By Angry Staff Officer for CIMSEC’s “Movie Re-Fights Week”
Anyone familiar with the late Galactic Civil War will remember the outstanding triumph by the Rebel Alliance at the Battle of Hoth. Many had considered that this would be a last stand by the Alliance, or at the very least a mere draw if enough transports were able to get away before the Imperial Fleet bore down on them. However, the Alliance was able develop a battle plan that was built on an analysis of the Imperial ground forces’ tactics, techniques, and procedures from years of fighting. This plan emphasized the Alliance’s maneuverability and the terrain that they had chosen for the engagement.
Prior to the engagement, the general staff for the Rebel Alliance had wargamed possible enemy avenues of approach and strike group composition. Because they had effectively shielded their base on the snow-bound planet of Hoth, they knew that the Empire would have to land a strike force on the planet to try to knock out the shield generator. Attempts to enter the battlespace with air assets could be nullified by the Alliance’s Ion Cannon. Additionally, early warning sensors were placed both on the planet’s surface as well as in the atmosphere.
The Alliance’s Echo Base and shield generator were safely harbored inside a draw with only one ground avenue of approach. This site was carefully selected after a thorough intelligence preparation of the battlefield by Alliance engineers and intelligence officers. They could thus canalize any approaching ground force between two ridges of ice and rock. Analyzing the Imperial task organization from past battles, Alliance intel officers theorized that they would most likely attempt to infiltrate with heavy All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) Imperial Walkers and dismounted ground troops to exploit gaps. This would leave them vulnerable on their flanks and rear to air sorties from Alliance T-47 snowspeeders.
Additional preparations included the development of an engagement area in the draw, with obstacle emplacement and fields of fire picked out for concealed heavy weapons. Deep pits were dug and camouflaged with hologram imagery to make the ground appear level. These were offset between lanes of massive tanglefoot: lengths of wire attached to deep stakes sunk into the ice that would impede vehicular movement. Additionally, two belts of landmines were placed in the expected Imperial landing area to disrupt the attack at its outset. Heavy weapons emplacements were dug into the slopes of the surrounding hills to strike at any vulnerabilities in the AT-AT’s armor. In the enemy’s immediate front, several dummy gun emplacements were created to draw the Imperial troops into the trap. The goal was to create as much havoc as possible to the Imperial heavy armor to degrade the morale of their dismounted troops.
The ground forces commander established his heavy weapons fields of fire and coordinated with the Alliance air wings of snowspeeders, specifically Rogue Squadron, to define their flight patterns, where they would infiltrate the battlefield, and where they would exfiltrate, thus avoiding any friendly fire. They gambled that they would have immediate air superiority as the Empire would wait until the shield was down before sending in any air assets. Final protective fires were set at the entrance to Echo Base, where Alliance planners hoped that they could at the very minimum establish a choke point with destroyed Imperial vehicles. Rather than commit to a linear defense, the Alliance relied on a defence in depth, which allowed greater freedom of movement for their dismounted infantry to avoid the heavy guns of the AT-ATs.
The Alliance commander on Hoth, General Carlist Rieeken, assumed a certain amount of risk committing his forces to the battle. He maintained his contingency plan of escape from the planet via transports to assuage his conscience that was still plagued by the loss of Alderaan. Princess Leia Organa emphasized that Hoth was the ideal place to deliver the empire a dramatic defeat that would resound throughout the Galaxy, and Rieeken reluctantly went along with the plan.
Upon the Empire’s discovery of the Rebel base on Hoth, Lord Darth Vader devised a plan whereby the Imperial fleet would come out of hyperspace at some distance from Hoth and bring its heavy weapons to bear upon the planet. However, when Admiral Kendal Ozzel, commander of the Empire’s Death Squadron, brought the his ships out of hyperspace, they immediately triggered the Alliance’s early warning systems in planetary orbit. The shield was activated and Vader was forced to commit to a ground attack. As predicted, the Empire landed heavy armor along with several battalions of the 501st Legion’s snowtroopers on Hoth, at the only available entrance to Echo Base.
Major General Maximilian Veers had overall command of the Imperial ground force. An armor officer by trade, Veers had been stuck at the rank of colonel for some time. His last assignment had been as an instructor at the armor schoolhouse; with the destruction of the first Death Star, so many senior Imperial commanders had been killed that Veers was elevated to major general. Thus, he was entering his first major ground operation with little field experience in the current operating environment. This was perhaps why he walked right into the trap that the Alliance had lain for him.
He deployed his AT-AT’s in line abreast into the draw, with the dismounted 501st troopers behind them. Because of this, his first line of armor suffered significantly from the first two mine belts. Veers then moved two companies of infantry forward of his armor, to check for additional traps and mines. As the terrain constricted them into the draw, the infantry bunched up, and were immediately engaged by Alliance crew served weapons concealed on the flanks, causing heavy casualties amongst the snowtroopers. Veers ordered his lead AT-AT’s forward to knock out the Alliance weapons positions, but two were immediately lost when they stumbled into the pits. The top-heavy nature of the Imperial armor caused the walkers to completely collapse when they encountered the pits, rendering them useless and causing severe casualties to the troops trapped inside. In frustration, Veers ordered all his infantry to dismount to get eyes on the Alliance positions.
The dismounted infantry surged forward, encountering the tanglefoot. Company commanders reported obstacle locations back to Veers, who put his armor into single file as Imperial engineers began to slowly breach their way through the obstacles, taking catastrophic losses from Alliance positions. With his armor’s linear firepower thus limited, Veers could only watch in horror as Rogue Squadron struck from his left, their cannons decimating his ground troops. The second wave of snowspeeders were able to neutralize the rear AT-AT with the cables on their speeders, pinning the entire Imperial task force inside the engagement area. Veers panicked and ordered his armor to fan out to engage the targets that they could identify. This decimated the entire armored force, as they could not maneuver out of the engagement area. The armor took 90% losses, with the entirety immobilized inside the engagement area. Veers’ command vehicle was decapitated by concentrated Alliance firepower and he died in flames.
From space, Vader’s rage increased by the second as he monitored the battle below. When he lost communications with Veers, he flew into a fury and committed two more battalions of ground troops. These arrived to observe the last moments of the first task force, which disappeared under sustained blaster fire. Rather than walk into certain death, these two battalions elected to defect from the Empire in their transports.
Vader ordered the planet blockaded and called for reinforcements. However, word of the Imperial disaster on Hoth spread like wildfire around the galaxy. Revolts erupted in nearly every system, tying down all available ground troops and star destroyers. The Imperial blockade winnowed away due to attrition from small Alliance strike groups that ate away at it. In frustration, Vader abandoned the blockade and retreated to where the beginnings of the second Death Star were taking shape. Superior Alliance intelligence tracked him there, and the Death Star was destroyed before it could ever become operational. Battle damage assessments calculated that Vader was on board when it was destroyed, but could not confirm his death. His body was never found. The Empire vanished in the fire and destruction of the insurgency that began with the victory on Hoth.
Angry Staff Officer is an engineer officer in the Army National Guard with an enlisted infantry background. He has blogged under the name ‘Angry Staff Officer’ since 2014 and is a member of the Military Writer’s Guild. He has served in multiple positions in both staff and line units, at the company, battalion, and division levels, and served one tour in Afghanistan. Angry Staff Officer holds his master’s degree in history. He enjoys snark, satire, cynicism, history, and over analyzing foreign policy. He writes at www.AngryStaffOfficer.com and can be found on Twitter @pptsapper.
By Ben Hernandez for CIMSEC’s Movie Re-Fights Week
I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat: Sauron should have posted guards at the entrance to Mount Doom. He should have posted lots of guards, and only his best guards. They probably wouldn’t have understood why they were there, but when you work for an all-seeing demon lord, you don’t ask too many questions. Even better, Sauron should have sealed off the entrance entirely. What else could he have possibly needed to do in the Cracks of Doom? It’s not like he could get nostalgic and visit the place where he forged The One Ring, he had no corporeal form!
Ignoring that rather glaring oversight, it’s time to approach Sauron as a misunderstood, but rational, actor. While Sauron was bent on the domination of all the Free Peoples of Middle Earth, his approach to making war on them was far from a series of swift and terrible retaliations (as Gandalf described it), but rather cooly calculated moves made based on lessons learned from previous defeats. However, just like any rational actor, he was prone to emotionally-driven lapses in judgement.
A thousand years before Frodo and Sam were born, the Lord of Barad-dûr had lost fair and square in a conventional war, a catastrophe that ultimately resulted in his physical destruction (portrayed as a brief flashback in The Fellowship of the Ring). In that age, Sauron attacked the realms of Men, taking a major city but then only slowly choking off others. In the mean time, sensing that neither race could defeat Sauron alone, the great Elven and Human leaders forged the Last Alliance. Behind the protective veil of the Misty Mountains, they massed armies for three full years. By the time they met Sauron’s armies in battle, the Alliance was well equipped and trained. Sauron had essentially let it happen, having overreached himself in launching the war in the first place.
The Dark Lord had bet the farm (well, not the farm – nothing green grows in the the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie) that the international community of Middle Earth would accept his annexation of the human cities upon the plains adjacent to Mordor. His army was greater than that of any given kingdom or any given race, and assumed that their raw numbers and often terrifying forms would deter an organized response. In the end, he could only watch helplessly as the allied forces of the Free Peoples massed just out of reach, much as Hitler stared across the English channel or Saddam Hussein across the empty deserts of Saudi Arabia.
The Necromancer of Dol Guldur would make no such mistake in his next attempt at world domination. He waited for a divided and weakened Middle Earth, for a time when the Fair Folk, the regional hegemons, had made the decision to abdicate their position and retreat across the ocean. Gondor was plagued by poor governance and was unable to maintain alliances with the other kingdoms of Men, many of which proved quite amenable to Sauron’s corruption. The Dwarves had suffered from what were essentially anthropogenic (dwarf-ro-pogenic?) environmental disasters, with both their shining underground cities of Moria and Erebor destroyed by greed. The Dwarves who had reclaimed the Lonely Mountain were too few to fight anything but a holding action against Sauron’s allies. In other words, it was the perfect time to strike.
Thankfully, the Free Peoples had a few strokes of good luck along the way. Although the Elves had one foot out the door, they had enough foresight to retain an expeditionary fighting force, which proved critical to defeating the armies of the White Wizard Sarumon. On the Pelennor Fields below the White City Minas Tirith, the emergence of a strong leader in Aaragorn was enough to sway a neutral third power (the Dead Men of Dunharrow) to commit to the fight. Even all that, however, meant that the allies were on the brink of defeat, and it was here that Sauron started making mistakes.
Allied forces were sorely depleted after their victories. They had defeated only the first of Mordor’s armies, with most of Sauron’s casualties being proxy forces, such as Sarumon’s hordes and the wicked Southron Men. Éowyn may have slain Mordor’s top general, but there were eight more where he came from. Mordor had an impossible-to-beat edge in force generation, with armies of Orcs emerging ready to fight from the caves every day. In contrast, it could take months to train a young man to fight, and the training pipeline for an immortal Elven archer could easily be decades long! Sauron had nothing to fear from the allies’ conventional fighting force, and everything to fear from a pair of Hobbits.
As is usually the case with tyrants, Sauron’s foreign intelligence apparatus was primarily built for his personal security. The Ringwraiths could travel where his fiery gaze could not, and they had successfully located the Ringbearer Frodo on multiple occasions. In fact, their last positive identification of him was a mere handful of days before the battle of the Pelennor fields – Sauron knew the greatest threat to his survival was essentially at his gates. Furthermore, in a scene ultimately cut from the theatrical release of The Return of the King, Sauron’s chief negotiator reveals that they had recovered Frodo’s Mithril armor from the outskirts of Mordor where he was briefly captured. At this juncture, Sauron managed to do exactly the wrong thing.
Perhaps still fuming over the near thousand-year old memory of losing by giving the enemy time to regroup, he bit hard onto Aaragorn’s bait. The entirety of Mordor’s fell armies poured out of the Black Gate to achieve victory once and for all, or so it seemed. In the mean time, the one and only thing that could have destroyed him slipped right on by and promptly did so. Sauron had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Sauron had many options available to him. At a minimum, he could have delegated command of the situation to his Nazgûl. He had forged a tight and incredibly enduring relationship with his commanders. So what if that relationship started because they were enslaved to his will by demonic jewelry? Aaragorn’s tiny host at the Black Gate did not demand the full attention of his Eye, especially when he had credible information that the Hobbit threat had penetrated Mordor itself. Frodo could only have one objective inside Mordor, and instead of maintaining the fiery gaze upon the ashen approaches to the Mountain of Fire, Sauron got a case of what aviators call “target fixation”. Had Sauron trusted his generals to dispatch the host, he would have almost certainly found Frodo. Even more conservatively, Sauron could have chosen not to meet Aaragorn in battle at all. The Hobbits could only have survived so long inside Mordor if the entire Orc army had been searching for them. A delay of days, a week or even a month would have cost Sauron little in the long run and would have guaranteed his personal survival.
Ultimately, I have to sympathize with the guy. Sure, his entire existence was about enslaving and subjugating, but anybody in the Western intelligence, military or police communities can relate to him. After all, we share a problem set: the possibility that one, maybe two unassuming and outwardly nonthreatening people could cause a catastrophe in our homeland.
Ben Hernandez is one of the hundreds of students under instruction at Naval Station Newport, R.I. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
Written by Matthew Hipple for Movie Re-Fights Week
The blockbuster Avatar is not only remarkable for its stunning visuals and brow-beating politics, but for the colossal incompetence of the corporate and military leadership of the Resource Development Administration (RDA).
Sure, humanity may be counting on you for their survival. Sure, you have arrived on an alien planet armed with the ability to transmit your consciousness into proxy flesh suits hewn together with the most advanced science. But hey, why not just “YOLO” it and see what happens? What could go wrong? It’s not like you’re 4.5 light years from earth with limited resources!
Tactical Failure: If It Looks Smart and Doesn’t Work – It’s Stupid
Having thoroughly pissed off the blue bees nest on Pandora, RDA command is ordering you to destroy a tiny, purple-glowing “Tree of Souls.” The critical node in a vast planet-wide biological neural net, it is located in the middle of an area of heavy radar interference and the aerial equivalent of deadly shoal water.
RDA commanders probably read the old classic “Starship Troopers” and had heard of Star Craft’s “Zerg” and Halo’s “Flood” from the History Channel. Biological hive minds always end in billions of dead terrans. The mission was probably too important not to staff to death.
What would be more perfect than assigning a massive, vulnerable transport ship carrying a comically lashed-together bomb of mining ordnance through this rock mine-field? Granted, the target is only the size of a Denny’s… OH! Let’s add a ground assault through dense jungle with little to no air support. Never pass up an excuse to party “Ellen Ripley” style in an exo-suit. The plan looked awesome on power point, as one can see from the many unnecessary parts: a militarized space barge and a ground assault. The words “decisive,” “domain,” and “disruptive” probably appeared multiple times.
However, RDA had JUST blown up the Home Tree – a facility the size of a small city – using nothing but a token force of deadly and agile VTOL gunships. Not only was Operation Soul Tree against a far smaller and more fragile target – but it would be in a physically and electronically denied environment. Why suddenly trade mobile lethality for for static defense on a flying dump truck? Why risk losing your entire ground force in a superfluous assault through dense jungle? Seriously, how could this NOT go wrong?
Now, had the RDA forces learned the lesson of their own experience – they would have executed a multi-axis raid on the “Soul Tree” using a primary assault by gunships and a feint by a faux “bomber.” The ground assault would have been completely scrubbed.
Maintaining a “feint” – preferably using gunships and a transport on rudimentary auto-pilot – would draw enemy forces away from the actual angle of attack. The windows of the aircraft used for the feint would have to be blacked out. Recon for Airborne Pandoran forces would quickly discover that the cockpits were empty, and realize the bomber is a feint.
Detaching the primary aerial assault force from the bomber would have allowed pilots speed and flexibility denied to them in the original plan to guard a militarized transport. With Pandoran forces distracted by the potential bombardment by the transport ship, the main assault force would move through the floating boulders at top speed, devastating the Soul Tree with their ordnance before quickly retreating back to base.
With the ground component completely scrubbed, the RDA would retain a significant force to continue defense of their facilities. While these bases are heavily defended already, these are static defenses that require augmentation from mobile components. It would be wise to keep some of the aerial component in reserve as well, in the off chance that Operation Soul Tree failed and human forces would have to hold out until military re-supply from Earth.
Of course, unlike in Operation Guard the Slow and Useless Target, we get to win this time.
Strategic Failure: That Escalated Quickly
But let’s take a step back here – why did the RDA get to the point where it believed it had to commit all its forces to a winner-take-all assault on this Soul Tree network node? Oh, that’s right, they chose to burn down some blue people’s entire capital city.
Granted, the tree is sitting on top of an unobtanium stockpile critical to humanity’s survival… but this is the same human civilization that is capable of creating avatar meat-puppets that can be operated remotely to any location anywhere on this alien planet. Certainly, we can learn the ancient art of lateral drilling?
The vast mining infrastructure operated by the RDA, and the automated technology available to it, would allow humanity some options OTHER than blowing a native city into oblivion to access the resources. It’s the future, surely there are automated mining units that aren’t the size of office buildings, or tunnel-boring machines that could serve this mission.
And let’s be real here – the outfit sent to collect all these resources is the “Resource Development Administration.” Mining should be their specialty.
Force Planning: Phoning it in
The mining technology angle leads us to a more general problem with the technology employed by the RDA. Considering the military and commercial operational needs, the capabilities developed from the technology available seem oddly under developed.
The lack of orbital strike capabilities is notable. From cracking open a large hole for mining to cracking open a target – the RDA would have found great use for an orbital weapon of some sort. It’s not like the mission’s importance to earth didn’t warrant the resources. They certainly had the technology for it. You could destroy ANY tree you really felt necessary – and you wouldn’t have to risk any military forces. Hell, the Pandorans wouldn’t even know it was you. They don’t know how satellites work.
More concerning is the lack of a real military application of the avatar technology the movie is named after. Sure, the modified blue people are a nice touch. Hearts and minds is always the better path then a tough military campaign in someone else’s backyard.
However, why settle for tall skinny blue people? Why not create a legion of 10 foot tall super-Cena ? You could add extra arms, camouflage skin, or even millions of tiny spider-like hairs for extra grip! Perhaps lower cost methods could be employed to save human personnel and maximize combat effectiveness, like making the combat exo-suits neural net operated. Perhaps remote neural control could operate the gunships… or even gunship swarms controlled by a single consciousness. In the movie Surrogates, the DoD was fighting wars with legions of brain-controlled robots… and they weren’t even advanced enough to land a mining operation in another solar system.
Hell, if the RDA had the ability to hack into the neurological network of a surrogate body remotely – why wasn’t anyone trying to tap into this planetary neural net? Imagine the processing capacity of a planet-sized biological computer, or the influence one could have on inter-tribal planetary politics with neural-net access. At the very least, the intelligence gathering potential would be invaluable for a force operating in a potential adversary’s backyard.
Conclusion: Insanity or Laziness
Humanity is in a tight spot – an energy crisis along with dwindling terrain resources mean that unobtanium is humanity’s only way out. Unfortunately, the RDA decision makers on Pandora has decided to phone it in.
Perhaps it’s the cabin fever spending so much time away from civilization. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of mission requirements that involve fighting either animal opponents or blue people armed with sticks. Maybe it’s even the lack of good reading material. Whatever the case, those who were clearly once capable corporate, technical, and military leaders had long ago started slacking off – thinking down predictable or silly stovepipes in their execution of the Pandora mission. It makes a good case for regular leadership rotation. It pays to ensure one’s leadership does not become stale… or even lose their minds from isolation.
Whoever humanity sends to re-take Pandora – and capture the traitor, Jake Sully – will be a bit more on the ball.
Matthew Hipple is the President of CIMSEC and host of our Sea Control and Real Time Strategy podcasts. He is also an active duty Surface Warfare Officer, whose opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the Resource Development Administration.