«Have Adversary Missiles Become a Revolution in Military Affairs? William F. Bell T he United States last had relative parity with the missile forces ...»
Have Adversary Missiles
Become a Revolution in
William F. Bell
T he United States last had relative parity with the missile forces
of potential adversaries in the early 1990s.1 Since then, the gap
between our air and missile defense (AMD) capabilities and
those of threat missile forces has continued to widen. Initially, this oc-
curred because of the ability of our adversaries’ rapidly increasing
numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range rockets to over- whelm US forward-based AMD systems. For the most part, threat bal- Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed or implied in the Journal are those of the authors and should not be construed as carry- ing the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part without permission. If it is reproduced, the Air and Space Power Journal requests a courtesy line.
Air & Space Power Journal | 47 September–October 2014 Feature Have Adversary Missiles Become a Revolution in Military Affairs?
Bell listic missiles were unsophisticated variants of modified and improved SCUD missiles.2 The late 1990s saw China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and others fielding more sophisticated ballistic missiles that utilized solid fuel, inertial and Global Positioning System guidance, greater warhead lethality, extended ranges, improved mobility, and onboard and standoff countermeasures. These weapons were supported by in- creasingly advanced command and control (C2), doctrine, training, and targeting capabilities. At the same time, our opponents have seen the great success the United States has enjoyed with precision attack Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Adversary missile-attack doctrines, as demonstrated in numerous ex- periments and war games, have involved a low number of launches from static positions to large, complex salvoes from mobile forces.3 Threat targeting has evolved from area targets (e.g., cities) to point tar- gets (e.g., airfields and ports). The threat attacks in these war games and experiments have been supported by advances in terrestrial and aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare; unmanned aircraft systems (UAS); and probably space-based ISR. It appears that even the legacy missiles are being (relatively) im- proved inexpensively by having them retrofitted with advanced capa- bilities. The SCUDs of today are not the SCUDs of 1991; the SCUDs of the future will not be the SCUDs of today. Similarly, large and unso- phisticated antiship cruise missiles (e.g., Styx) have evolved into advanced supersonic (soon hypersonic) antiship and land attack cruise missiles.
Improvements to the adversary’s missile force capabilities as well as capacity (i.e., both technical improvements and growing numbers) continue and are widening the gap between those missiles and US AMD (see the figure below). This article maintains that the capabilities developed and employed by threat missile forces have evolved over the last decade from just another battlefield threat into a game-changing revolution in military affairs (RMA). Consequently, the US military must fundamentally change its approach to countering them.4
Figure. Trends in missiles and missile defense. The global gap between our missile defense and our adversaries’ missile capabilities is growing and appears to be accelerating. This figure makes no attempt to quantify these trend lines but simply illustrates the problem in conceptual terms. (Adapted from Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the United States Army, U.S. Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense Capabilities: Enabling Joint Force 2020 and Beyond, Torchbearer National Security Report [Arlington, VA: Institute of Land Warfare, Association of the United States Army, May 2014], 13.) What Is a Revolution in Military Affairs?
RMA is a widespread term but lacks a commonly agreed upon definition.5 This article uses two of the most useful ones. First, Andrew F.
Krepinevich asks, What is a military revolution? It is what occurs when the application of new technologies into a significant number of military systems combines with innovative operational concepts and organizational adaptation in a way that fundamentally alters the character and conduct of conflict. It does so by producing a dramatic increase—often an order of magnitude or greater—in the combat potential and military effectiveness of armed forces.6
The second definition, from a RAND study of 1999, is useful because it
addresses the impact on current core competencies:
An RMA involves a paradigm shift in the nature and conduct of military operations
• which either renders obsolete or irrelevant one or more core competencies of a dominant player,
• or creates one or more new core competencies, in some new dimension of warfare,
• or both.7 (emphasis in original) To qualify as an RMA, threat missile forces would have to apply technologies synergistically in innovative ways that give them a significant increase in their strategic, operational, and tactical war-fighting capabilities so that they effectively render our current ability to counter them cost-ineffective and thereby affect our conduct of global power projection.
Just as no official definition of RMA exists, so is there no common agreement on RMAs throughout history. We do, however, see some common threads. For example, technologies that made up RMAs existed in many cases for a long time; RMAs defined warfare for a significant period following their introduction; and they were subsequently supplanted by other (counter) RMAs. Consider armored knights and castles. With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, they were the RMAs of their era. Horse-mounted soldiers had existed for thousands of years prior to the feudal era, as had fortified locations, yet they defined military operations during their “time in the sun.” They also helped define the economic, diplomatic, and social fabric of the era.
This state of affairs continued until the introduction of massed longbow archers during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The battlefields of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt quickly rendered the armored knight irrelevant. Non-nobles could slaughter members of the established order at distance with relative impunity and little expense before the knights could close with the bowmen. Heavier armor was not cost-effective against stronger bows or crossbows with
bodkin points in large numbers. Cavalry would still have a role on the battlefield but would not dominate as it had for so many centuries.
Similarly, castles made defense dominant until projectiles powered by gunpowder made them rapidly obsolete. It was not cost-effective to greatly increase the thickness of curtain walls because the creation of more powerful artillery proved relatively simple and inexpensive.8 The introduction of massed, armor-penetrating longbows/crossbows and of gunpowder artillery fundamentally changed the nature of warfare and had huge political, social, and cultural implications for the feudal era.
Just as powered projectiles rendered castles and armored horsemen obsolete in short order (with corresponding strategic and operational effects across the doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, and facilities [DOTMLPF] spectrum), so does it seem plausible that large numbers of accurate, responsive, and lethal missiles with ever-longer ranges are having the same effect on “the established order” (i.e., US global power projection) in the early twenty-first century.
Why Did Bows and Gunpowder Become an RMA?
Bows existed for millenniums prior to the Hundred Years’ War. Similarly, gunpowder was present for centuries before it upset the social order.9 What was different? Why did they suddenly become “game changers”?
The game-changing factors were a synergistic mix of mass employment, innovative tactics, cost-effectiveness (they were much cheaper than castles and armor/horses), penetration power, accuracy, and range integrated with a few new technologies (e.g., iron and bronze castings for cannon) that doomed castles and armored horsemen.10 Guns were a natural follow-on to gunpowder artillery and eventually became the RMA that eliminated the mass formation of longbows.11 These game-changing factors are the same ones that are enabling the adversary’s missile capabilities to upset the current established order
of US power projection based on aircraft carriers, intermediate staging bases, forward air bases, ports, and so forth, as well as their supporting missile defenses in the early twenty-first century. Like bows, guided missiles have been around for a long time (since World War II), but they now appear to have evolved into a game changer.12 Why Have Adversaries Chosen Missiles?
Consider our current enemies’ strategic issue: they want freedom of action within their regions to execute their political and military strategic plans. However, they must confront the long-standing US strategy of balance of power enabled by a policy of selective global interference. Since the early days of the Cold War, the United States has built and relied upon global power projection to execute this strategy.13 It has been the primary player on the world stage for decades, based upon its geographic isolation and power projection established during and after World War II. We must also note that when America has executed power-projection operations, regime change has frequently been the result. So the calculus for our potential adversaries is fairly simple: how do they gain regional freedom of action without risking regional US interference, especially when that could result in regime change?
Of course, the United States has long assumed that its power-projection strategy and enabling capabilities would deter many adversary actions that ran contrary to US interests. This assumption was and is naïve. In actuality, our potential adversaries were forced to develop cost-effective means to provide their desired freedom of action (antiaccess) or, if that failed, to ensure that America could not prevent the attainment of their regional objectives (area denial), all the while preserving their regimes.14 It was not cost-effective for most of those adversaries to develop an air force that could compete with US Air Force / Navy manned aircraft, but they still had to project power regionally and protect themselves from US intervention. Their answer was to develop and field an ever-increasing number of missiles that could also be used
for delivery of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).15 In a very general sense, a missile RMA is the ultimate expression of asymmetric warfare because it threatens adversaries at all levels in ways neither easily nor inexpensively countered.16 What Characteristics of Adversary Missile Capabilities Enable Them as an RMA?
Our potential enemies have taken a horizontally integrated and holistic (or cross-domain) approach to developing their missile capabilities into an RMA.17 Survivability Extensive denial and deception planning seems a fundamental part of all doctrines of threat missile forces. Underground facilities supporting a “shell game” with high-fidelity dummies and decoys are a part of their solution.18 Our adversaries have seen the publicly reported difficulty the United States has encountered in finding and killing mobile targets in its recent wars; thus, missile mobility is of key importance. Kosovo, the first Gulf War, and Operation Odyssey Dawn are well-known examples of our trouble with finding targets on the ground.19 Furthermore, we will likely see a growing proliferation of high-end integrated air defense systems primarily to protect WMDs, C2, and missile-delivery systems. The United States must assume that its foes have a pretty good idea of US signals/imagery/electronic intelligence capabilities that enable time-sensitive targeting and will seek either to deceive or deny us that intelligence. Adversaries are also investing in launcher mobility as another survival capability.20 Attacking a missile launch point 20 minutes after the launcher has departed is wasted effort.21 Responsiveness Our adversaries are shifting to solid-fuel missile technology because of the responsiveness factor. Missiles that don’t have to be fueled prior to
launch can support rapid strikes on targets of opportunity. This capability also makes training much easier and improves survivability insofar as the missile units have smaller footprints, impeding detection by US ISR. Moreover, adversaries are fighting on their own ground and can establish numerous presurveyed launch points located near dispersed hiding sites and prestocked reloading sites.22 Accurate Targeting Without near-real-time precision ISR, no precision attacks can occur.
This is true for both the United States and its potential opponents.
America has taught the entire world this lesson over the last 10 years.
In fact, our enemies have observed that we are so convinced of our ability to conduct precision targeting and attack that we are doing away with area effect weapons in order to meet international treaty obligations. Much of the US ability to carry out precision targeting comes from either space or UAS ISR. Potential adversaries are developing similar capabilities to support the targeting of missiles (e.g., UASs) while scheming to degrade/disrupt/deny America’s space-based and aerial ISR of their missile forces. Several of our foes are exploring counterspace options as a means of further disrupting US space-based ISR.23 Effectiveness Adversary missiles are being deployed in numbers and with technical sophistication to defeat likely AMD operations. If these missiles are not perceived as capable of producing the desired effects due to US and allied missile defenses, then all of their efforts are for naught.