can do this, however, without the massive overhead of the slow moving US military and sticking out like a sore thumb in places where Americans already have a hard enough time blending in. While these men (and women) and their skills don’t come cheap, they come without the prohibitive costs of deploying an entire unit of Marines or Army soldiers, which could rank in the millions, assuming an entire base doesn’t need to built for the task.

As Benghazi itself showed, the need for these individuals does still exist, and the threat of kidnapping, assassination, extortion, and any number of nefarious concerns may confront high value individuals at any time. This is why operators, such as those working with the Global Response Staff or other private military contractors will be in extremely high demand by foreign dignitaries of all nations, local government leaders, spies, journalists, and corporate executives who travel abroad, all doing business in places where business has to be done. These are the types of people who don’t want to be recorded in orange jumpsuits, a propaganda tool for murder fiends across the world. What this also means is that over the next twenty years, PMC operators of every brand and color will be in such high demand that they pop up literally everywhere important people can be seen in places where bad things often happen. What’s more, many will be more than the sum of high paid former Special Forces operators. They will be homegrown and specialized to their tasks through courses like the various Executive Protection [66] [67] courses that exist and under instruction by companies such as the American security services training company Academi [68]or the European Security Academy [69]. Both of these firms provide, alongside their training, mission support in the form of human resources, planning, and operational support. Remember that these people aren’t accountants, get creative and realize that that means  more or less exactly what you think it does.

The big change we will see as a result of this will be rather undemocratic shift in politics across the world. As the means of terrorism continues to grow, the need for higher and higher priced body guards to handle the threat will make some very rich people very safe, while leaving many others with little more than a prayer. In the end, expect to never see another photo again of any person of worth in a critical conflict area of the world without a dedicated staff of very skilled warfighters at their sides and at the ready.

Of course, this causes us to ask a very important question, where are all these extremely well paid and well trained operators going to come from?

Uncertain Future – Part VIII -Cyberwarfare

According to the Rand Corporation, [35] Cyber warfare involves the actions by a nation-state or international organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation’s computers or information networks through, for example, computer viruses or denial-of-service attacks. RAND research provides recommendations to military and civilian decisionmakers on methods of defending against the damaging effects of cyber warfare on a nation’s digital infrastructure because, when nations involve themselves in the acts of cracking, all bets are off. As previously mentioned, even massive companies like Sony can be leveled by a national attack. Second, we have to ask what counts as warfare? Can it really be an act of war if no one can possibly die from it? Does it matter that this was an American company? Does it change things that it is American citizens? What does retaliation look like? The truth is, we don’t have a lot of answers for this right now, but where it might lead to is nerve racking.

Joel Brenner, a Senior Counsel at the National Security Agency, in his book America the Vulnerable, focuses on the subject of cyber warfare. He speaks at length about the vulnerabilities to the United States, some already proven and some hypothetical. One threat we may one day face which he poses, comes in the form of an attack on our infrastructure. An attack centered on the Los Angeles powergrid could hold half the West Coast hostage. A similar attack against the DOD or VA could publish every scrap of data on over 22 million veterans for the whole world to see. What’s worse, he showed how capabilities already exist that could do this.

He continues in his book to describe the threat posed by China. China is a special case in that, besides a cyber warfare branch of the People’s Liberation Army [36], China also has the added asset of tens of thousands of nationalistic, “Patriot Hackers”. These individuals form a community of cracker groups which focus on exploiting all international information vulnerabilities from corporate, to military, and even personal. This core group of international hackers has been responsible for countless patent thefts and billions in lost research and development to the benefit of Chinese corporations, but is also responsible for compromising classified information worldwide. China’s hacker community is distinctly different from that of nations like the United States, which, if a pattern could be set, would be better described as anarchistic and anti-government (remember Anonymous), and even those in Russia, who are much more geared to cyber crime for profit. China’s hackers, instead work together alongside, or at least to the benefit of, China’s national government. All this while still be officially “unaffiliated” with the government for diplomatic and legal reasons. Effectively, the Chinese have a clandestine cyber national guard, growing in capabilities and there isn’t really a thing the world can do about it.

In fact, the largest breach of security for information in an American database last year didn’t come from someone hacking some corporation to turn a quick profit. It came from China. [37] Last year, the Office of Personnel Management discovered that information over 21 million victims had slipped into hacker’s hands.  [38]The attack lasted over a year and included some 19 million people who applied for government security clearances and the information pertaining to their background checks, along with 1.8 million spouses, friends, and family members. To throw gasoline onto the fire, another 5.6 million fingerprint files of federal employees may have been lost [39], as well.

Moving Westward, Russia is a concern, as well. Having lost much of their technological edge in the last twenty years, they’re working to reclaim lost ground. Currently, when one thinks of Russian hackers, they are probably thinking of internet fraud and child pornography. Over the last few years, however, their capabilities have attempted to close the gap. Recently, in their ongoing conflict between Ukraine, Russian hackers were able to shutdown major sections of the Ukrainian power grid. [40]More concerning, however, is Russia’s attempts to control the media through the very bottom up. Called The 50 Ruble Army, Russia has copied a Chinese tactic to start employing professional commenters, people who scroll the internet commenting on content that weighs negatively against Russia with links to pro-Russian content, articles, and propaganda. [41] (Oh, yeah. Did I forget that about China, too? [42])If you speak about Russia long enough, you’ll see these guys.

But Russia and China aren’t the only concern in cyberwarfare. What’s surprising many, is the capabilities of players that weren’t normally seen in traditional spheres of  computing capability. In 2011, by all accounts, Iran was able to steal a United States CIA stealth drone, literally out of the sky.  [43]

According to Iranian sources, they were able to capture the US drone by “spoofing” the onboard GPS system. After technicians were able to hack into the drone, they broke the link with the systems remote controllers. From this point, according to the Iranian source, they simply told the drone to land in on an Iranian base, believing it to be its home in Afghanistan.  [44]Quite frankly, if any part of that story is true, that is a real head scratcher for the Americans. More so than that, given the relatively unharmed state of the drone, at least from the pictures, it very well could be true. As far back as 2012, the concept of GPS spoofing was a proven concept by researchers at the University of Texas.  [45]Given the resources of an entire nation, it wouldn’t surprise me terribly if they figured it out faster than a single American college.

Granted, the loss of our drone rattled many, but it wasn’t the first attack in the Iran/American Cyber War. Nor would it be the last.

Let’s take a step back to the 1980’s. Russia had poor abilities to produce microchips and the soviets worked to steal technology from the West, decades aheads of them technologically speaking. Because of a defector, the United States was able to know what it was Soviet spies were after. The Americans allowed flawed microprocessors to be stolen and their programs copied. These were made so well that they passed an initial inspection, only break down chemical and manufacturing facilities and overpower turbines in the Trans-Siberian pipeline. When soviet spies stole plans for gas-line pumps, they were unaware that it was intentionally designed to pump with much more pressure than the pipes were ever meant to handle. William Safire of the New York Times in 2004 was the first to break this story 25 years later. In his words, “The result was the most monumental, non-nuclear explosion and fire, ever seen from space.”

Fast forward a few decades.

In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency visiting the Natanz uranium enrichment plant in Iran noticed that centrifuges used to enrich uranium gas were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery—apparently as much to the Iranian technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them.

Five months later a seemingly unrelated event occurred. A computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot a series of computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly. Again, the cause of the problem was a mystery. That is, until the researchers found a handful of malicious files on one of the systems and discovered the world’s first digital weapon.

Stuxnet, as it came to be known, was unlike any other virus or worm that came before. Rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak physical destruction on equipment the computers controlled.

WIRED senior staff writer Kim Zetter [46]

A piece of code began showing itself around which became known as the Stuxnet virus, made famous for its approach to disabling Iranian nuclear refinement operations. Brenner describes why Stuxnet was so incredible. It was a worm, a self-replicating virus, which utilized not just one, but four previously unknown vulnerabilities in Microsoft operating systems to spread itself throughout a worldwide infection. Once spread, it sought out particular Siemens centrifuges, like those used by the Iranians to refine Uranium, and bring them down. This virus baffled engineers for months, unaware that random system outages were really the result of advanced sabotage efforts from outside the country. What it showed was the threat to even extremely powerful and well defended military systems were possible via online attack. More perplexing, the Stuxnet virus, Brenner postulates, could have only have been created by one of a very few groups who would have had the technological capability to create it, that being the national governments of either United States, Russia, China, Israel, or one of a few members of the European Community. It goes way beyond the capability of the midnight hacker savant or the college computer science nerd out for kicks. This was deliberate and ingeniously engineered attack conducted by nations.

Enter: The US Cyber Command. All the necessary ingredients are in place for the possibility of cyber-threats from other nations, or even cyber-terrorism. For all intents and purposes, the United States built them. For that reason, the United States military created the US Cyber Command. On June 23, 2009, the Secretary of Defense directed the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command to establish a sub-unified command, United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). Full Operational Capability (FOC) was achieved Oct. 31, 2010. The Command has three main focus areas: Defending the Department of Defense’s Intelligence assets, providing support to combatant commanders for execution of their missions around the world, and strengthening our nation’s ability to withstand and respond to cyber attack. I couldn’t find a video. I don’t think they want me talking about it.

Many speculate that either the US Cyber Command, or some other third party affiliate with the CIA, or even companies like Hacking Team to have created the Stuxnet virus, in conjunction with allies in Israel. As of yet, US Cyber Command has only once, very recently admitted ever taking part in any offensive actions. In the fight to retake Mosul, Iraq US forces are working with allies in the region to stop ISIS on the ground, in the air, and via the web.  [47]

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are waging a cyber offensive to cut or spy on ISIS communications in Mosul. Carter said cyber attacks are being used “to interrupt [and] disrupt ISIL’s command and control, to cause them to lose confidence in their networks, to overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy.”

While this is the first admitted time the US Cyber Command has officially been used in an act of cyber warfare, it will certainly not be the last. Along with this, many fear a future where it is needed. In an answer on a similar vein, I was once asked how vulnerable the US Naval fleet was to attack.

Future state-on-state conflict, as well as conflicts involving non-state actors such as al-Qaida, would increasingly be characterised by reliance on asymmetric warfare techniques, chiefly cyber-warfare, Chipman said. Hostile governments could hide behind rapidly advancing technology to launch attacks undetected. And unlike conventional and nuclear arms, there were no agreed international controls on the use of cyber weapons.

“Cyber-warfare [may be used] to disable a country’s infrastructure, meddle with the integrity of another country’s internal military data, try to confuse its financial transactions or to accomplish any number of other possibly crippling aims,” he said. Yet governments and national defence establishments at present have only limited ability to tell when they were under attack, by whom, and how they might respond.

The US Defence Department’s Quadrennial Defence Review, published this week, also highlighted the rising threat posed by cyber-warfare on space-based surveillance and communications systems.”On any given day, there are as many as 7 million DoD (Department of Defence) computers and telecommunications tools in use in 88 countries using thousands of war-fighting and support applications. The number of potential vulnerabilities, therefore, is staggering.” the review said.

“Moreover, the speed of cyber attacks and the anonymity of cyberspace greatly favour the offence. This advantage is growing as hacker tools become cheaper and easier to employ by adversaries whose skills are growing in sophistication.” [48]

Some of those vulnerabilities are forehead-smackingly simple, once you know where to look. “You can walk around any ship, most aircraft, and you can find either USB ports or serial ports that were put there for maintenance,” said Leigher. “They were done for good engineering reasons” — to download diagnostic data, for example — “but the engineer wasn’t thinking about computer security.” What if an enemy agent undercover as a contractor or even as a civilian on a good-will tour slipped a virus-loaded thumb drive into one of those ports? What if the bad guy simply tricked a sailor into doing it for him? [49]

U.S. computer experts playing the part of foreign hackers managed to shut down all communications among the U.S. Pacific fleet, and could have shut down the entire western half of the U.S. power grid. [50]

In that answer, given everything we know about the numerous breaks in our defenses, the capabilities of hackers across the globe, and the outdated systems of much of our Navy, it is plausible a group of hackers which are well enough organized and with enough backing, could compromise our carrier’s systems. It is possible that infected equipment could be installed on the ships themselves, since it is economically impossible to produce all the technologies built for these ships in government controlled factories, nor even, all in the United States. Foreign manufacturing produces gateway points for hardware to be slipped in with infected files that could then reproduce throughout the vessel’s internal secured networks and systems. If this were to happen, it is possible that these ships could be brought down through their own control systems, locking up, halting their communications, melting down their reactors, crashing them into the rocks or even city docks, or just causing them to float dead in the water defenseless against enemy attack and unable to protect us here at home.

Uncertain Futures – How Safe Will You Be and How Security Will Change in the World of Tomorrow

I’m starting a multipart series on what are the biggest ways in which the world will be be different 20 years from now, with a key focus on how changes in the security fields will impact all of our lives.

When you ask most people what the groundbreaking “X-factors” of the future will be, they’ll say many wildly bold, exciting, and optimistic predictions of a future not far from us today. So far, answers to that question have ranged from technological leaps in machine automation, biotech, robotic swarms, and 3D printing; to social evolutions such as the conversion to all credit economies, an end to diseases, the post-scarcity, and new levels of international individual equality. Yet more promise better governance via more openness, and even a possible end to war through an even more interconnected world. Of course, others are going the other direction with predictions of diseases we haven’t yet discovered, or worse, haven’t yet invented. Some warn weapons too terrifying to detail. Others have echoed cautionary tales against the possible destruction of us all through climate change, energy crisis, nuclear devastation, and now to add to the list… radical religious fundamentalism.

As I examine the answers I wonder to myself what the odds of any one of these outcomes may be. Some seem well thought out, bringing in insights from brilliant minds. Some are simply ridiculous. I am left, however, with one surreal and terrifying truth… at least a few of them will be right. Some of these predictions, wild as they may be, will come true. The sad thing is, we aren’t really sure which ones. All we can be sure of, is that there will be change. Change, however it happens, is the one certainty among all this speculation.

Change will most certainly come, but it won’t come alone. After great change, there is always a period of disruption. Disruption is often used in Silicon Valley to symbolize the moment one company strikes it rich by finding an unknown vacuum to fill, a need to satiate, or dismantling an inefficient system. For many others, it is the fear that automation will leave them and millions of others out of a job and no hope to fill it. To some governments, disruption means a protest of thousands of angry and jobless people turning into a riot, or even a full blown rebellion. Disruption may be in the creation or destruction of entire industries, or as has been the case very recently, entire regimes. Most of the world has already experienced a decade pass where we feel less safe, less secure, and less sure that some catastrophic event won’t destroy our lives in the blink of an eye or the click of a mouse. Likewise, many millions have already felt the effects of change destabilize their nations with ramifications that will echo for years to come. Many of the other answers to this question have illustrated why, whether they intended to or not.

Consider a case study in change and disruption that was the Arab Spring of 2010. Then, new technology gave way to empowering the youth of several nations with information. A wave of democratic energy swept across the region. Caught in this wave were dictators over nations like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The world watched in amazement as millions upon millions flooded streets to demand change. To them, change indeed came. In several nations, reforms are taking root, and dictatorial regimes have been replaced, if not ousted entirely. Millions are indeed living freer lives.

But…

At the same time, today there are three nations currently gripped in struggles of civil war, numerous uprisings already violently crushed, millions already killed, and many tens of millions of people displaced from their homes both nearby and across the world. Worse yet, chaos and anarchy in the region formed in the void of power that once existed under the despots who ruled there. In that void grew medieval death cults bent on absolute devastation and the full scale disruption of the Western world, for no other reason than that the West needed to be disrupted. Today, news of the Middle East centers only on one word – Chaos.

This isn’t to say that change is necessarily a bad thing, nor even that the disruption that change brings is evil in itself. It is just acknowledging that change happens, and that where change occurs, not far behind it, disruption is sure to follow. Finally, where disruption takes place, as we have seen in Middle East, instability is sure to follow, as well. It is this instability that leads to the crises which we hear about daily, and this instability that creates an ever widening gulf between where are today and the world we envisioned for it twenty years ago. Furthermore, as we experience yet more change, the kinds of technological, social, and political changes highlighted over and over throughout this question, instability will build upon itself, sometimes making way for progress and improvements, but other times, most of the time, preparing the ground for the kinds of horrors that only come from the vacuum where order once existed. It is in these environments desperation happens, and the kind of dangerous actions take place which only further dismantle everything. We see a model of this in Syria, where a desperate leader does unspeakable things to his people, to stop rebels and religious fanatics, all empowered by modern technology, both military and civilian. From the chaos of that nation we have seen yet more chaos spread far beyond when millions fled to Europe, bringing with them terror hidden as one of the refugees.

For this reason, the real “X factor” won’t be any one technology or suite of technologies. It won’t be an idea or a revolutionary act of governance, nor will be the culmination of one single ideological movement. The real “X factor” will be how we deal with all of these changes that are sure to come. How do we deal with change which could come from any source, at any time? How can we continue our operations when others fall into chaos? How do we guarantee safety when we have no guarantees on what tomorrow will look like? The world will change, but it will be the people who can adapt to that change that will survive it the best. Those people are going to be the ones who protect themselves, their communities, and their assets. As others fail and a little bit more chaos is built, these groups and individuals will be those who provide the long term stability needed and become anchors in ever changing worlds. For that reason, the true “X-factor” in the future will be the force, in all its forms, that allows the most positive change for the greatest numbers of people, while preventing the kinds of negative change that pulls us all a little bit closer to the abyss.

The factor, is security.

But wait, security isn’t something that is “possible.” It is everywhere around us already. While I would agree, this answer will seek to explain just how good our security needs to be in the future, and how it has failed us today. More so than this, I want to show all the needs we have for security already, and how improbable it is that we will live in perfect peace in the next twenty years. Internationally, 2015 saw a surge in terrorism born from conflicts in the Middle East. Attacks in Paris, one at the beginning and again the end of the year, along with another in California, woke many in the West to the present threat that exists when terrorists inspired by jihad overseas are brewed at home. The year also saw tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals hacked in some of the largest information attacks in history. Going beyond this, privately operated drones are now being empowered not only to deliver mail to our doorstep, but to look right in on our lives, as well. What this means for today is a desperate scramble to attempt to find a new normal which we can all feel a sense of peace. What it will mean in the next twenty years is a complete change in the way we see the security industry, and scale which we deal with it in our daily lives.

The rest of this series will be dedicated to listing some of the ways the security industry will need change, and how those changes will affect off all of us. Perhaps more than the question asked, this answer will leave you realizing one truth. Anyone can handle when something goes right, and some new technology makes your life better, but who is going to be left when everything goes to Hell?

How has Mortality Rate Per Battle Changed Throughout History?

Time and technology have not changed mortality in battle until only very recently.

Looking at the major battles of history will show that the progression of time seems to have not had a significant effect how many men die in a particular battle. What it will show, however, is that what seems much more important is the match-up of enemies in terms of strength, battlefield logistics and tactical advantages. Throw in other factors like if a particular army on any given day is even capable of retreating drastically affects the numbers and is not dependent on what era the battle was fought it. Where time and technology have greatly affected the number of men who die is related to those who would have otherwise passed a few days later or on the roads to and from battle.

Historically many, many more warriors have died as the result of poor medical care, starvation or exposure than have died at the end of enemy weapons. It has really only been in the last 300 years or so that significant enough advances in medicine have had a drastic effect on the survival of a soldier. Add into this logistical capabilities have evolved better and better ways to get more warriors, food, medicine and supplies to the battle lines.

I’ll take a second to also note that historically there has been little distinction in reporting battlefield casualties from fatalities. Fatality refers to an actual death, while casualty refers to either death or severe injury. Since even very minor wounds often would result in death due to little knowledge of the human body or as a result of infection, to get injured was a much more serious thing in wars until just after the American Civil and Napoleonic Wars. Historians of those eras either didn’t or couldn’t record the differences as well as we can today. This also muddles the facts when we try to compare wars of different times. An example of this would be to compare the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American military history, to the Battle of Cannae, one of the most crushing defeats to the Roman Empire. At Antietam we have, however, a total fatality count of only 2% while at Cannae it can be reported that there was over 53% casualty rate. From this we can see what likely has happened is that most of those who died at Antietam did so after the battle and that most of its history probably refers to death and injury, while Cannae would suggest that there is little record differentiating between deaths and injuries. While it was a gruesome battle, particularly for the Romans, I find it hard to believe that a whole half of the battlefield died in the fight.

From these battles it seems that two factors actually have much more effect than the era of the battle on who and how many will die. What seems to affect the mortality rate more than any other factor is the presence of overwhelming force and the availability of retreat.

Presence of overwhelming force:

This is actually a good thing. In many battles where one side held a clear advantage in numbers, equipment, and leadership, the total mortality was surprising low. I contribute this to lower total casualties because the winner doesn’t lose as many men, the loser breaking and retreating early and the concept of surrender, which is much more common than many think. To cite battles by Alexander, by the time he marched into India, a majority, or at least a sizable minority of his men were made of Persian soldiers who were once his enemies that were now absorbed into his army. Many of these were mercenaries, but many simply served the new ruler of Persia. This would not have made many of his battles after he left Greece possible, had the Macedonians killed as many as they could, leaving no one to recruit later.

Another example of presence of overwhelming force would be the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Coalition forces in March of 2003. In that series of engagements strategic pin-point bombing destroyed the Iraqi military’s communication network and much of their leadership. More traditional bombings took out bases, aerial and ground assets, leaving only scattered infantry. With combined arms capabilities, Coalition forces had at their disposal the ability for a single soldier to call in airstrikes, mortar and artillery fire, more infantry, or other specialty capabilities for any enemy they encountered. This, along with the fact that even without these abilities, the individual United States infantry troop has better training, combat tactics, gear and experience than even elite troops of almost any other nation. What ended up taking place during the invasion was that a numerically weaker force of around 265,000 annihilated a force of about 1,190,000 suffering only 172 losses to the Iraqi losing nearly 30,000 in the span of only about three months. That is a kill ratio of 175:1. What this amounts to is the most successful invasion in history with more ground captured and fewer losses than could ever be expected. In spite of this massive win, the total casualty percentage was around 2% overall. It was truly an amazing accomplishment. That isn’t to say that anyone believes the next 8 years went all that well, though.

An example where overwhelming force was not present would be the battle of Yarmouk in 636. This was a face-off of two extremely powerful armies of the time, each believing, reasonably well that they could win, the Eastern Roman Byzantines and the Rashidun Caliphate. The battle lasted for six days, a great deal of time for a pitched battle. The fighting was more or less even until on the sixth day, the Roman line broke, fled and were massacred. The fact that they were so evenly matched lead to very high casualties, in this case 14% for the winner and 45% for the losing side.

From my findings, overwhelming strength seems to be the most merciful way to fight a war. It brings a swift end to a fight, keeps allied casualties down and encourages enemy forces to flee rather than be annihilated. It may seem obvious, but far too often forces will meet with just enough to maybe win and result in catastrophic losses.

Ability to Retreat

Another factor important to many battles is the ability for the loser to get away. Most battles ended in some level of an organized retreat and most people who fought survived. Where this is ability to run away is somehow prevented you see the most massive of casualties. Once again I will refer to Yarmouk and Cannae. At Yarmouk when the Romans finally broke they were greeted with only a series of rivers behind them. Many were then unable to retreat and then massacred by the Islamic army. At Cannae, a brilliant general was able to utilize his units to completely envelope the enemy army. This meant that the Carthaginian forces had to keep fighting until every last Roman in the envelopment was killed. It cost the Carthaginians 16% of their forces, but the Romans suffered a 75% casualty rate. Had either of these armies had the ability to disengage from the battle they had already lost, we would have seen much fewer losses.

These are a few of the things to consider when viewing the history of warfare across such a long span of history. That said I have tried to collect enough resources to answer the question as best I can as a hobbyist.

Greek Battles

Battle of Marathon, 490 BC
Total Combatants: 35000
Total Casualties: 6603
Total Casualty%: 18.87%

This is a major battle involving the Greeks and Persians. According to historical records this showed the Greeks conflicting massive losses to the Persians due to their use of more advanced equipment, training, tactics and a more motivated population of military. In that battle they inflicted losses of more than 6000 on the Persians while only losing a few hundred themselves.

Battles of Alexander the Great

Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC
Total Combatants: 122000
Total Casualties: 48100
Total Casualty%: 39.43

The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Macedonians and led to the fall of the Persian Empire. It is another battle where we see a smaller force, with much better tactics, logistical support, training, equipment and motivation soundly defeat a much larger force.

Roman Battles

Battle of Cannae 216BC
Total Combatants: 136400
Total Casualties: 73000
Total Casualty%: 53.42

Cannae was one of the most crushing defeats the Romans ever experienced. The greatest feat in this battle was the leadership of Hannibal. He marched an army of mostly mercenaries gathered from all over Northern Africa and what is now modern Spain and France through the Alps into the heart of Rome. He led an incredibly diverse variety of warriors, many speaking different languages and vastly different from his own Carthaginian culture, into a highly flexible force combining the unique capabilities of each unit into one amazing strategy. By the end of the battle the Romans were completely surrounded and cut down one by one suffering more than 65,000 casualties.

Crusades

Battle of Yarmouk 636
Total Combatants: 85000
Total Casualties: 29875
Total Casualty%: 35.15

The Battle of Yarmouk was a major battle between the Muslim Arab forces of the Rashidun Caliphate and the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire that I have never heard of before writing this answer. It was extremely important, however, in that it ushered in the Islamic Arabs as the new power, filling the power vacuum as Rome’s time was coming to an end.
Middle Ages

Battle of Falkirk 1298
Total Combatants: 21000
Total Casualties: 3000
Total Casualty%: 14.29

Here Scots led by William Wallace are soundly defeated by Edward the First as their pikemen are arranged into a defensive formation to guard against cavalry charge and are in turn showered by archery fire.

Battle of Grunwald 1410
Total Combatants: 49000
Total Casualties: 12500
Total Casualty%: 25.51

Here an alliance of Polish and Lithuanian forces defeated the Teutonic Knights and brought about the end of the Northern Crusades.

Battle of Agincourt 1415
Total Combatants: 31500
Total Casualties: 8612
Total Casualty%: 27.34

Here English longbowmen secure a massive victory by taking advantage of a confused and disorganized force marching through thick mud. Environmental factors played the largest part of this battle, aiding the archers in staying safely away from the fighting to break up enemy formations and kill many enemy forces before they could reach the fight.

Early Modern Era


Battle of Flodden 1513
Total Combatants: 60000
Total Casualties:12500
Total Casualty%: 20.83

This was the largest battle between the Scots and the English. This was a crushing loss for the Scots, resulting in the loss of their king.

Battle of Vienna 1683
Total Combatants: 305700
Total Casualties: 46500
Total Casualty%: 15.21

This is one of the most important battles of history. This marked the end of Islamic growth in Europe from military victories. An alliance of Christian forces gathered together enough to stop a much larger Ottoman force. The Ottomans would not recover from that loss and their military prowess would eventually fade until they were finally broken up in the 20th century.

American Revolution*

Battles of Saratoga 1777
Total Combatants: 21600
Total Fatalities: 530
Total Fatality%: 2.45

This was an important battle for the Americans though its numbers are not that impressive for a post like this. See my note at the bottom for reasons I think American battles experience such low casualties. Saratoga marked a turning point in the American Revolution in favor of the Americans. What is probably the result of the low casualties were the civility of forces, the ability to retreat and the practice of taking prisoners, more than 2000 English prisoners in all.

Napoleonic wars


Battle of Austerlitz 1805
Total Combatants: 157000
Total Casualties: 16305
Total Casualty%: 10.39%

Here Napoleon led his French Army to soundly defeat an alliance of Russian and Austrian forces. His tactics and strategies in the battle were brilliant and gave the battle and the leader himself legendary status. This battle is often considered one of the greatest executed in history and on par with Gaugamela and Cannae.

Battle of Waterloo 1815
Total Combatants: 190000
Total Casualties: 75000
Total Casualty%: 39.47

Overconfident from Austerlitz and other victories, Napoleon doesn’t factor in the environmental factors and the importance of combat logistics. He suffers greatly and even more so in the retreat back home.

American Civil War*

Battle of Antietam 1862
Total Combatants: 113500
Total Fatalities: 3654
Total Fatality% 3.22

The Battle of Antietam is considered the bloodiest single day in American history. Once again, the numbers above do not give a full image of the battle. It is difficult to say if these estimates include battle losses or losses later from wounds.

Battle of Gettysburg 1863
Total Combatants: 165620
Total Fatalities: 7863
Total Fatality%: 4.75

Gettysburg is much the same story. Here we actually have very good records of how many died at the battle, how many were wounded, and how many went missing. This battle was considered the turning point of the war and resulted in the North securing vital strategic points and resources that would eventually starve out the South from a logistical and economic standpoint.

World War I

Battle of the Argonne Forest 1918
Total Combatants: 740000
Total Casualties: 292000
Total Casualty%: 39.48

While Antietam would be considered the bloodiest day, Argonne Forest is considered the single bloodiest battle in American history. It is hard to be considered a single battle, however, since it stretched two months and along the entire Western front. It was the final offensive by Allied forces and ended in the November armistice bringing about the end of that war. The lethality of this battle was due to the exponential growth in military technology while holding to tactics and strategies that were severely outdated. For the first time air power played a significant role in combat operations. Machine guns had evolved to the point that they were now reliable and afforded a single lucky soldier the ability to mow down entire platoons in seconds. Artillery was now able to fire from miles away reliably. Artillery has accounted for more battlefield deaths in World War I and II than any other source combined. World War I was one of the most lethal wars in history because it combined new technologies with old tactics for devastating effects.

World War II


Normandy landings 1944
Total Combatants: 3052299
Total Casualties: 556323
Total Casualty%: 18.23

Normandy was the beginning of the end for World War II in Europe. It was the single largest military operation in world history. Thousands of ships moved millions of men to swarm the a length of the French northern coast as long as the coastline of Texas. Hundreds of thousands were lost in the attempt to defend it and on the side of those securing a foothold.

Battle of Okinawa 1945
Total Combatants: 303000
Total Casualties: 107513
Total Casualty%: 35.48

This was one of the last major battles of World War II. The battle was important because with the capture of Okinawa, the American forces would be able to easily reach mainland Japan with aerial bombers. Nearing the end of the war this battle was important because of the massive losses experienced by the Japanese defenders, many refusing to surrender and instead volunteering for kamikaze suicide attacks. In the end the Japanese lost more than 90,000 men or nearly 80% of their defense force for the island.

Recent Changes in Warfare

More recently we have seen a significant shift in how many casualties result from a battle. In the Yom Kippur War and the War in Iraq 2003-2011, you see that battle in the modern era is actually much less about killing and much more about securing or destroying vital asset to enemy and ending their ability to fight. This was true for all other wars as well, but never before have armaments such as the B-2 Spirit Bomber, F-22 Raptor, Tomahawk cruise missile or the Javalin Missile system been available. Now the ability to destroy vital targets and prevent actual soldiers from even engaging in a fight is the preferred method of engagement. The ability to strike from a distance has actually done more to end battles quicker and prevent the deaths of many a modern warrior. This level of technological prowess doesn’t guarantee an easy victory and as always is still vulnerable to guerrilla warfare, terrorism and other forms of non-conventional battle tactics. For the purposes of this question though, the modern era is one where perhaps we have seen the last of massive losses of warriors in single battles.

Yom Kippur War

Yom Kippur War 1973
Total Combatants:1125000
Total Casualties: 15950
Total Casualty%: 1.42

The Yom Kippur War was a war between a coalition of Arab states against Israel. The war saw numerous small engagements over a very short time. Early strikes against the Israelis meant that the Israeli feeling of invulnerability was shattered. After regrouping they gained the high ground and at the end of engagements had forces ready to take both the cities of Damascus and Cairo.

Iraq War


2003 invasion of Iraq
Total Combatants: 1455000
Total Casualties: 29672
Total Casualty%: 2.04

As mentioned before, the invasion of Iraq was one of the single greatest engagements in history in terms of land taken and number of allies lost in battle. It was also important in that the speed and lethality of the Coalition forces made it extremely efficient and allowed for a minimal amount of enemy forces to be killed. It stands, however, as battles such as Austerlitz in 1805 and Cannae in 216 BC that without a good plan for after the battle, political incompetence can lose a war started with the greatest of battles.


* American battles surprised me that the casualties were so low. As mentioned before, this may be due to good modern efforts to distinguish between dead and wounded, as well as discounting for the dead who died shortly after. Another theory is that it might lend to the idea that American wars like the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars actually were quite civil. Close relations between the Colonials and English and the North and South may have caused a much more “peaceful” type of war than what could be expected when completely foreign powers meet in battle. The practice of care given to prisoners rather than killing everyone most likely was a huge factor in this as well. A third possibility may be that this was the beginning to the American approach to limit American casualties. The American practice is to send in more than enough men with massive logistical support and focus on strategic wins that damage the ability to make more than the actual warriors themselves. Other cultures haven’t historically shown this as their priority.

**I want it known that to come up with these estimations I wasn’t always afforded perfect records. To keep things simple most of the statistics can be found by following links to the Wikipedia pages on the wars, campaigns and battles I have provided. Where numerous sources disagree I tried to use my best judgement and sometimes averaged the most reliable sources. That said, I am probably wrong, but ballpark on many of my figures. I freely accept this, but just wanted to make a clear representation of the big picture of battlefield mortality over history and not on the details of each individual battle. Let’s face facts, this answer got long enough.

I would really love casualty counts for Battle of Adrianople, Battle of the Catalaunian Plains and many other battles. It was horribly difficult to also find good assessments for any of the major battles in Asia. I would really love good information for them since their forces and battles were astronomical. Please suggest if you find information for other great battles.

If the US Marines are the Navy’s assault force, why are they used for long-term missions like Iraq/Afghanistan?

This really doesn’t make sense until you start asking yourself how Navy Frogmen became the SEALs.
The underwater demolitions unit (called the frogmen) possessed a certain number of unique skills. They were awesome divers who were used to clear the way for Marine transport landings of enemy underwater mines. So they were good at diving, explosives, and early stealth. That made them the first to look at for other teams that needed to be made, such as sneaking into enemy territory via the water for secret squirrel recon missions. From there, they picked up some marksmanship abilities and traditional fighting tactics while maintaining their same old core skills like diving. A few decades later and we have a unit that looks nothing like the divers of WWII, but something much more akin to any other ground based infantry.
In fact their role has changed so much that Chris Kyle (American Sniper), perhaps the most famous SEAL today, often joked that wasn’t really a SEAL. He was just an “L”. To understand that, you need to know that SEAL stands for SEa Air and Land. Kyle’s joke referenced how much he loathed water operations and jumping out of planes. What was odd, was that two core skill sets to the Navy Seals a few decades ago, were so completely unnecessary in the wars of today, that Kyle was able to utilize his “L” skills alone to become the killingest sniper in US military history.
Now the SEALs haven’t lost their old abilities. The killing of the Somali pirates who took over the civilian shipping liner, made famous by the movie Captain Phillips, shows clearly how modern SEALs are still able to execute naval engagements with the same lethal precision as their heritage dictates.
Still, their maneuvering into more and more based land operations asks a few questions. The first to followers of military organization is, “What about DELTA?”
Delta is the United States Army’s primary direct action special operations unit. Traditionally, all the things we think about the SEALs doing, Delta would have done. All of it. So why all the redundancy? Well, the simple reason is… redundancy.
Having two forces with the skill sets needed today hurts no one… well there is an argument about the taxpayer, but that’s another question for another day. In either case, having both units available allows for specialization and evolution of the tradecraft of warfare. For example, Delta is better at black ops, often donning masks and blending in enemy locales vastly different from their own. The SEALs do it too, but not quite as well. The SEALs have more experience with water bound insertions, which isn’t really that useful today, but will be again at some point. The point is, they can handle problems differently, which gives the military as a whole, a better chance of success and new avenues to evolve in the future. For example, the Marine Corps has even finally gotten into the game with their own special forces direct action units built off the old recon units. They are called the Raiders, and if we think about a Marine Corps version of the SEALs and Delta… well, I just hope people don’t dither too much on getting their hands up because those guys are going to kill everything so hard.
Which brings me back to why the Marines are a land force. It might interest readers to know I was a Marine who spent my entire time operating in deserts, from Southern and Southwestern California, Yuma, to my favorite one, the deserts of Al Anbar Province Iraq. Lovely place. It’s like a beach with no water and the bikinis suck.
Anyway, the reason I was in Iraq is because the Marines have a few redundant skillsets. Like the Army, we are great warfighters, and on average, many would argue better, but limited by our smaller size and budget. This is because primarily because, many moons ago, we were tasked with the role of invasion. We would go into a country, deprive the bad guys of a few key assets, bloody them up really good with a few quick assaults and basically leave them completely fragmented by the time the much stronger, and larger, but slower Army came around to secure the field and mop up. This is well demonstrated in the wayGeneral Mattis directed Marines during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to magnificent effect.Sometimes, the Marines are set up to do this completely without the aid of the Army, relying on nothing but naval support. Hence the question.
However, it doesn’t make sense to just abandon a mission three weeks after the invasion, hop back on our boats and wave a one fingered salute to the Army, saying to our soldier buddies, “Good luck, suckers.” No. We have the skills and we have the assets to do the job, so we are going to do it too. In fact, we were often sent to the extremely difficult regions, such as Al Anbar, currently in the news for being the central zone of occupation for Islamic State forces and housing their capital in Iraq.
So having said all that, the answer to “Why are the Marines used for long-term missions like Iraq/Afghanistan?”, the answer is simply, “because they can,” and more importantly, “because someone needs to,” because there simply aren’t enough who are both willing and able to do it.
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