Full warning: I’ve got spoilers in here. A heap of them. No, not the plot spoilers you fear so much: the spoilers on how no one in the Star Wars universe learns a damn thing.
A while back I wrote about how the Empire could’ve bounced back from the loss of Death Star II, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine by developing a standardized strategy, abandoning the Sith religion, and targeting the Rebel Alliance exclusively. With the release of The Force Awakens, we are shown how the Empire morphed into the First Order.
And how it refused to learn a single thing.
And the Resistance, that we once knew as the Rebel Alliance? Exactly the same.
Thirty years have passed, new faces emerge, but the galaxy’s longest war continues to be fought along similar lines. Tactics and technology in the most persistent conflict have improved, yes, but strategy continues to be dragged along behind ideology, seemingly lost amidst all the feelings that the Force inevitably brings out in everyone.
Let’s start with the First Order, shall we? Tactically, they’ve come a long way. They have transitioned to the combined arms raid as their main tactical strike. Diversified strike groups of Stormtroopers – now conscripts taken at birth from their families rather than clones – with weapons ranging from small arms to heavy weapons and to less than lethal options can be landed and extracted quickly, depending on the mission. They are tied into close air support from Tie Fighters, with direct communication with the pilots. When the First Order strikes the temple, they do so in conjunction with a weapon of mass destruction strike on several Republic systems, essentially causing chaos across the Galaxy. So much for the positives.
The other main arm of the First Order is Starkiller Base – that WMD I just mentioned. While it has its uses – destroying the Republic’s fleet, for one – it is based on non-sustainable technology: it will use up its fuel source. Also, as soon as the nearest star is used up, Starkiller Base will become a giant, multi-trillion credit icecube. Starting to look like the designers of Starkiller Base may have worked with Lockheed on the F-35 project…
Strategically, the First Order is completely lost in the sauce. The Army is in a clear clash of will with the Knights of Ren, both in ideology and method. The Army seeks revenge for the destruction of the Empire while the Knights of Ren continue down the same idiotic path as Emperor Palpatine. Rather than crushing the Resistance immediately, Lord Snoke focuses monomaniacally on Luke Skywalker. Luke has essentially become Iraq, to make a very poor foreign policy joke. In a move that mind sound familiar to some, Snoke and Kylo Ren would rather fritter away the Army and the Navy to catch one person…it is clear that they could really use a joint staff to discuss their plans with.
And speaking of plans, let’s hop on over to the other side of the Galactic mess, to see the Resistance. The Republic used to be terrible at planning, skipping most of the steps of the military decision making process. The Resistance is even worse. Having streamlined their chain of command down to a general and a staff that also happens to be the primary squadron leadership, they are a primarily reactive force. They don’t even both to get some Bothans to do their reconnaissance for them; they’ll launch a full strike on the word of a defected Stormtrooper. Sure, it’s worked before, so they keep doing it, never thinking of what would happen if they lost.
Oh, and that strike force? It’s only got about enough ships and pilots for two good sorties. I guess defense spending just got to be too much for the Galaxy to handle and they outsourced everything into a small offensive package. Just like the U.S. Navy at the beginning of the 19th century, complete with their version of Stephen Decatur: Poe.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Rebel – now Resistance – pilots run everywhere. It’s good to see that a sense of urgency continues, even though their planning has gotten worse. However, the airframes that they run to are no longer a diverse strike package of fighters, bombers, and frigates. Nope, unlike the First Order, the Resistance have opted for mobility and speed over protection, mass, and lethality, using only the X-Wing fighter. While a good spacecraft, the X-Wing cannot accomplish more than raids, counter-raids, and local interdiction. Suffice to say, General Organa isn’t really able to project power, even if she wanted to.
Speaking of the good general, Resistance leadership seems strangely out of touch with the current operating environment. The priority is this search for the mythical Luke Skywalker, not continuing mopping up operations of old Imperial forces. This has allowed Imperial officers to regroup and rebrand, much as Daesh is made up of old terrorist groups with a fancy new logo. Combined with the Republic’s apathy towards military spending, this mission creep towards Skywalker leaves the Resistance grossly outnumbered and outgunned against the First Order. Fortunately, Han Solo is able to pull another victory together, although methinks we won’t see that particular deus ex machina again.
The new generation think largely along the lines of the old – reactively and emotionally. We can only hope that someone will get smart, set up a center for lessons learned (maybe in all those wrecked hulks of imperial ambitions on Jakku), and settle down to winning this thing once and for all.
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