Avoidable disappointments


The USS Stark incident in 1987:
The ship was struck on May 17, 1987, by two Exocet antiship missiles fired from an Iraqi Mirage F1 fighter during the Iran–Iraq War.
The fighter fired the first Exocet missile from a range of 22.5 nautical miles, and the second from 15.5 nautical miles, at about the time the fighter was given a routine radio warning by the Stark. The frigate did not detect the missiles with radar and warning was given by the lookout only moments before the missiles struck. The first penetrated the port-side hull; it failed to detonate, but spewed flaming rocket fuel in its path. The second entered at almost the same point, and left a 3-by-4-meter gash—then exploded in crew quarters

A report about an incident in OIF in 2003:
An Iraqi Seersucker antiship cruise missile converted into a land attack role has just missed decapitating IMEF [I Marine Expeditionary Force HQ] by a mere one hundred yards. The missile, launched from the Faw peninsula, flew undetected and unengaged straight through the heart of an alert and robust U.S. theater air and missile defense system.
("Attacking the Cruise Missile Threat",
paper, Joint Forces Staff College)

The INS Hanit incident during the Lebanon War in 2006:
During the 2006 Lebanon War, the vessel was patrolling in Lebanese waters ten nautical miles off the coast of Beirut. It was damaged on July 14, 2006 on the waterline, under the aft superstructure by a missile (likely a Chinese-designed C-802 or the smaller C-701) fired by Hezbollah. Reportedly, setting the flight deck on fire and crippling the propulsion systems inside the hull.
According to the Israeli Navy, the ship's sophisticated automatic missile defense system was not deployed, even though the early warning system is usually deployed during peace-time wargames. Israel said the defense system was not deployed because of Israeli aircraft in the area.

U.S. Southern Command about smugglers:
Self-Propelled Semi-Submersibles (SPSS) represent the emerging sophistication and innovation of drug traffickers to adapt to U.S. and regional counter drug capabilities. The vessels are designed and built by narco-terrorists in Colombia to smuggle large volumes of cocaine over long distances in a manner that is difficult to detect. Since the vessels have a low profile – the hulls only rise about a foot above the waterline -- they are hard to see from a distance, leave little wake and produce a small radar signature. U.S. counterdrug officials estimate that SPSS are responsible for 32% of all cocaine movement in the transit zone.

Nothing like this should have been possible if earlier claims of Western armed forces were true.
We have holes in our defenses, holes in our sensor capabilities and often we've got incompetent or unlucky people in command.
In theory we should be able to detect and intercept easily in all such cases, yet mishaps seem to happen all the time.

It's been forgotten during the Cold War that a hot war means losses - including losses of aircraft (no matter how expensive they were) and ships (same).
There's quite often an attitude in public discussions that expects the achievement of invulnerability for aircraft, ships and tanks.
The reality looks different. Tactical defence shall enable units to destroy some enemies before they themselves are destroyed. Development efforts are much more about exchange ratios than about approximating invulnerability.

New anti-tank weapons provoke claims that tanks are outdated - this happens every few years and gets rebutted by experts and warfare every time. It's widely known that tanks aren't invulnerable, at least to those who have observer tank development for a few years.
The same cannot be said of surface warships and combat aircraft, though. There are still no-loss expectations alive in regard to these, especially in regard to large, expensive warships and "stealth" aircraft.

- - - - -

Sensors and protection aren't the only things that will fail us in a major conventional war.

Weapons and Munitions have a history of usually being much less lethal in actual war than expected. (This applies at least to the post-First World War time. It was entirely the other way around in the First World War for artillery and submarines.)

So whenever you see claims about "our" or "their" weapon systems being super-lethal, super-survivable and all-seeing; be assured that they aren't. They will likely not see and recognize their enemies early enough to dominate, they won't hit every time, many of their hits won't have spectacular effects and they'll get pounded themselves.

It's worthwhile to improve, but excessively optimistic to expect excellence from hardware.

Sven Ortmann

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