Biden Doesn’t Need a New Middle East Policy
The Trump Administration Got the Region Right
In Operation Desert Storm the United States employed for the first time a new class of military systems that gave American forces a revolutionary advance in military capability. Key to this capability is a new generation of military support systems-intelligence sensors, defense suppression systems and precision guidance subsystems-that serve as "force multipliers" by increasing the effectiveness of U.S. weapon systems. An army with such technology has an overwhelming advantage over an army without it, much as an army equipped with tanks would overwhelm an army with horse cavalry.
This new conventional military capability adds a powerful dimension to the ability of the United States to deter war. While it is certainly not as powerful as nuclear weapons, it is a more credible deterrent, particularly in regional conflicts vital to U.S. national interests. It can play a potentially significant role in deterring those regional conflicts that would involve the confrontation of armored forces (as opposed to guerrilla wars). With the increasing proliferation of modern weapons in politically unstable parts of the world, those types of wars might be expected to occur with increasing frequency. The new military capability can also serve as a credible deterrent to a regional power's use of chemical weapons. It should also strengthen the already high level of deterrence of a major war in Europe or Korea. The United States can now be confident that the defeat of a conventional armored assault in those regions could be achieved by conventional military forces, which could enable the United States to limit the role of its nuclear forces to the deterrence of nuclear attack.
That the United States has achieved a revolutionary advance in military capability is suggested by the results of the Gulf War. One overall measure of performance is the relatively low number of coalition losses: tanks destroyed, prisoners captured and, not least, casualties incurred. These losses were so lopsided-roughly a thousand to one-that there is virtually no historical precedent. It is tempting to conclude, as some have done, that these low figures were attributable simply to the incompetence of the Iraqi military. Indeed the Soviet foreign minister, Aleksandr A. Bessmertnykh, appearing before the Supreme Soviet to discuss the performance of Soviet-supplied air defenses in Iraq, said that the failure was "not a reflection of a weakness of combat equipment. Ultimately equipment is good when it is in good hands." This explanation ignores two important realities: the size and capability of the Iraqi armed forces, and the devastating assault to which they were subjected during the air war.
Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq was reputed to have the fourth-largest army in the world. It was one of the most formidable regional military powers, with over a million men in its army, almost half of whom were in the Kuwaiti theater. Most Iraqi officers had gained recent combat experience in the Iran-Iraq War. Iraqi forces were equipped with large quantities of Soviet equipment, mostly modern, as well as some Western equipment, including Mirage aircraft and Exocet missiles. They had a dense air defense system, a large number of mobile missiles, 4,000 tanks, 3,000 modern long-range artillery and a demonstrated capability to deliver chemical weapons both by air and artillery. Iraq also had a unitary force operating within a few hundred miles of its supply base, while the United States led a disparate coalition some 6,000 miles from its primary supply base.
Why, then, were the U.S.-led coalition forces able to defeat the Iraqis so quickly, so decisively and with so few losses?
There were many significant factors favoring the coalition forces, some of which were unique to Desert Storm and cannot be counted on in any future conflict. Foremost among these were the quality and quantity of Saudi air bases and the ready supply of fuel in the theater. Because of Saddam Hussein's political misjudgments the coalition forces had more than five months to deploy and organize. The combination of build-up time and bases available largely offset what otherwise would have been a significant geographical advantage for the Iraqis.
Other factors favoring the coalition will be applicable, however, to a wide variety of military contingencies. Foremost among these was a great advantage in leadership. The leadership of the coalition was superb, and the diverse military forces operated with an unprecedented unity, which was greatly facilitated by the command authority given to General Colin Powell and General H. Norman Schwarzkopf by the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act. The Iraqi leadership, on the other hand, made serious strategic blunders, most notably allowing the five-month buildup. Even at a distance of 7,000 miles, U.S. air logistical support was outstanding and, after a slow start, the 13,000 mile sealift also became effective. In contrast Iraqi supply lines were essentially cut off early in the air war by the coalition's successful interdiction campaign.
Of course no military operation can be successful with poorly trained troops, and the U.S. military demonstrated that its forces were superbly trained. With an average service time of seven years and training time of two years, the all-volunteer force was notably better trained and motivated than the draftee force that the United States fielded in the Vietnam War. More generally the coalition forces had a significant advantage in training and motivation over the Iraqi forces, whose combat experience with Iran prepared them for a different type of war, and whose initial doubts about the wisdom and justice of their cause were greatly amplified by the pounding they took during the air war.
But all of these advantages combined do not account for a thousand-to-one discrepancy in performance. A significant part of that edge can be attributed to the revolutionary new military technology used by U.S forces for the first time in the Gulf War.
What is this technology and why was it so effective? To what extent can it be generalized to other situations and be effectively used as a deterrent to war?
This new military technology, built and deployed during the 1980s, was largely conceived and developed during the 1970s. It was developed as part of what former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown called the "offset strategy," in response to the then-perceived threat of an armored assault by the Warsaw Pact forces in central Europe. A key part of the strategy was to use U.S. technological advantage to offset the quantitative advantage of Soviet forces. At that time NATO estimated that if it had to face a surprise armored assault from the Warsaw Pact the West could be outnumbered three to one in personnel and armored equipment. NATO and in particular the United States sought to use technology as an equalizer or "force multiplier."
Much of the debate surrounding the offset strategy this past decade has been based on the false assumption that its primary objective was to use "high technology" to build better weapon systems than those of the Soviet Union. But it was not likely that higher quality tanks, guns or aircraft, by themselves, could offset a three-to-one disadvantage. The offset strategy was based instead on the premise that it was necessary to give these weapons a significant competitive advantage over their opposing counterparts by supporting them on the battlefield with newly developed equipment that multiplied their combat effectiveness. This strategy was pursued consistently by five administrations during the 1970s and 1980s, all the while being carefully observed by the Soviet Union. In 1983 Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, then chief of general staff of the Soviet Union, said that Americans were developing a "reconnaissance strike complex," and tried with limited success to move the Soviet military in that direction.
Most of the new military support systems in the offset strategy are designed around modern electronics and computers. Three components of this new support capability were most critical to the remarkable success of coalition forces in the Gulf War: communications, command, control and intelligence; defense suppression; and precision guidance.
C3I gives any field commander what the military establishment calls "situation awareness." In Desert Storm coalition battlefield commanders knew where supporting friendly forces were located, where relevant opposing forces were located, and precisely where their own troops were located. This awareness was achieved by employing a diverse set of intelligence sensors, navigation systems and communication systems.
For the first time in a war the United States effectively used all of its various space satellite systems to support field commanders. Most of these systems were designed to support broader national objectives, not regional military operations. During Desert Shield, however, this diverse set of systems was used to generate data for maps, locate military units, identify military systems and pinpoint the location of the air defense and command-and-control installations of the Iraqi forces-data crucial to the planning that preceded the beginning of the air war. During Desert Storm all of these systems plus weather satellites provided crucial support to the coalition forces, and communication systems and procedures were put in place to transmit their data to military commanders in the field.
But satellite systems, for all of their capabilities, are constrained by the laws of orbital mechanics, orbiting the earth periodically while the earth rotates below. As a consequence low-altitude satellites cannot hover over a region of interest to get continuous coverage of that area. Rather each satellite collects "snapshots" several times a day according to the frequency of its orbit and subject to weather conditions. Also in Desert Storm the data collected from satellites were subject to communication delays in getting to military commanders. These factors adversely affected the timeliness of data necessary for the planning of military operations or targeting.
Thus it was necessary to supplement the satellites with airborne reconnaissance systems capable of maintaining station and "staring" at a given region for many hours. In Desert Storm U.S. forces used a wide variety of tactical reconnaissance aircraft, both manned and unmanned, and including the aerial reconnaissance cameras used in previous wars. The older systems entailed one-day reporting delays, because of the time required to return and process the data (e.g., film) collected.
A new generation of tactical reconnaissance systems was also used with great effectiveness. Two systems, both manned airborne radars, illustrate the new capability: AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) and JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Targeting Radar System). Each of these systems is a converted Boeing-707 transport aircraft carrying a large radar, advanced computers and communication equipment to relay the data to the ground. Because the target acquisition sensors on these systems are radars, they can operate day and night and in nearly all weather. Because of the on-board computers and communication equipment, data can be provided immediately, as it is collected, to intelligence command centers and to relevant military commanders.
One AWACS aircraft can instantaneously survey the air space over an area larger than Kuwait and detect and locate every aircraft flying in that area (except for the Stealth aircraft). AWACS played a critical role in giving coalition aircraft a significant advantage over Iraqi fighters in the air-to-air combat that occurred during the first week of the war, and thereby contributed, along with the excellent training of coalition pilots, to the one-sided results and brief duration of the air war.
After the Iraqi Air Force gave up combat operations, AWACS served exclusively as an airborne air traffic controller for the 2,000 to 3,000 sorties a day. It is noteworthy that Iraq had an AWACS-type aircraft but because of the coalition's air supremacy was not able to use it, which illustrates the point that AWACS both contributes to and is facilitated by air superiority.
JSTARS performs a similar function in the detection and location of ground vehicles, both moving and stationary. JSTARS was still being developed and evaluated when Desert Shield began. Because of the obvious importance to the impending military operations of real-time targeting data on ground vehicles, two JSTARS aircraft were pulled out of their test program for emergency deployment to the Kuwaiti theater.
During Desert Storm, JSTARS was used in three different missions. It detected and located the vehicles trying to resupply the in-theater Iraqi forces and passed these target data to strike aircraft with devastating effect. During the last weeks of the war Iraqi forces in Kuwait were essentially cut off from their supply base. JSTARS was also used to target Iraqi tanks when they came out of their bunkers. This role was performed first during the battle of Khafji when JSTARS targeted all of the tanks in the Iraqi force for successful attack by coalition aircraft and provided ground force commanders assurance that the Iraqis were not reinforcing their initial probe. Later during the five-day ground war, targeting data from JSTARS contributed significantly to the destruction of the Iraqi tank forces with almost no loss of coalition tanks.
On a few evenings one of the JSTARS aircraft was diverted from coverage of Kuwait to coverage of the Scud launching areas in western Iraq. This mission had some limited success in detecting and targeting Scud launchers. However only one JSTARS aircraft was available on any given evening, and it was generally positioned so that it could target the Iraqi vehicles carrying supplies to their forces in Kuwait. If a larger JSTARS force had been available, it is likely that some portion of this force would have been dedicated to searching for Scud missiles as they were transported to their launch areas. Had that happened it is possible that JSTARS could have developed a reasonably reliable signature of Scud activities so that, together with a small force of strike aircraft, it could have effectively become an antiballistic missile system, attacking the missiles on the ground before they were launched.
In addition to the radar systems many U.S. reconnaissance systems and combat vehicles were equipped with night-vision devices (infrared detectors that form images by measuring small differences in temperature on the scene). Iraqi night-vision devices were neither as numerous nor as effective. As a result coalition military forces "owned the night." Infrared detectors, for example, were used to determine which bunkers had tanks inside (surveillance was conducted at dusk when the desert sand had cooled down, but the metal in the tank still held its heat). This contributed to the large-scale destruction of the Iraqi tank forces that took place before the ground war started. After the ground war began, the night-vision devices in U.S. tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and helicopters were used to direct fire against Iraqi tanks, often before the Iraqis even knew coalition forces were present.
Coalition forces also made effective use of navigation data from global positioning satellites. Many U.S. aircraft, ground vehicles and infantry units were equipped with GPS receivers, which gave them their precise location on the battlefield, as well as the precise time (for synchronization purposes). GPS was important to coalition ground forces because it enabled them to locate their units accurately, which otherwise would have been difficult in the desert because of the absence of natural identifying features. GPS was important to coalition air forces because it allowed them to update the accuracy of their inertial guidance systems and to improve the delivery accuracy of unguided ("dumb") bombs against fixed-coordinate targets. GPS provides location accuracies of about ten meters, more than a tenfold improvement over the navigation systems of previous generations.
Some of the intelligence data collected was processed at sites in the United States. Therefore it was necessary to make extensive use of satellite communications systems for sending daily large volumes of data, including high-resolution pictures, from the United States to the Middle East. Most of this traffic was carried by the Defense Satellite Communication System, which was operating at capacity and, because of the heavy load (on the order of 100 million bits per second), still had to be supplemented with commercial satellites and couriers.
In addition a new generation of digital radios was used for the first time to supplement the standard military radios in communicating within the theater. The purpose of the in-theater command-and-control system was to permit transmission to the field commanders of relevant intelligence data as it was collected. For example as JSTARS operators detected armored vehicles they would transmit the coordinates to the army command post on the ground, which used them to assign targets to artillery and attack helicopters. JSTARS also received data from AWACS on the locations of aircraft in the theater. Thus an air force officer on board the JSTARS aircraft was able to select a high-value ground target detected by JSTARS and transmit its coordinates directly to the closest strike aircraft indicated by AWACS data.
In sum this combination of intelligence sensors, precision navigation data and communications gave the coalition field commanders the ability to understand what was going on in the field to a degree that had never been achieved in any previous military operation.
During the first few weeks of the air war, coalition air strikes crippled the Iraqi C3I system. This effort was achieved by making the collection of detailed data on this system a top priority prior to the air war, and by making its targeting a top priority during the air war. As a result, while coalition forces had outstanding situation awareness, the opposing forces had very little. A large part of the "multiplier effect" achieved during Desert Storm came from the remarkable situation awareness of coalition forces, for which Iraqi forces had neither an effective counterpart nor an effective countermeasure.
Defense suppression is a second major component of the offset strategy. Defense suppression refers to the complex of systems designed to destroy or render ineffective the opposing air defense system before it can function. When General Powell testified before the House Armed Services Committee in December, just before the war started, he provided a prospective view of what war with the Iraqis might entail. He noted that the Iraqi air defense was dense, equipped with a large number of Soviet-built missiles, thousands of antiaircraft artillery guns, and linked with a hardened and redundant communication system. U.S. air operations against Vietnam and Israeli air operations against Egypt and Syria experienced attrition rates in the range of one-third of a percent to two percent against less capable air defense systems. An attrition rate of one percent (one loss per 100 sorties) is less than the average rate in previous wars, but in the very intensive air operations conducted in the Gulf War (about 100,000 sorties in six weeks), such an attrition rate would have led to unacceptable losses: 1,000 coalition aircraft destroyed and more than a thousand crew members killed or captured. If losses had in fact occurred at that rate, coalition air forces probably would not have conducted 100,000 sorties, and the tactics of the war would have been substantially different.
But coalition air forces did not suffer historical attrition rates because the United States had developed novel and effective defense suppression systems. With the use of these new systems during Desert Storm, and because of the early achievement of air supremacy, coalition forces incurred losses of about one in 3,000 sorties instead of one in 100. Even if this calculation is revised to exclude support aircraft, the loss rate is still less than one in 1,000 combat sorties.
Defense suppression systems used in Desert Storm were of two different generic types: precursor systems and escort systems.
The role of precursor systems can best be illustrated by describing their performance the first night of the war. The Stealth attack bomber (the F-117A) and the Tomahawk (a ship-launched cruise missile) were sent in first to destroy the radars and the command-and-control network of the Iraqi air defense. Stealth fighters were chosen for this mission because their low radar cross-sections make them difficult to engage. Tomahawks are also difficult to engage because of medium-to-low radar cross sections plus a very low altitude of flight. Special operations forces (including the army's Apache helicopters) also played a role in the precursor attack that first night.
After these attacks disabled the Iraqi air defense, the main strike was initiated by standard (non-stealth) attack bombers accompanied by escort aircraft designed to suppress any radars still operating. These escorts were equipped with radiation-seeking missiles (which attack radars by homing in on their transmissions) and electronic countermeasure systems (which degrade radars by transmitting signals that mask the legitimate target return). In the first few days of Desert Storm, U.S. forces fired hundreds of radiation-seeking missiles. As a consequence the Iraqi operators of those air defense radars that were still functional became increasingly reluctant to turn them on. Without tracking data from their radars Iraqi gunners could be compared to duck hunters on a dark moonless night armed with rifles instead of shotguns and shooting at ducks flying 400 miles an hour.
Under these circumstances, the Iraqi air defense operators reverted to World War II tactics: during night operations over their cities they put up barrages of antiaircraft gun fire (flak); during daytime operations over their army units they used optical controls to direct shoulder-fired missiles and guns (including the Soviet-built ZSU-23 gun, which has an optical sight that is very effective in clear weather).
In order to minimize losses against these tactics, coalition air forces generally flew at night and at altitudes above the reach of the antiaircraft guns. This of course required that the coalition's strike aircraft be equipped with night-vision devices and armaments that could hit targets accurately from high altitudes. The British Tornado aircraft suffered significant losses to antiaircraft fire in the early phases of the war as they delivered runway-cratering munitions from low altitudes. After these initial losses, the British shifted to the high-level delivery of laser-guided bombs.
The A-10 aircraft, which is designed to attack hard defended ground targets such as tanks, has as its primary armament a 30-mm cannon typically fired from low altitudes. Indeed the A-10 is intended to get "down in the dirt" with the infantry it is supporting. Unlike other U.S. strike aircraft it has substantial armor plating to protect it from ground fire. Even so, during the course of Desert Storm, seven A-10s were lost, three of them to shoulder-fired missiles. The A-10s used their 30-mm cannon extensively to attack ground vehicles, but the A-10s in Desert Storm were also equipped with Maverick missiles, which they used to attack heavily defended targets from altitudes above the reach of antiaircraft guns. With this combination of tactics, armor and armament, A-10s played a major role in the destruction of Iraqi armored forces and supply vehicles.
The net result was that coalition air forces were able to conduct 2,000 to 3,000 sorties a day with losses averaging less than one aircraft per day. The outstanding performance of defense suppression was one of the most important factors in the military success of the coalition.
Precision-guided weapons comprised the third component of the offset strategy used to great advantage in Desert Storm. Laser-guided bombs, laser-guided missiles and infrared-guided missiles were dramatically more effective and caused far fewer civilian casualties than the area bombing that characterized previous wars.
The effectiveness of precision weapons can be illustrated by the results of the Stealth attack bomber, since nearly all of its weapons were precision guided (in contrast to the F-16, for example, which delivered mostly "dumb" bombs). In Desert Storm the Stealth bomber typically carried two laser-guided 2,000 pound bombs. Because of their greatly reduced vulnerability to radar-directed fire, Stealth bombers were used in night operations to attack heavily defended targets, such as nuclear, chemical and biological facilities, command-and-control nodes, air defense radars, command centers and military production facilities.
They flew 1,300 sorties and delivered about 2,100 bombs (some bombs were held back because of cloud cover over the target area). Of the 2,100 bombs delivered, the preliminary assessment of the air force is that 1,700 fell within ten feet of where they were aimed. Considering the destructive force of a 2,000 pound bomb, it is likely that well over 80 percent of these 2,100 bombs destroyed their assigned targets. This is a remarkably high rate of effectiveness, particularly considering that Stealth fighters typically flew at medium altitudes to avoid the antiaircraft fire prevalent around their highly defended targets. During the 1,300 sorties, no Stealth bombers were shot down or even damaged.
It is important to emphasize the interdependence and interaction of intelligence, defense suppression and precision guidance. No one of these capabilities was sufficient by itself. The effectiveness of the coalition's defense suppression tactics depended on the precision-guided weapons; the effectiveness of the precision-guided weapons, in turn, depended on the intelligence data that identified and located targets; and the very survivability of the tactical intelligence systems depended on the effectiveness of the coalition's defense suppression systems. All of these critically depended on-and contributed to-the ability of the coalition to achieve early air supremacy. All of these were links in the chain of effectiveness, and if any one had been removed, the overall effectiveness of the chain would have been significantly diminished. Operating together these systems made a vital contribution to shortening the war, to dramatically reducing coalition casualties and to reducing Iraqi civilian casualties.
Although U.S. military leaders made very effective use of these new support systems, it appears that they underestimated the remarkable increase in military capability that these systems would provide. While the effectiveness of the new systems had been demonstrated on proving grounds for the last few years, they had never been used in a war, and the American military and certainly the public did not fully understand the extent to which they would dominate military operations. There had been, of course, no shortage of defense critics arguing that this new technology would not work well in a war.1 These critics made a number of persuasive arguments.
They argued that the new technology was too expensive and therefore would result in too few weapons, that the new technology was so complex that it would be unreliable, and that it would be too difficult to operate in the field. The argument about too few weapons simply ignores the "force multiplier" effect that was clearly demonstrated in Desert Storm. The argument about reliability was refuted by the operating experiences of the new systems, which demonstrated combat readiness rates in excess of 90 percent. The argument that the new systems would be too difficult to operate was an explicit criticism of the weapons system designers, suggesting that they did not know how to design weapons systems that took human factors adequately into account, and an implicit criticism of U.S. military personnel, implying that they were not capable of operating equipment embodying modern technology. On the contrary Desert Storm demonstrated that the U.S. military is both capable and well trained, and that the designs of the new systems were entirely compatible with that level of training.
Finally, the critics expressed a general concern that the new systems would lose their effectiveness because of the confusion on the battlefield, the "fog of war." In fact there were many factors, both physical and psychological, that caused confusion in this war. Coalition troops faced desert sand and dust, they contended with unseasonable rainstorms, and they fought combat missions under the cloud of an unprecedented man-made catastrophe-the smoke from hundreds of oil wells set on fire by the Iraqis. In addition the Iraqis tried in various ways to confuse, misdirect and demoralize coalition forces.
Coalition forces dealt with these problems by using a combination of tactics and technology. Effects of the physical fog were minimized by the use of a diverse set of sensors in different frequency bands, and the effects of the psychological fog were minimized by previous training under simulated combat conditions-most notably the combat training of U.S. forces at Nellis Air Force Base and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. Key to coalition success, however, was the intelligence information that enabled coalition commanders to cut through the confusion.
To be sure there were shortcomings in the U.S. military operations. U.S. tactical intelligence systems achieved mixed results: JSTARS was effective in the timely reporting of the quantity and location of enemy equipment, but it is not designed to locate or count enemy personnel or make bomb damage assessments. Photographic systems partially filled these gaps, but suffered from weather outages and built-in reporting delays for film processing and delivery. Also, in communicating the intelligence data within the theater, there were significant problems both in the capacity of the data links and their ability to operate from service to service. As a result the services had to work around these problems, primarily by making extensive use of couriers, which sometimes led to significant delays in the availability of data whose timeliness was important.
These shortcomings argue for three high priorities in the ongoing defense modernization program: proceeding with the production and deployment of JSTARS; providing real-time data links for aerial reconnaissance cameras; and developing equipment software and procedures that achieve real service-to-service interoperability in data links.
Moreover there were several latent shortcomings that did not seriously affect military operations in Desert Storm but that could have important consequences in future operations. Because C3I was so significant, it will be carefully studied by other nations, not only to learn how to emulate it, but also how to counter it. Many of the C3I systems used in Desert Storm could be degraded by foreseeable countermeasures. In addition most of the communication systems were stretched beyond their capacity, and available Iraqi countermeasures could have reduced the capacity further. C3I systems got a "free ride" to some extent, because inexplicably they were not subjected to countermeasures. But this is unlikely to happen again. Therefore a critically important part of the future U.S. defense program should be dedicated to the hardening of these systems, modifying them so they are less susceptible to countermeasures.
While precision-guided weapons were used with great effectiveness during Desert Storm, they represented only a fraction of the total bombs dropped. Because of the high density of antiaircraft guns in Iraq most of the bombs were released at medium or high altitudes, which decreased the accuracy of delivery of the "dumb bombs." Thus a clear lesson from Desert Storm is to increase the inventory of precision-guided weapons, whose accuracy is independent of the altitude of delivery. This need is particularly urgent for the navy. The navy's relative lack of emphasis in this area did not pose a serious problem in Desert Storm, because the availability and proximity of Saudi air bases meant that most of the air strikes were launched from ground bases instead of carriers. A future war with different geographical conditions, however, might necessitate launching the majority of air strikes from carriers. It is therefore important that carrier-based strike aircraft increase their capability to deliver precision-guided weapons.
Most of the current generation of both air force and navy precision-guided weapons require an operator to guide the missiles to impact, which increases the risk to the operator during that period. While the Iraqis were not able to take significant advantage of this vulnerability, another important emphasis in the U.S. defense program should be the expedited development of next-generation "fire and forget" weapons, which would be autonomously guided to the target after initial identification by the operator. This new generation would have the precision but not the vulnerability of the current generation weapons, and some would have all-weather capability.
U.S. chemical defense systems and air defense systems were not given significant combat tests, but it seems clear that the Patriot missile operated with high reliability and was quite capable of hitting an incoming missile. However it did not effectively deal with relatively simple countermeasures.
It seems that when the Iraqis modified the Scud missile to extend its range and payload, they created an inadvertent countermeasure. This modification introduced an instability that made the missile vulnerable to breaking up during reentry into the atmosphere. As a result the Patriot was presented on many engagements with a multiplicity of targets, one of which was the warhead and the rest of which were pieces of the missile, creating the same effect as decoys. On some of these engagements the Patriot attacked the missile debris, missing the warhead. The Patriot results offer a straightforward lesson for defense planning; namely, that any program to develop a ballistic missile defense system will require serious attention to the development of counter-countermeasures, but even then some "leakage" can be expected.
Of course implementing a program to upgrade U.S. defense capabilities in the years ahead depends not only on judgments suggested here, but on the size of the defense budget. President Bush's long-term defense plan, unveiled last year and reaffirmed subsequent to Desert Storm, calls for a significant decrease in the defense budget over the next six years and a reduction of more than 400,000 military personnel and a proportionate number of civilian personnel. It is crucial to maintain the research and development strategy that contributed to the advantage U.S. forces enjoy today. This will require a continuing exploration of new military technology, a vigorous program to build and test prototypes, and a constrained acquisition program to selectively modernize the forces.2 Such actions can maintain the American military advantage into the next century and are entirely compatible with the reduced defense budget proposed in the president's plan.
Countries all over the world will conduct their own analyses of the coalition's military success, and some will try to emulate the technical systems critical to that success. There is no secret about how these systems were developed in the United States. In the 1970s U.S. defense officials saw the opportunity to exploit the new developments in microelectronics and computers to great advantage in military applications. The Defense Department conceived, developed, tested, produced and deployed the systems embodying the new technologies. Finally, the U.S. military developed the tactics for using the new systems, and conducted extensive training with them, mostly under simulated field conditions.
To sustain the U.S. position of leadership in this new military capability, it is neither necessary nor sufficient to control the sale of technology or components. Indeed, even if Washington tried, it could not control this technology. With the exception of Stealth, the underlying technology of these new weapon systems as well as the components imbedded in them can be found in commercial products that have been on the market for five to ten years. The U.S. advantage in this new military technology is not in components, but in systems, training and operational experience.
To sustain this advantage the United States must control the sale of the systems that are key to the offset strategy: intelligence sensors, Stealth aircraft and precision-guided weapons. Even if the United States maintains strict control over the sale of these systems, other nations will gain this capability in time, but not without substantial investment over many years. Just how long the United States maintains its advantage depends on how consistently it constrains the sale of this current generation of weapons, and how effectively it develops the next generation.
While this new military capability will add a new dimension to deterrence, it also has significant limitations. It will not add to the ability of the United States to deter a nuclear attack; for the foreseeable future, that deterrence will depend on the strength of U.S. nuclear forces. Also, the new capability will be quite limited in its effectiveness in any regional conflicts that are basically civil wars or dominated by guerrilla warfare. No one should be deluded into believing that the military capability that can easily defeat an army with 4,000 tanks in a desert is going to be the decisive factor in a jungle or urban guerrilla war.
A central national security issue for the United States in the 1990s will be how to use this remarkable new military capability wisely. This will require a national security policy that constrains the sale of systems critical to the offset strategy so that the United States protects its advantage, manages the declining defense budget with an investment strategy that extends its advantage, guards against the hubris of believing that this new military capability solves all of its national security problems, and positions its foreign policy so that the United States does not become either the world's policeman or the world's bully. Clearly the United States does not want to spend the rest of the decade fighting regional conflicts. The key to avoiding such entanglements is to use its new strength to deter these conflicts rather than fight them.
1 See, for example, James Fallows, National Defense, New York: Random House, 1981.
2 See, for example, William J. Perry, "Defense Investment Strategy," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1989.