Diminishing technological advantages

Much has been written about technological advantages based on digital radio communication and satellite navigation. C4ISR and guided weapons give us the feeling that our technological edge over non-NATO forces is much larger than at the end of the Cold War.

But bandwidth requirements, electronic warfare challenges and especially some defensive technologies are probably effective counters to this superiority. As Edward Luttwak already pointed out in "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace", the greater the advantage of one party, the quicker and more thorough will be the counter reaction to it.

Only small innovations and advantages - those barely visible to outsiders - are likely to persist and not be countered by the opponent. The huge effects of our electronics-based innovations are visible to anyone, it doesn't need more than TV news to know about them.

One such reaction might be physical interception. When sea-skimming missiles threatened modern surface warships to become obsolete in the 1970's, the navies reacted with some delay with CIWS (Close-in Weapon System) such as the Vulcan Phalanx, Goalkeeper, RAM, AK-630 and Type 730. The same approach is now applied to base defense against mortars, as well. Laser-based systems that intercept incoming projectiles and missiles have been applied to intercept surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and on experimental scale against unguided rockets and howitzer rounds. Small torpedoes can already intercept large torpedoes.

Some producers of SAMs like the RBS-23 BAMSE claim that their missiles can intercept enemy missiles, even anti-radiation missiles that emit no treacherous signals and travel at up to Mach 4. Present-day active defense suites (ADS) of tanks are much more capable than those of the 90's - it's actually possible to intercept and severely affect incoming long rod penetrators, a hard and dense metal dart flying at almost Mach 6. Future tank battalions might be protected by umbrellas of air defense firepower that does not only endanger aircrafts, but intercepts artillery, mortar, drones and missiles as well.

Russia equips some of its newest, Su-27-based, fighters with a small rear radar. A rear sensor is necessary not only to fire missiles to the back (as demonstrated already with R-73 missiles) and of questionable usefulness in warning against fighter threats - it could also be considered as essential sensor component in hard kill defenses against incoming missiles.

Technology often origins in the navies as their ships are important and few enough to justify expensive equipment and at the same time large enough to support equipment that has great volume, weight and energy demands ... as new technologies often have in the beginning. Such technology does then often spread to air forces once only cost is limiting the use. Active defences are an example of such "navy-first".

It's been a miracle for decades why fighters should still depend on prevention and soft kills to protect themselves against missiles. Hard kill technologies should be applicable. The whole approach of the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters to air combat would become obsolete if their missiles could be intercepted - they themselves are so stealth-orientated that they could hardly implement the necessary sensors and weapons necessary for such technology without losing their strengths.

Overall, the reaction to our technological advantages are predictable - not the precise "how?" and "when?", but the "if" and "how seriously?". It would be wise to orient the national security policies of the NATO nations according to this fact.
It would be foolish to expect that our present technological edge won't be countered sometime.

Sven Ortmann

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