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The Airpower Respite

August 14, 2008
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The astonishing success of airpower enabling the Surge in Iraq to dramatically reduce violence and place Al Qaeda on the defensive, is proof positive of the ability of precision weapons to win our nation’s wars. The time is ripe for America to cast off last century weapons which are straining the Defense Budget to the breaking point, relying instead on the new robot weapons such as UAVs, cruise missiles, and smart bombs.

We could then conceivably conduct “warfare on the cheap”, dramatically downsizing and eventually disposing of conventional weapons such as stealth jets, heavy tanks, and supercarriers, all of which are products of a previous century and era of conflict. Such arms are increasingly irrelevant in modern war, and are ever burdensome on industry, strategy, logistics, as well as the taxpayer. Too much defensive armament and armor are now carried on board these relics of another age, as personified by the $300 million Raptor Fighter, the mercifully canceled DDG-1000 destroyer, and the bloated $200 million Future Combat System.

In contrast to these last century arms which we can afford in fewer and fewer numbers each year, tactical airpower is affordable and plentiful. Jet fighters bought off the shelf can easily carry the same precision bombs and missiles which we think only stealth fighters and bombers should carry. It is this stubborn mindset that refuses to acknowledge that platforms are no longer revolutionary, but the digital arms these vessels carry.

The revolution in arms refuses to wait. Already in Iraq and Afghanistan tens of thousands of new MRAPs, Strykers, and uparmored Humvees are in service, while the armored divisions still use M-1 Abrams tanks built in the 1970s and 80s. In the three decades it took to design and build the USAF’s only new jet fighter, the F-22 Raptor, the services have fielded dozens of new unmanned aerials vehicles of various shapes and sizes which are revolutionizing air warfare. Also, while the navy cancels or delays one missile battleship after another, various new stealth boats, corvettes, and conventional subs have been tested. If only our sea service had the nerve to order such cheap and versatile small craft in quantity!

Savings garnered by scrapping our huge and aging conventional inventory would go to long range UAVs which can stay aloft seeking its prey for days compared to a manned jet which can endure only a few hours of flight time. Armored cars such as the Stryker and MRAPs which have proved so essential in Iraq and can be easily produced in many thousands should displace the lumbering battle tanks, which are now so heavy, no country is designing a traditional track armored vehicle for the first time in almost a century. Other savings would go to equipment most used in all our wars such as helicopters and tactical transports, which we rarely have enough of.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    August 15, 2008 9:40 am

    Sorry to disappoint you George, but we do the best we can in this FREE BLog, with the time we have.

    Personally, I’m just a layman and don’t admit to have all the answers. When I don’t understand something no matter how much I read, I generally have to wait and see how it unfolds.

    Its weird because I can see the new warfare so clearly in my mind. Often when I put it to paper (online) it doesn’t sound so clear. Nothing really can dissipate the fog of war than war itself, and with these little conflicts on the world’s edge we can glimpse the future. Only the Big War will take away the “glass darkly”, which I dread to no end, but have no doubt it is coming, perhaps in my and your lifetime.

  2. Curious George permalink
    August 14, 2008 10:54 pm

    And you think your theory would work why? You give no reasons other than to say that it would. You hardly ever bother to address the points that I or other readers bring up.

  3. charbookguy permalink
    August 14, 2008 9:52 pm

    I think my theory would work, given a chance, Russia even more than the US military is a catastrophe waiting for “he who dares” given their old World War 2 style conscription army and mostly pre-digital age weapons. Guns and old style dumb bombs won’t stand a chance against smart bombs and missiles.

    I don’t know which medium sized country will first defy the superpowers, by casting off their last century trappings and building a true 21st century armed force, but they will return sanity to weapon’s procurement and start a landslide which will see the return of the regional powers to importance.

  4. Curious George permalink
    August 14, 2008 5:14 pm

    Among some problems I see with your plans
    1) Static cruise missile launchers on land make great targets for preemptive strikes. The reason they’re great on ships is that ships are mobile. Additionally for tactical ranges Artillery is far more cost effective and crucially mobile allowing them to stay close to the battlefield. If you really want to use rockets I suppose GMRLS could be considered miniture cruise missiles
    2) Systems like the 9K37 are purely defensive and a change in tactics (either by utilizing low level flights or using aircraft such as the TU-160) can greatly reduce their effectiveness. By having your radars elevated in AWACs system you have better coverage allowing you to react more quickly, vector fighter aircraft without them using their own radar and feed SAM sites information without revealing their position. Furthermore, the Eqyptians in 1973 demonstrated the strengths and limitations of massed mobile SAMs.
    Additionally Stingers are good for Helicopters and that’s about it, they’re pretty lousy at high performance jets coming in on the deck.
    3) Georgians seem to be having success with Isreali Spike missiles so giving them Javelins wouldn’t make much of a difference.
    4) Hit and run attacks are nice when you have space to trade and superior situational awareness but in the absence of either it quickly would become apparent that Armored Cars are exactly that, armored cars and not tanks. During the development of the MGS it was repeatedly stressed that it was not designed to take on other tanks but rather to provide direct fire support for infantry. Furthermore, the 105mm Cannon mounted on it while impressive is not the same armament as MBTs which have been upgraded to 120mm because of the belief that 105mm cannons provided insufficient energy to ensure a kill. This is crucial because these armored cars are therefore unable to take advantage of advances in penetrators which would give it the ability to penetrate T90s.

    About the only thing I see merit in is the acquisition of a trio of diesel or AIP submarines. Stopping the Russian fleet would not have saved the Georgians however.

    I don’t doubt that you could configure a force to deliver as much firepower as was delivered during Thunder Run, I just doubt your force would survive long enough to deliver it.

  5. charbookguy permalink
    August 14, 2008 8:50 am

    Mass mobile SAMs would have dealt a heavy blow to the Russian AF. The few the Georgians possessed, Russian designed by the way, shot down numerous Russian Frogfoots and a bomber. Don’t think uavs can match manned fighters one on one as yet (or can they? never been tried), but for recon missions and harassing the force with swift missile attacks would have been ideal. Again, land based cruise missiles and small diesel subs would have greatly inhibited the Russian naval offensive, perhaps even stopping it altogether.

    On land, Stingers against the helicopters and Javelins against the tanks would have made a huge difference in the hands of the Western trained Georgians, as some of the same weapons turn the tide of the Afghan war 20 years ago. Armored cars could make hit and run raids against Russ armor, as they are more maneuverable and quiet. Some of these vehicles can fire SABOT rounds from 105 mm guns, same armaments as MBTs, plus TOW missiles.

    The latter holds for the famed Thunder Run, but only under the protection of close air support. The formula now is: planes versus tanks, tanks versus infantry, but the infantry are growing bigger and longer teeth. Plus with the armored cars they have their own chariots.

  6. Curious George permalink
    August 14, 2008 6:29 am

    Just wondering but if we really had to how would such a force stop the Russians from entering Georgia? Said UAV’s are incapable of operating in a hostile environment currently with both SAMs and hostile fighter jets while vehicles such as the MRAP and Striker are a poor match against T-72s etc. The force you envision is wonderful for dominating uncontested battle spaces but how do you plan to use that force to gain control initially? How would such a force have been capable of a maneuver such as Thunder Run?

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