The Iranian missile attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq have given President Trump the opportunity for new and more stringent sanctions against Iran as a short term response.
Given that the effects of these sanctions are designed to cripple further the mullahs’ economy in hopes of collapsing the regime, it seems appropriate to have in reserve active—rather than passive—measures to achieve the downfall of the mullahs. The need for this consideration is simple: Keep Iran from getting deliverable nuclear weapons.
These active rather than passive measures stem from the thinking of two famous airpower strategists.
First is Giulio Douhet, an Italian general during World War I and one of the fathers of strategic airpower whose book, Command of the Air, expressed a new way of thinking. “Victory,” Douhet wrote, “smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war and not upon those who wait for those changes to occur.”
The second is retired U.S. Air Force Colonel John A. Warden III, whose concept of the “Five Rings” was the basis for the “Instant Thunder” air campaign against Iraq in 1991.
Warden’s formula is that an enemy nation is composed of five concentric rings, analogous to the parts of the human body. The first ring is composed of fielded military forces, much like the skin of the body. The next is the population akin to the blood; inside of that ring is the infrastructure, roads, dams, transmission lines, ports. Then, the organs, industry, power plants, means of production. The final ring is the enemy leadership, the brains of the enemy’s body.
In an all-out war, attacks would be generated against all five rings, starting from the outside—suppression of enemy defense, especially air defense—and then attacking across the spectrum with the ideal being a decapitation attack where the totality of the enemy leadership is taken out and the country collapses.
In the case of Iran, it might be wise to consider the concept of “disunifying attacks,” using indirect kinetic effects to leverage the population against the government, in a manner that causes the mullahs’ theocratic regime to implode rather than explode.
Thus, it would be most important not to attack the population and not to attack the infrastructure. Leaving the power, lights, and communications on would be essential in assisting the population to revolt.
Targeted heavily would be the fielded forces, most especially the Iranian air-defense system which is composed of dozens of Russian-built S-300 advanced missile batteries, leftover Hawk missiles from the days of the Shah, and some homegrown and store-bought lesser systems.
An overwhelming rain of decoys, cruise missiles, and smart bombs upon the air-defense system would leave their radars in shambles and a good deal of their missile inventory spent. The remaining target sets would then be easier to attack.
The idea would be to quickly ratchet up the pain so that the population would revolt. In 2019, there were many large-scale riots across Iran against the mullahs’ precipitous and massive increase in fuel prices. Knowing that attacks that can exacerbate this existing problem are key, then attacking those parts of the essential organs—oil refining and distribution systems—should be the first priority.
While attacking the leadership wholesale is a good one, it may be better to not allow the leadership to be “martyred” but to be labeled “inept and counterproductive” by the population. This would require a system of sophisticated attacks: each time the mullahs make a pronouncement, that information system would fail. When the government announces rationing, in order to maintain civil discipline, that system would fail.
Given that Iran’s economy is essentially a one-trick pony—the sale of oil, much of it under the table or otherwise disguised—it would not take long for the civil population to bring down the regime.