Technology and the numbers game in warfare

I’ve been reading many articles in recent months concerning new or expanded threats confronting military forces and technological upgrades to counter them.  However, I fear that a growing number of commentators are missing the point.  Technology has expanded to the point where threats are asymmetrical;  where even a relatively minor player on the world stage can take out a strike force, or a major asset such as an aircraft carrier, with relatively minor difficulty.

Consider these examples.

  1. The USAF’s Predator unmanned aerial vehicle has a maximum speed of 135 mph and a range (excluding loiter time) of up to 775 miles.  It has a payload (fuel, weapons and sensors) of just over 1,100 pounds, and cost about US $4 million a pop in 2010.  The new Cub Crafters XCub, a carbon-fiber modernized version of the venerable Piper Cub with greatly upgraded capabilities, has a maximum speed of 153 mph, , a maximum range (at economical speeds) of 800 miles or more, and a maximum useful load of 1,084 pounds – and even with a relatively ‘luxurious’ leather and carbon-fiber interior, it costs less than $300,000.  I’d imagine any halfway competent aeronautical engineer and computer whizkid could add pilotless operation to it relatively cheaply and easily – the technology to do so is now over-the-counter stuff.  For a total expenditure of $200,000 or so, they could also add a surveillance system (in a retractable turret), a satellite communications system, and either weapon hard points under the wings, and/or a means of launching small weapons from the load compartment.  That means one could field up to ten pilotless XCubs or equivalent aircraft for the cost of a single Predator.  Obviously, the latter is purpose-designed for its surveillance mission, and is therefore likely to be much more capable at it . . . but just how capable does it have to be?  The USAF needs four Predators to maintain what it classifies as a single ‘unmanned aerial system’, sufficient to keep an aircraft continuously on station over a surveillance or target area.  A third world nation could have up to 40 light aircraft equivalents to the Predator for roughly the same cost.  Which fleet will be more cost-effective and mission-capable in a typical engagement – say, in the next Iraq or Afghanistan conflict?  Think about it.
  2. A modern main battle tank such as the US Army’s M1A2SEP costs about $10 million each.  Modern anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM’s), such as Russia’s 9M133 Kornet, Israel’s Spike or the latest versions of South Africa’s ZT3 Ingwe, can be bought for under a quarter of a million dollars each in quantity.  An adversary can buy up to 40 such missiles for the cost of a single main battle tank . . . and no tank in the world, no matter how well equipped with defensive systems, can withstand a barrage of (say) half a dozen ATGM’s like that.  The cost-per-kill equation has shifted in favor of the defender.
  3. The same consideration applies to naval vessels.  Anti-ship missiles have come a long way since the Soviet Styx missiles that sank Israel’s destroyer Eilat in 1967, or the Exocet missiles that sank British ships during the Falklands War in 1982.  To take just one example, China’s YJ-83 (known as the C-802 in its export version) costs less than $1 million apiece, and is very capable (as Israel found out when its corvette Hanit was struck by one off Lebanon in 2006).  It’s available in ship-, air- and land-based versions.  With a range of 80-120 miles, depending on the version, this missile could force naval vessels to keep their distance from its launchers.  This would protect shore bases, navigation choke points such as straits and channels, etc.  Even if the vessels have the latest anti-missile defenses, they would be swamped by a barrage of several dozen such missiles, some of which would be sure to strike home.  Even if they didn’t sink the ships, they’d almost certainly do sufficient damage to prevent them achieving their objectives – a ‘mission kill’.  Let’s be extravagant and say that 100 missiles would be needed.  That’s a total cost of $100 million or thereabouts – but they could damage an aircraft carrier battle group (costing well over $20 billion) sufficiently to force it to abandon its mission.  Even if the battle group could defeat such a threat, it would arise again the next day, and the next, and the next.  Eventually, the defense would be worn down.

It’s no longer good enough to argue that we need a ‘300-ship navy’ or a ‘2,000-plane air force’ or anything along those lines.  The question should be, “What will be survivable (let alone operationally effective) in the face of the massed threats posed by the proliferation of technology?”

I think that watching Israel’s changing force structure offers a very interesting perspective on the problem.  Israel is emphasizing not one, but many solutions to the problem.  It’s employing technology to defend against barrage attacks, even down to anti-missile protective systems on its tanks and armored personnel carriers.  Even without stealth technology (yet), its Air Force is employing electronic counter-measures to fool enemy air defenses and allow its planes to strike enemy installations (for example, see Operation Orchard in 2007).  It’s currently preparing to stand up its first F-35 squadron, which will introduce stealth technology for the first time.  The IAF is also using large numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles.  Their operations are highly classified, but they’re almost certainly being used for reconnaissance in areas where the threat to manned aircraft would be too great, and possibly also to deploy electronic counter-measures to allow manned aircraft to get through heavily defended areas.

Israel also appears to be modifying its tactics and systems to take account of the increased threat from guided weapons.  Its land units no longer bull into an assault, but soften up the target area first, seeking to make the enemy expend his ‘smart’ munitions before its forces get into range.  Its aircraft operate under the protection of electronic warfare systems, sometimes on their own airframes, sometimes provided by dedicated support aircraft or land-based systems.  Furthermore, UAV’s such as its Harpy and Harop systems actively target enemy surveillance and defensive systems.  Israel’s Navy is fairly small, but has increasingly onerous responsibilities, including the defense of natural gas platforms in the Mediterranean Sea, which will be vulnerable to ‘barrage’ attacks from anti-ship missiles.  Details of measures and systems to protect these platforms are highly classified, but I’d expect them to include a wide range of electronic counter-measures as well as active defenses of some sort.  I also expect the defenses to include pre-emptive attacks against potential bases from which ‘barrage’ attacks could be launched (e.g. Hezbollah bases in Lebanon, Hamas bases in Gaza, etc.).

This is where I think the institutional thinking of the US armed forces is lagging behind.  For example, in naval terms, I’m seeing lots of debate over whether or not the Littoral Combat Ship was/is/will be worthwhile (personally, I think not), how many aircraft carriers should be fielded, and whether or not to order more F/A-18’s.  I see much less debate (at least in public) over whether ‘barrage’ attacks from missiles (particularly higher-technology ones such as we’re likely to face in the hands of sophisticated opponents) mean that naval vessels will simply not be able to survive at any meaningful distance from a combat zone.  If aircraft carrier battle groups are forced to remain 500 miles or more from a combat zone to evade such a threat, their air wings will be too far away to intervene . . . effectively, a ‘mission kill’ in all but name.  The Navy’s investing a lot of money to develop defensive laser weapons and extended-range attack weapons, but will this be enough to defeat the ever-increasing threat?  How long does it take a defensive laser to shoot down an incoming missile, re-target onto the next missile, and destroy it?  If it takes 3-5 seconds per missile (a very optimistic estimate), but there are 50 incoming weapons, that means more than half of them will make it from the horizon to the target before they can be shot down.  That’s not a happy thought for those on board the ship.

I don’t want to single out the US Navy for criticism.  The Army and Air Force have plenty to answer for as well.  I suspect there’s too much focus on building better, faster, more capable weapons systems, without considering whether the threat environment in which those systems will have to operate will allow them to accomplish the mission for which they’re designed.  There’s too much focus on building all sorts of ‘gee-whiz’ capabilities into each platform, without asking whether those capabilities will be destroyed by a barrage of cheap missiles that overwhelm them.

Food for thought.



  1. These concerns are well founded, for the most part, and many are talking about them right now. One important reminder is that you have to think of the whole system, though.

    The carrier and it's battle-group, for instance, are not just sitting duck targets that must merely withstand an attack, but are an active offensive force as well, with their most powerful asset being the carrier's air wing. Where exactly do you launch the 100+ missiles from that is not accessible to them? If from up close, your launchers (whether at sea, on land, or in the air) are liable to be spotted and annihilated by the various reconnaissance and strike assets of the CBG. If from far away, over the horizon perhaps, you have enormously increased the challenge of getting the missiles to the target (ships move, after all). My understanding of the guidance systems for modern anti-ship missiles is that unless you either get lucky or have some sort of sensor platform in the area to provide final guidance, the long-range approach is not likely to result in many of even a hundred missiles getting close enough to the ships to acquire them on their own. The most dangerous scenario is a surprise attack on an unwary CBG from relatively close range, but then again we rarely let our capital ships get so close to potential enemy territory.

    Such barrage attacks are not exactly a new threat, after all ("Vampires! Vampires!"), and in fact the improvements in the missile technology (mostly in the area of sensors and on-board intelligence) have been more than matched by technological advances on the defensive side of the leger. Far better radar, early-warning, and active defenses are available now than at any time in the past.

    I also think you may be unfairly weighting the cost advantages when you make the comparisons in expense between, say, a tank and the ATGMs needed to kill it or a CVN and the missiles needed to sink it. Remember that pure defense is and has always been far cheaper than offensive striking power. An Essex class CVN could be sunk by only a few long-lance torpedoes, but that doesn't mean that the Japanese were therefore the side to bet on in the war in the Pacific. The MBT or CVN is an asset that is intended to allow the projection of force into the envelope of enemy defenses, whereas the ATGM or ASM are merely tools of defense.

  2. That should be "an Essex Class CV" in the above, unless there was some very secret project I'm not aware of!

  3. Peter,

    I'm afraid you're looking at things in isolation without considering how a carrier battlegroup is designed to function. A carrier battlegroup can do its job just fine from 100 miles off a hostile coast…using your C-802 example, that means any attack will have to be sea or air launched. probably air-launched, because planes move a lot faster than ships.

    A carrier group's defenses start with AWACS birds to provide early warning. The idea is to meet an incoming strike 200-300 miles out with fighters and interceptors and pound them all the way in. Every time you kill an incoming attack bird you're killing between two and four missiles before they launch. Once the incoming strike launches the attack missiles, the defending fighters engage them. As the range drops to under a hundred miles, the carrier's escorting Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers will use their AEGIS radar systems to track the incoming threats and start picking them off with surface-to-air missiles. It's been awhile since I've read up on the numbers, but I think a Tico cruiser carries around 100 SAMs and a Burke carriers 60 or so, and you'll have multiple such ships in company with a carrier. Factor in the SAMs on the other escorts and you could have 300-400 surface to air missiles to shoot back with.

    Once the missiles are visible on the horizon I would imagine this is where the laser-based system would take over. It would be useful in the intermediate range between the horizon line and the range for the close in radar-guided CWIS point defense guns. Finally, a carrier battle group is going to have some significant countermeasures abilities…everything from jamming to decoys, to simple techologies like chaff (basically radar reflective foil). Finally, a carrier group will be spaced to allow individual ships to maneuver independently (attempting to generate a miss) during the terminal stages of an attack.

    Defense in depth has been a cornerstone of carrier doctrine since the Second World War, the technology has changed, but unless the navy really screws up a carrier isn't going to face an attack in isolation. That also doesn't mean that they can't get hammered anyway, but the seeds of current doctrine were developed during the latter stages of the Cold War, when the navy had to think about defending against Soviet tactics that relied heavily on swamping defenses.

  4. Peter,
    I agree with Kell above – you have valid points about inexpensive weapons, but your article minimizes what existing systems can do and how hard it still is to kill a major system (carrier, MBT, etc). For example, anti ship missiles have to get close enough to their targets to detect them with their own sensors, which is a tough challenge in itself even without taking into consideration efforts to stop them or the surveillance systems they rely on. Or, think of the anti tank missiles you mentioned – they may be much cheaper than an MBT, but they are still expensive and hard to acquire unless a fighting movement has a 'sugar daddy' with access to them and the will to provide them.
    The US military in general has gone for expensive solutions over quantity, which means there aren't enough units to really cover everywhere that is needed, and major damage to one unit creates a big hole in plans – look at damage to the USS Cole or the Stark, or the delays caused by CVN overhauls taking longer than planned.
    The LCS and unmanned aircraft are attempts to fix this shortcoming, but they are being designed, built, and used by people used to big fancy weapons systems so the advantages haven't materialized.
    The US Navy needs more smaller, cheaper vessels like the Army needs more smaller cheaper (but still effective) armored vehicles. There is a balance to be made that the US military is talking about but hasn't actually made strides towards yet. I hope it actually find the balance between quality and quantity, but given past history it will probably happen AFTER the next war!

  5. @Kell: I suspect you're making my point for me. Consider that while the entire resources of the battle group are devoted to the counter-missile defensive mission, they can't be used for its raison d'ĂȘtre: attacking the enemy, or supporting a landing, or whatever. Furthermore, the cost of that defensive mission (air time for the fighters, expended missiles, etc.) will be at least as expensive as the amount spent by the attackers on their missiles, and probably more; and if the attack is repeated (as it almost certainly will be), the expenses will mount, and sooner or later (probably sooner) the defense will run out of missiles, etc. What's more, a savvy attacker will launch unguided decoys in large numbers to accompany a missile strike. Defenders won't dare ignore them; they'll have to target every incoming round that looks as if it's on course to acquire a final lock and hit a ship.

    I know something about the subject . . . and I still maintain that the defense is going to be swamped.

    1. You're assuming such a laughably huge tactical advantage for your favored side it's not at all a realistic scenario.

      Satellites are very easily shot down, even if we assume they're any good at detecting and tracking ships(which they aren't), the carrier strike groups have built in ASAT batteries. Even if they are the end all be all the U.S. has several times as many as China.

      Another area China lags significantly in is reconnaissance air craft, they're mostly stuck with Soviet junk while they parade around modified ballistic missiles. Meanwhile the U.S. has an extensive force of stealth and long range platforms like the Triton drone, P-8 and F-35.

      So thinking your cheap missiles can teleport into range a la the Millenium Challenge and magically sense where exactly to fire is comical when in reality information poor forces are the ones reacting defensively while the side with the best reconnaissance and aircraft blind and pound them.

      You're simply contriving a very specific and unrealistic scenario that's mostly over by the time you start and declare yourself the winner as soon as you've begun.

  6. Yes, the entire power of the CBG will be devoted to counter-missile for the duration of any such attack, but once again we have to consider both extension in time as well as the larger context. As soon as all the enemy's assets have revealed themselves by launching that attack (assuming they weren't destroyed before they had a chance to launch – enemy countries aren't exactly a blank spot on the map anymore thanks to satellite, drone, and other means of surveillance) then they cannot help but be destroyed, either by Air-Force strike assets supporting the Navy, or by the CBG's own strike aircraft as soon as they rearm after defeating the initial attack.

    This is what the expense of the carrier group buys you – the ability to go into the enemy's defenses, anywhere in the world, survive the best he can throw at you then punch back just as hard once he's shot his bolt.

  7. @Peter,

    Oh, I'm not saying that a battlegroup's defenses can't be swamped with numbers or diverted with clever tactics. Tom Clancy presented a plausible scenario for that over 30 years ago, and where there's one plausible scenario there are others. I'm making the point that the concern that a ship or vehicle might be swamped with weapons that are cheaper than the target isn't a new concern. It's one that the US military has had to think about for the better part of a century. They have developed and refined technologies and doctrines to counter it, and will continue to do so.

    The United States has the luxury (or vice) of massive wealth. That's why we use Predator drones instead of a Twin Beach or Cessna. Your point that smaller nations or organizations can, with enough ingenuity, duplicate some of the capabilities of the US military at a fraction of the cost is well taken. Those hacks may not be as elegant a solution, but it does mean that smaller opponents can be a lot more dangerous than first glance might suggest.

  8. A remotely piloted tail-dragger! Is such a thing even possible?

    Landings would sure be exciting. Peter, I'm sure your aviatrix wife has a thing or two to say on that subject.

  9. I'm wondering if it might be time to switch to smaller carriers, and spread the air assets among 8-10 of them. With catapults and arrester gear, it doesn't require 1000+ foot, 100k ton ships to do the job.

    Besides giving the enemy a more difficult targeting solution, since a jeep carrier would not be readily distinguishable from the support ships, it would enable the Navy to be more aggressive in sending a smaller group closer to hot spots, that they currently won't do with the mega carriers they have now. I suspect that most captains/admirals would prefer this, as it would give them more slots to fill, and more discretion in where they go to play.

    One of the potential pluses would be to lessen the temptation for the bad guys to toss a nuke at a carrier, since the return value would be much smaller with a jeep size target.

  10. @Will,

    There was a debate to that effect when they were laying out the requirements for the new Ford-class carriers. There's also the fact that VTOL engineering a lot better understood now than when the Nimitz was designed. Clearly they settled on another full fleet carrier design. I don't know what the final logic was, but I'm sure if we cared enough we could find out.

    Ultimately, I don't expect it to be missiles that break the paradigm. I suspect it will be space-based weaponry, either pure energy based like a laser or something designed for a hard kinetic kill that eventually threatens the viability of the Navy. Space-based weapons will have eyes on the target from well outside jamming range and intercepting a laser beam or a KKV traveling at mach 20 will be nearly impossible.

    1. It's way too easy for satellites like that to be shot down by missiles.

      You'd starve out your entire defense budget on something that would be eliminated in minutes at a tiny fraction of the cost.

  11. @bart

    remote control tail draggers have been around for a long time, look at model aircraft.

    @peter, one thing you are missing in your Predator vs XCub comparison is that the Predator's payload rating doesn't include the weight of the sensors and control equipment while that would have to be subtracted from the XCub payload capacity.

    As far as tank vs missle, people have been predicting the end of the tank because of missiles since the 60's, but tanks are still around.

    you have to transport and feed your missile teams, and missile teams are single-purpose elements, all they can do is take out tanks, they can't stand up to small arms fire, they can't control an area, all they can do is try and deny it to the enemy.

    As for Carrier Battle Groups. If China were to decide to go to war and kill a CBG that's nearby, it would be in serious trouble. But North Korea is in no position to serious threaten such a group (even if they get their nukes and missiles working better)

    The ability of a CBG to move into an area and provide relatively cheap firepower anywhere in the world without needing to have a nearby base is extremely powerful.

    Anti-ship missiles can bother a carrier, but if the battlegroup crews are alert, it takes a LOT of them to get a few through, and Carriers are pretty tough ships to sink.

    Along similar lines, in Vietnam it was predicted that missiles would make aircraft (and especially guns in aircraft) obsolete. That hasn't happened, in part because missiles are just so expensive.

    Battlefield lasers are going to bring a world of hurt against things that fly, but that applies just as much to missiles as anything else. Lasers need a huge power supply, ships are a perfect platform for them. If they get good enough to reliably pick off aircraft and missiles, we may see the return of the Battleship (it's hard to deflect a shell in a near ballistic trajectory)

  12. @Will, the problem with that concept was diseconomies of scale, not with regards to money but with regards to tactical and engineering factors. A smaller ship has poorer seakeeping, which limits when it can launch (and land) its aircraft. The analyses that were performed also showed that for each ton of displacement you drop, you drop more than a proportional quantity of aircraft that can be supported by the ship.

    It also didn't seem to greatly improve survivability either – our CVNs are already quite maneuverable, and making the target only 2/3 or even 1/2 as big doesn't actually make it all that much harder to hit, especially when you take into account that the smaller ship mounts a significantly smaller EW suite and considerably weaker defensive systems.

    I agree with Kell that space-based weaponry, potentially DEW in the 40-50 year timeframe, will render the biggest single change in how surface operations are conducted. Of course that just kicks the battlefield upwards a few hundred miles…

  13. @Will, smaller carriers have smaller capacities as a percentage of their size, so you would need more crew and equipment to support the same number of aircraft. Not to mention the multiples of the escorts that you would need to have.

    And if you think that carriers don't need to be as large to be able to support the aircraft, you should ask why nobody else in the world fields aircraft on carriers that can really compete with the US Navy?

    The other carriers in the world operate Harriers (and plan to operate F-35 VTOL variants), they don't operate aircraft that can seriously compete with land-based aircraft.

    1. The USN looked into it and found that small carriers are almost as expensive since things like catapults, arresting fears and air Control radars are going to be too big and expensive to scale down and make the huge number of redundancies economical.

  14. As other folks have noted, missiles with the ability to kill much more expensive targets have been available for over 40 years, anti-tank rockets since WWII, and torpedoes were a thing over 100 years ago (destroyer is short for torpedo boat destroyer). The big ships and tanks still rule their respective battlefields. Why?

    What you do not account for is the human factor. That attack by multiple missile launchers is much more difficult to pull off than the response from a working team in the tank/ship. It's also like a man standing off a mob with a shotgun – he can't shoot them all, but he can kill the first one who attacks, and no one wants to be that first guy. Intelligent, capable people are a very expensive asset, and so we protect those assets. Countries that have forlorn hopes as a fighting policy don't get or keep intelligent capable people. Kamikazes and suicide bombers bother us because they are so unusual, and folks generally won't go into an action knowing that they have >10% chance of not coming back.

    I'll agree that the military/contractor revolving door has bent costs all out of whack. In most things, you can get 80% of the capability for 20% of the cost, the US military is much more expensive. We're more like 90% for 5% of the cost. Still, you need people – capable, dedicated, trained people, and that is where things get much more expensive.

  15. @David

    Anti-tank missile teams are incorporated into the weapons platoons and weapons companies of our infantry and are fully integrated within it.
    You are very much mistaken when you say they are single purpose, unable to take or hold ground. They are infantrymen, with the anti-tank mission as a focus, but far from an exclusive one. It's also worth noting that their weapons against tanks are every bit as effective against fortifications, and are darned useful against the enemy's logistical train or against any sort of mechanised advance.

  16. The bit players are easily neutralized Peter – with low tech.

    If you take out one of my US carriers with some high tech gizmo – that is an act of war. Period. If my defenses are effectively neutralized all that is left is all out warfare with no quarter asked for and none given. Not only will I kill you (we're speaking hypothetically here!) – I will kill your family and probably take out all your friends and acquaintances too. When I'm done with that, I will flatten the Cub Crafter factory (gawd, I would hate to do that!) – and anyone THEY did business with. I will make the consequences of allying with you so dire that nobody will even THINK of doing what you did ever again. When the ACLU and world courts start screaming I will dismiss them with derisive laughter and kill them too if they want to get stupid about it.

    There WILL be a war on terror, it will be nasty and brutal … but thankfully short.

  17. The two major wars saw the dominance of of two different ships. WW1 the Dreadnought battleship. WW2. the aircraft carrier.

    The next major war the fast attack submarine is going to be the dominant system. Nukes, for a country like the US or UK, Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) for a country like Japan. AIP is is, for all practical purposes, undetectable by the normal means we have used in the past. If China masters the quiet sub, and we gave them a serious boost by training their Engineers, then the Carrier Strike Force is toast.

    That's just where the nightmares begin.

    1. That's nonsense with no supporting evidence. China's dub fleet is tiny and archaic compared to the USN dub fleet. The U.S. does exercises with diesel subs several times a year, even leasing European diesel subs for long periods to study and test them.

      The U.S. is so unimpressed by the much more advanced European subs as compared to China not only are they building another generation of super carriers and absolutely zero diesel subs.

      The sub menace is fear mongering at it's most transparent.

  18. @Glen,

    Yeah, that's what you would do. The current administration would probably apologize for the environmental impact of a sunk carrier.

  19. In this era of massively over-leveraged governments as cold as it sounds the economic cost of systems might have as much an effect on sustainment as other factors. If you have to use hundreds of $5mil defensive missiles to fend off scores of $50,000 drones then at a certain point checks are going to bounce, or the government version which is massive inflation.

  20. Let say you have 10 F-35 fighters, each capable of taking out 10 enemy fighters. What happens if the enemy launches 101 fighters. Whatever capability the F-35 has it CAN be overwhelmed by fighters that cost way, way less.

    In a major war we WILL lose carriers. If the battle group sends it's planes to deal with the launch sights but ONE missile gets through with a nuke…no place for the planes to go home too.

    The only major threat right now is China. And China has both the money (like us, it will just print more if it needs to) and has designed some excellent anti-ship missiles. And if they decide to go to war I'd bet on their willingness to use tactical nukes.

  21. Another thought: the Germans deployed the super "fighter" of the day in the world of tanks, the King Tiger. Had it's technical issues, but it could take on multiple Shermans and blow them to itty bitty pieces. But multiple doesn't mean unlimited…and the King Tigers, the Tigers and the Panthers were all overwhelmed by numbers.

    I'm on Peter's side here. The F-35 is a prime example of how the big brass things…bigger…better…ghee whiz factor out the behind…

    But good for the next war. I doubt.

    What is it someone said: logistics, logistics, logistics. More complicated weapons systems are the enemy of logistics!!!

  22. Many of the comments reminded me of a book I bought shortly after I started working for United Defense, "How to Make War", by James E Dunnigan. I have the "Updated Edition", published in 1983. I figured that by now it would be out of print but I'm happy to see that it has been updated and is now up to the 4th edition, 2004. I remember it stated that if we went to war with the Russians (1983) we'd be bankrupt within 6 months. The only saving grace is that they would be bankrupt within 3 months. Go to Amazon preview and read the section just below "How to Become an Effective Armchair General". It's about a 3rd larger than my book, but the last paragraph is intact and the second to the last sentence still applies: "Real warfare is ugly, destructive and remembered fondly only by those who survived it without getting too close"

    Bob Durtschi

  23. LCB, if China were to use tactical nuclear weapons against US forces in the field there is a significant probability that Beijing would be a parking lot 45 minutes later. Even under a weak president, we would likely respond in kind against Chinese military targets, and we are much more capable in the nuclear realm than China. No one wants to escalate to that level, it's suicidal (at least until our strategic deterrent degrades to the point of uselessness – which is the direction things are moving at the moment).

    I think we just got done explaining that mass missile attacks against carriers are something we've spent 30 years preparing for. I'd add to that the observation that the Chinese are not nearly as capable, technically or tactically, of pulling off that sort of attack as the Soviets were in the 1980's. Their equipment and missiles are in most cases only a slight-to-moderate improvement on the gear the Russians would have been using, while ours is a generation or two ahead.

    If you're hunting for a plausible threat to our carriers, a better place to look is underneath the water. We've let our ASW proficiency go to pot somewhat and that does represent a great danger.

  24. Odysseus, that exact logic is why we're putting so much effort into developing laser-based CIWS, among other systems. That gets you to the point where each $50,000 drone is destroyed by a $5 laser (or microwave) pulse.

    Rheinmetall has already demonstrated (as of a few years ago) a 50 kW system that can knock down artillery rounds, mortar-bombs, and rockets up to 3 km away. Several nations including Israel and the US are currently passing the 100 kW solid-state laser output point, and are planning to be at 150 kW next year. At 200+ kW the such a weapon can operationally shoot down supersonic anti-ship missiles, and we think there are no major technical roadblocks to reaching as high as 500 kW with known technologies. Other technologies (like chemical or free-electron lasers) are capable of multi-megawatt outputs, at the expense of much higher weight and larger form-factor.

  25. I know someone who does jiu jitsu and tells the following story (please bear with me):

    A fellow student passed his black belt grading and the class went out to celebrate. They found a bar and put in some hard work on getting drunk.

    There was a pool table so they started to play, until one of the local "faces" told them to get off the table, or else…
    Mr recent black belt told the individual that the game was nearly finished and that if Mr Tough was patient then the next pool game was his.

    Mr black belt then turned back to his game and… woke up on the floor. He found out later that the local tough hit him on the head with a pool cue.

    The point is that Mr black belt list the fight he didn't know he was in until he lost it. The other point is that Mr black belt, highly trained in martial arts that he was totally failed to understand Mr tough's agenda:

    Simply by waiting a few minutes the tough would have "won" the pool table, but that wasn't the point. The point was to earn respect and street cred from his associates in the bar.

    Which brings us back to carriers and main battle tanks, highly capable "black belt" military assets usually crewed by highly trained personnel. Such weapons can be swamped: I believe that a British Challenger MBT was disabled in Iraq, and when I say disabled it was towed away, repaired and was back in service within the week.

    This was after suffering 70+ RPG hits and causing horrible casualties on the insurgents trying to attack it. By any normal rational military arithmetic there is no way this could be called a victory.

    Peter's post was about asymmetric technologies to achieve 'standard' military objectives but I think that one thing he and all the other posters have overlooked is that the aims, objectives and intent of those using asymmetric warfare would be "asymmetric" as well: Making little sense to conventional NATO or 'western' militaries but completely logical to those on the other side.

    Going back to the barroom tough. The whole point of his attack was to gain prestige. In the future top end assets won't be attacked in order to deny access to significant ground or stop an advance, it will be to gain prestige. Carrying out a successful attack and landing a few "cheap shots" which would be filmed for YouTube would be the whole point.

  26. scipioamericanus said…
    LCB, if China were to use tactical nuclear weapons against US forces in the field there is a significant probability that Beijing would be a parking lot 45 minutes later.

    No doubt. But what if the powers that be in China are willing to make that trade? Sounds suicidal to us…but does it to the Chinese military and politburo? Do you want to bet your nation on that "belief". Watch the movie Pork Chop Hill sometime…and tell me if the Chinese think any differently now than they did in the 1950's. I'd like to think so…but again, I wouldn't be willing to bet the nation on that belief.

    I just finished the autobiography of General ''Pete'' Piotrowski. In the early 60's the Air Force had to "learn" how to do tactical support. Korea and WW2 were both recent enough that a lot of good officers understood tactical fighting and helped bring about great support for the grunts in Viet Nam…using Korea era planes, like the Skyraider and T-28. The Generals in DC were already enamored with bigger, brighter, faster toys.

    Because of that situation the request went out for a dedicated ground support plane. But the Air Force brass didn't want the A-10 when it came along and they fought like hell to get rid of it. Now, when the A-10 really is nearing end of life all we hear about is how the F-16 can take care of ground support. No need at all to replace the A-10. Well…maybe. My guess is if we get in to another big ground war the Air Force will struggle with tactical support…again…like they did when they gave up on the F-16 and "let" the A-10 in theater during Desert Storm.

    The perfect is the enemy of good…and our politician generals seem fixated on finding the "perfect" plane to do it all.

    Or, getting back to the Navy, the "perfect" carrier battle group. You seem to have great faith in the CBG to defend itself, but then go on to mention the submarine threat. Again, if I were the "enemy", I'd build quiet diesel boats with vertical launchers, get them as close to the CBG as practical, and launch anti-ship missiles. Yup, we'd then get the subs…but that's a trade off I'd think the Chinese would love. 3, 4 or 5 boats in exchange for a carrier? Yup.

    And their subs are getting better and better. After all…we've let them steal about every secret we have…because there's no real way to stop espionage in this day and age, especially in a democracy.

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