Wednesday, February 3, 2016

SHTF Self-Education Series: From the Library: Phantom Soldier- The Enemy's Answer to U.S. Firepower

For those of you who have been with us a while, you will recognize the theme of 4th Generation Warfare as a common refrain.  What I have for you today is a look at H. John Poole's work, "Phantom Soldier- The Enemy's Answer to U.S. Firepower".  It is published by Posterity Press and is copyright 2001.  I am reviewing a first printing of the work here.



What readers get within the covers of this 5.5" x 8.5" paperback of 335 pages is both excellent source material as well as information astonishing to the "professionals".  To quote the back page review from "Command Magazine', -
"By revealing how eastern soldiers... hold their own without resupply, tanks, or air support, Phantom Soldier shows what U.S. Infantrymen must do in order to survive the more lethal weaponry of the 21st century."
The forward by Bill Lind is instructive, in that a looming conflict with China is envisioned at some point. The thrust of the book is to open up American military minds to what they will run into in the future, but some in the audience may take the material in here in the reciprocal - to learn how successful opposition forces have taken the fight to American troops and won.  While it may shock some readers and some into denial, Bill Lind correctly identifies the American military as mostly a 2nd Generation Force, where power is applied to a target set, everything else is secondary.

While many scholars will quote at length from Lao Tzu and dead German Generals, I'll spare you that here unless absolutely vital to the point.  A primary attribute of Eastern Combat methods is to hide on the battlefield, to not be seen and in so doing, deliver a strike and then retreat, avoiding pitched battles.  This is, for the purposes of this audience, done by improving small unit tactical capabilities well beyond the rote "on line" tactics taught in Western military schools.  This has become a frequent feature of American wars, where an over extended force at the long end of a distant supply line fight against relatively primitive people with simple weaponry.  Do not make the mistake thinking that this book is one of individual movement techniques and esoteric kata. Its main function is to get Americans thinking about the indirect methods of combat and not combat that lead up to strategic victory.  Tactical victory is always nice, but everything is geared towards the strategic win.

A key sentence is worth noting here.  As illustrated in the book's first chapter, "no amount of infantry expertise can stop an opponent willing to invest any number of men and machines."  Indeed, it is the paucity of equipment that forces the 3rd world or guerrilla force to focus heavily upon investing in the individual and small team level for tactical innovation.  Odd, that in a nation that so values the individual, we fight as Battalions (at a minimum), deploy as Squadrons and so forth... while to be able to survive, the guerrilla is compelled to stay light, agile and remain tactically flexible.  I will pound this point home right here... American forces, be they Infantry or Domestic Police, have become the equivalent of motorized infantry.  They are burdened with vast equipment lists and are saturated with technology that takes their eyes off the battlefield as they fiddle with data entry and such.  They largely are not able to take action unless higher headquarters is in the loop. The guerrilla has as his approval chain... himself, perhaps a squad leader at most.  It is the analogy of the tiny pathogen taking down a large vertebrate.

American fascination with reconnaissance has nothing on 3rd world endeavors in this regard.. On page 23, Poole provides a narrative from a report by a Reconnaissance Sapper from the 261st VC (Viet Cong) Battalion, as he infiltrates a South Vietnamese Army post at Cai Be.  Suffice it to say, the VC was extremely lightly equipped.  Managing to infiltrate barbed wire and pass a sentry at a distance of 2 yards or so solely on sheer technique, he was able to complete his mission and get back out to issue a report.  American recon teams are not operating as single soldiers, and reconnaissance generally means drones or other technical footage in a modern American context.

An example of American recce and sniper teams falling prey to non-western ruses are evident in an attack that killed four Marine Snipers in Anbar .  They were assigned to Echo Company 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in 2004.  Reading the NCIS report summarized at the link, it is evident that the team had no control over its own tactical employment.  They paid the ultimate price for centralized command and control.  The use of surprise and misdirection of a local insurgent team is thought to be the method of closing the distance and enabling the killing of 4 Marines only 800 yards from their headquarters.  The lesson here for a guerrilla is that you don't need much to prevail, just patience and the ability to recognize timing.

The universal focus on positional warfare and rote formations in Western forces is not replicated in non-western armies.  They can change up operating concepts from guerrilla, to positional warfare, to mobile warfare and back again as needed.  American focus on centralized C2, abetted by heavy logistics conspires to keep Americans from successfully running as guerrillas and other forms.

Between pages 27 to 32, the focus is on the art of military deception.  Figure 3.1, "Deception Recap" is a summary of the 36 Strategems.  There are a number of editions out there, I do not have a copy in my personal library and have not found one yet to review and recommend to you.  Suffice it to say, the 36 strategems are a distillation of over 5,000 years of Chinese history.  It would be foolish to not see the value in these, particularly when the mind is stressed.  Understand them before you need them, and you will befuddle any troops.  Appendix A, pages 241 through 292 expand upon the 36 strategems in a meaningful way for the modern guerrilla, be he 1 or many.

Though it is understood that a great many of the Readers here are Christians, understand that the underlying concepts of Taoism suffuse the book.  Patience, simplicity and harmony with nature drive concepts and expectations of combat and of the individual within it.  It would not be inaccurate to state that this sense pushes for more cognitive approaches and solutions than mere application of firepower, brawn and technical superiority.  This approach negates much of the advantages seemingly brought with advanced weaponry and complex systems.

From pages 34 to 42, Poole addresses a number of ancient battle formations.  All of them are the source material for modern tactical formations that we know today.  While interesting in and of themselves, perhaps the key phrase from this section is:
"The Easterner carefully chooses when and where to fight"
This concept is far reaching, as modern American practice is to generally make it a contest of arms and might.  By carefully and patiently selecting the conditions under which combat is brought to bear, seeming disadvantages are made into strengths.  American forces have a tendency to mirror image, particularly at higher echelons.  They expect what they are and how they are.  The indirect and subtle nature of much that is done puzzles them.  A specific example is that of "running away". Mao considered this to be part of tactical initiative.  Guerrillas do not have the luxury of standing and going toe to toe with superior firepower, so it is natural that retreat/disengagement/running away would be in the decision matrix.  For Americans in the Readership who think otherwise, "running away" was a supremely effective tactic employed by Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.  He used the terrain to exhaust and disperse his enemy, the British.  His techniques and practices are recognizably Eastern, and he utterly flummoxed the British forces under Tarleton.

Part 2 of the book is the meat of the matter, it provides culturally relevant examples for an American audience and illustrates the main points of the book.  In respect of brevity, I will list the chapter titles here for a sense of depth for the Reader:

Ch 5  Ghost Patrols and Chance Contact
Ch 6  The Obscure, Rocky-Ground Defense
Ch 7  The Human-Wave Assault Deception
Ch 8  The Inconspicuous, Low-Land Defense
Ch 9  The Absent Ambush
Ch 10  The Transparent Approach March
Ch 11  The Surprise Urban Assault
Ch 12  The Covert Urban defense
Ch 13  The Vanishing Besieged Unit

Each of these 10-25 page chapters has a wealth of historical examples and maps, from Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservior, Vietnam, Con Thien, DaNang, and Hue.  Each of these is well used to illustrate not just what happened, but to detail items such as bunker plans and street fighting situations.  If you are a student of military history (really, is there any other kind?) and have not read this book, I urge you to remedy that situation.

Chapter 14 is of particular interest to guerrillas and those interested in what American capabilities are.  Even though America is focused on precision engagement, high tech solutions and ever expanding surveillance, these systems are all fallible and inherently problematic for a variety of reasons.  One key element is that if any of these systems goes down, American troops are left naked, blind, deaf and not resupplied.  As a guerrilla, you only need dispersion and initiative to persevere.  Balls help.  Just make sure in your pre combat checks, that they don't clank together.


Pages 293 onward are notes and a bibliography.  If you can't find your source material in his detailed notes and bibliography, you just aren't trying.

In closing, this is NOT a book on special individual techniques per se, but more aligned with getting the reader to look at warfare from a different, more indirect path.  It just so happens that this path may be more conservative with life and limb, to achieve victory at lower costs.  That should be of deep and abiding interest to all and sundry who have a passing familiarity with Liberty.

You can click to purchase the book here:
 http://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Soldier-Enemys-Answer-Firepower/dp/0963869558/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1454453576&sr=8-1&keywords=phantom+soldier



A few interesting points from the book to mull over:
  • Use the enemy as a source of supply
  • Recognize Relationship between tactics and strategy could be non-linear
  • If it does not attack the enemy strategy or further friendly strategy, it is not done
  • Best to subdue enemy without fighting

You may also enjoy reading the previously published SHTF self-education series "From the Library" Book Reviews: Spec Ops Guerilla Warfare Manual,
Coup D'Etat and Total Resistance.



Tuesday Book Review Written by StopShoutingBlog contributor and #FAB50 Blog Award Winner Partyzantski, coolest cat on teh inner webs, retired Mustang, former FID embedded Senior Military Advisor, SASO trainer and scenario developer, Electronic Warfare Aviator, PME instructor, certified Force Protection and Anti-terrorism officer and combat seasoned USMC (0202) field grade intelligence officer. When not blogging or maintaining weapons proficiency at the range, he enjoys cat herding and travel to off-the-beaten-track locales. You can follow him on Twitter @Partyzantski 

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Poole has written a number of related, interesting books.

Defensive Training Group said...

All of Poole's books are fantastic reference material! For former .mil, "The Last Hundred Yards: The NCO's Contribution to Warfare" is superb. The foundation for the civilian wishing to gain SUT skills that are meaningful once learned in an application setting, is, "The Tiger's Way.

Stop said...

Hi Anon @ 11:49
Thanks, I am sure PZ will profile some of Poole's other work later on. There's lots from the "Shelf of the Library" to choose from, most of it well-thumbed through.