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Correcting the record

Letter to the editor

Reference Military History article “Hallowed Ground Khe Sanh Vietnam” (http://www.historynet.com/september-2017-table-contents.htm)

As a veteran of the battle of Khe Sanh I need to correct the record and the impression created by Mark D. Van Els in his article about the Battle of Khe Sanh.

The first thing is his understanding of the geography.  Khe Sanh was 30 plus kilometers south of the border with North Vietnam and the DMZ.  It sat astride route 9 that ran from Laos all the way to the coast.  It therefore blocked one of the critical avenues of approach into Quang Tri and Thieu Tinh (Hue) provinces. The map below highlights the strategic position.

area map


Given the location of the combat base it was used for surveillance and other operations into Laos and North Vietnam as the author points out.

As both a youngster growing up in Kansas and later as a cadet I studied intently the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the fate of the French.  It was popular to try and compare Khe Sanh and the ill-fated French garrison.  I must admit that many of us tried to draw lessons from Dien Bien Phu to try and predict the next activity of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The comparisons were of limited utility given the much different nature of the battlefield.

Mark Van Els failed to understand a critical point when it came to the timing of the battle.  General Westmoreland and the American chain of command down to and including Colonel David Lounds (the Marine commander of the Khe Sanh Combat Base (KSCB)) knew more than 3 months before the battle that the NVA were coming.  As pointed out General Westmoreland wanted a set piece fire power intensive battle and those of us at Khe Sanh were the bait.  The reinforcement of KSCB started right before the first shelling and then immediately after it.  This is all well documented in my book Expendable Warriors: the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Vietnam War.

The article leads the reader to believe that Khe Sanh was wholly a Marine battle.  As an Army District Advisor working with CPT Tinh-a-Nhi the District Chief we brought Army advisors, Bru montagnard and Vietnamese soldiers to the battle.  The initial battle around Khe Sanh village resulted in rendering an NVA regiment combat ineffective.  These brave soldiers were joined in the fight by Army Special Forces at Lang Vei and Special Forces soldiers at the Combat base itself.  These Vietnamese, Bru and Army soldiers contributed significantly to the overall battle.

As to the comment about the attack on Khe Sanh being a feint to draw forces to Khe Sanh, there is the school of thought that says it was a feint.  However, I contend that General Giap was attacking the American center of gravity—public opinion.  The battles of Tet and Hue were over in several weeks with the NVA and Viet Cong having been defeated everywhere, but Khe Sanh continued as noted for 77 days.  The cover of Time Magazine highlighted the “Agony of Khe Sanh”.  The agony played in the media on Main Street for over 77 days.  General Giap had won.

I believe that we won the battle of Khe Sanh on the battlefield and lost the war on the streets of the United States.  This is the critical lesson from Khe Sanh—the link between the battlefields and public opinion.

Thank you for correcting the record.

Multi-domain Warfare

The Army some months back introduced the concept of multi-domain warfare.

What is multi-domain warfare?

The concept envisions the military — every service and every capability across the entire spectrum of capabilities—naval submarines and destroyers unpiloted air vehicles, cyber, artillery and maneuver forces, and of course strategic and tactical air forces— working together to overwhelm the enemy at a defined location and time within the battled space to gain a opportunity to deliver critical attacks against the enemy’s center of gravity.   Would come from all domains: land, sea, air, space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. These activities would be synchronized, as mentioned in time and space, to create a window of opportunity for decisive actions.

Where are we going?

Each of the military services seemed to have endorsed the concept in general terms and are now trying to figure out how to make it a reality.  How can the Army link its air defense systems with those of the Navy?

The Air Force has suggested a global command and control system based upon its Combined Air Operations Centers (CAOCs).  The Air Force sees the CAOCs as the logical center of multi-domain synchronization.  The Air Force Chief of Staff has argued that the CAOC is “the one operational level headquarters that actually brings all the components together in a way you can integrate fires and effect.”

This suggestion would seem to have the Air Force CAOC assuming the responsibility of a Joint Force Commander whose job it is to synchronize all of the service component forces that he has been assigned.

This proposal could become the basis of some intense inter-service scuffles in the future.

War in the 21st Century: How has warfare changed?

Why War?

Nation’s have traditionally tried to make other nations change their political objectives through many means:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social-Psychological
  • Military
  • Netwar / Cyber

What will change now that we are in the 21st Century?

  • Weapons will be more sophisticated, and maybe less plentiful for the haves
  • Weapons will proliferate but be less sophisticated for the have nots
  • The nation states may not be the only warriors
    • Changing objectives of those not empowered to do so may be more difficult–Leaders may not have decisive authority
    • Rational will be irrational
  • Socio-Psychological means will be more important
    • Will blur in information warfare
  • Asymmetries will increase


  • No one can challenge the US in late 20th Century forms of warfare
  • Enemies will therefore seek asymmetric approaches
    • Low tech mass vice high tech limited quantity
    • Psychological
    • New rules
    • Reduce vulnerability to sophisticated weapons
    • Netwar / Cyber


  • Warfare will be characterized by asymmetries
    • Tactical–complex terrain, use of non-combatants, different rules of behavior
    • Operational–Deep strikes, target detection vice deception
    • Strategic
  • Military–homeland attacks–target detection vice deception
  • Political–Preparation of the body politic
  • Multi-domain—gain local /temporary advantage by exploiting cyber, fires, maneuver, etc. for limited time or location

Modes of Warfare

  • Hands-on
  • Standoff
  • Netwar / Cyber

Some mix of each will be the norm rather than the exception—multi-domain

Hands on War

  • Opponent states or independent organizations
  • Antagonists may be:
    • Passionate
    • Less technologically sophisticated
    • Less vulnerable to technology
  • Fought on complex physical and psychological terrain

Hands on War

  • Characterized by large numbers of refugees and non-combatants
  • Complex terrain–urban sprawl
  • Antagonists have different cultural values
    • What will they be willing lose–what is center of gravity?
    • Different decision process
  • Unattractive to Americans–therefore to be expected

Standoff War

  • State against state
  • Obvious objectives
  • A set of rules
  • Rational actors
  • Decisive authority present
  • Superior technology may be key
  • More robotic forces employed from afar
  • Deception and defense take on added importance
  • May go directly to strategic targets
  • Different calculus to determine the center of gravity
  • Space and information tools more important

Netwar / Cyber Warfare

  • Cyberspace is the battlefield–is the opponent vulnerable–are we?
  • Much more subtle psychological and infrastructure focus
  • When is competition war?
  • Where does national security begin and law enforcement end?
  • Characterized by extreme ambiguity and opponent identification problems
  • Time compressed

The Challenge

  • Designing a military to operate in such ambiguity will be difficult
  • Developing the warrior spirit for netwar/cyber

Developing doctrine and resultant agility and flexibility to conduct multi-domain operations

  • What are the new “rules of war”?