Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ummm, don't look now, but....

I'd hate to be the one to burst your bubble regarding America's seeming military invincibility, so I'll just let you down gently by pointing out we have several military Achilles Heels.  I recently read an article that points them out which says, basically, that while we are no doubt immensely powerful, we are putting a lot of our eggs in several fragile baskets that we may not have a good grip on.  (You can read the article for yourself here.)

After WWI the world thought of France as one of the preeminent Continental powers, with a large army and navy, only to see it collapse like a house of cards after the Nazi's breached its vaunted Maginot Line in 1940.  The United States today, much like the French with their Maginot Line, puts much faith in just a handful of our weapons systems.  Without getting too geeky, here are our problem areas:

Supercarriers....we currently have 10 nuclear aircraft carriers able to project power around the world. They carry a powerful wallop, but they themselves are huge targets.  In fact, there have been several incidents recently when real-world friendly naval forces, acting as "adversaries", managed to get their (old, not very sophisticated) submarines close enough to an American carrier to shoot virtual torpedoes into it.  (Story here.)  

In other words, it's easier than you might think for a non-state-of-the-art submarine to put a few million-dollar torpedoes into a multi-BILLION dollar aircraft carrier and send it to the bottom of the ocean.  Due to the lack of a worthy adversary after the USSR collapsed in 1991, our anti-submarine warfare skills have noticeably declined.

Should we begin to de-emphasize our carriers, and accelerate building many more, and much more survivable, submarines of our own?  Are we depending on our carriers too much? 

Stealth aircraft....most people don't understand what "stealth" means.  The common perception is that a stealth aircraft is invisible.  NOT true!  Stealth means "low observable".  Instead of showing up on radar as a big aircraft, it shows up the size of a small bird.  It's hard to see, but you CAN see it.  And now our adversaries are developing (and I'm sure we are also) things like "passive radars" that can see stealth aircraft coming from miles away.  Our stealth fleet is still plenty impressive, but it's losing its aura of invincibility.

As much as I like the romanticized idea of a swaggering jet jockey sitting in the cockpit of a $100M+ aircraft, maybe we should consider buying many, many more smaller, simpler, and cheaper unmanned aircraft.  (Much of the complexity and cost of a manned aircraft is due to the need for "pilot survivability" components.)  Look at how well our unmanned, armed drones have done!  As with our carriers, are we depending too much on our "stealth" aircraft?

And finally, our "network-centric warfare" capability....we have developed a superb system linking in real time our command, control, communications, and computers (C4) with their land, air, and sea assets.  This means we can respond almost immediately with any or all of our forces in a highly-coordinated counter-attack.  The problem is, for this to work, everything must be connected, which is currently done through satellites in space. 

Now the Chinese have successfully launched an armed satellite-killer into space and destroyed one of their own to prove its viability, and the Russians have launched a satellite into orbit which they maneuvered into close proximity to one of our satellites, presumably as a test to see if they could get close enough to blow it up.  (They can.)  As our satellites are unarmed and cannot defend themselves, they're sitting ducks!

So maybe we should look carefully into developing weapons and systems that are simpler, cheaper, and more likely to survive an attack by    ?    .  We should study the history of the French Maginot Line carefully to make sure we haven't developed an American Maginot Line. 

We just might have outsmarted ourselves.



  1. You make so many excellent points, and your final line about an American Maginot Line was brilliant.

  2. What worries me more is a lot of our weapons systems are pretty old. Other than those stealth aircraft (of which we don't really have all that many) most of our aircraft were designed from the 70s back to the dawn of the jet age. Sure they get upgrades but the basic designs haven't changed in decades. With the "war on Terror" I don't think we've worried all that much about developing tanks or other armored vehicles. Our latest assault weapons probably still aren't as reliable as a good ol' AK-47.

    Still we probably have a technological edge but there's no doubt China can muster a lot more in raw numbers. That's why Trump's antagonizing China before he's even in the Oval Office is so scary.

  3. The Silkworm pretty much changed the Navy scene. Beyond that I know too much to discuss online. Sleep well, we are OK.

    1. You obviously have considerable knowledge on the subject, Zippy. I'd love to hear more, at least as far as what you're allowed to say. If you have a Facebook account, could you private message me....I'm Scott Park. This topic fascinates me.

  4. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961