Thursday, 13 September 2012

A2AD / Containerised Missiles – A new dawn or old questions?

Well this is my first ‘own’ blog for a while; sorry about that, just didn’t have the time with PhD thesis, leading Seminars, the Phoenix Think Tank and my other commitments – however in the mean time I am hoping to getting back to a weekly or biweekly schedule…I still don’t have that much free time so apologies but replies to comments may be irregular. Anyway on with the blog…

Area denial

A great piece on this topic written recently which brought up some comments of Nelsons about forts[1]; a very correct quote, but Nelson himself lead a fleet successfully against the forts and ships of the Danish at Copenhagen in 1801. During this battle Nelson defeated a Danish fleet whilst it was under the protection/support of (for the time) extensive shore batteries. This is not to say the author was misquoting Nelson; but rather to say that every situation is subjective and individual…as well as it being that authors piece is rather well thought out and argued, although different conclusions can be drawn from the same situation.  
When Area Denial comes up in discussions it’s increasingly thought about in terms of weapons technology, of numbers of weapons and of specific nations. The debate often seems to ignore not only the complex strategic question of using those weapons; but also the difficulty of targeting them. For example the Anti-Ship Ballistic missile, presuming it would not be used by minor nations on each other, could even if armed with a conventional warhead cause a strategic nuclear attack just by its launching depending upon the personality of the President or Prime Minister or whoever has the nuclear codes of the country who’s naval task force is be attacked. Furthermore if it did use a nuclear war head… is it really believable this would not be an escalation? There were many scenarios in the Cold War envisaging a mass attack with nuclear weapons by Soviet Heavy Bombers/Long Range missiles or Submarines on NATO Task Forces – every single one caused a virtually unstoppable escalation. The bottom line is that the moment a ballistic missile is used, the genie is let out of the bottle and no one has any real measure of control. Having a weapon in the arsenal though, is not the same using it… in this case an argument can be made that perhaps anti-ship ballistic missile are more about diplomacy than utility, something which is backed up by the practicality of their deployment.
Moving on the Ballistic weapons also have the problems of targeting; they will be fired from so far away that the target will have moved…this is not cities or major strategic hubs, ships move. A task force, with a speed of progression (i.e. if their zigzagging) of 25knots will cover over 4.6km every 10 minutes. Therefore whilst the fireball of the largest ever nuclear bomb detonated, the Soviet Union/Russia’s 50Mt Tsar Bomba, was only 2.3km, and even though it impact was far wider than that (windows were recorded as being broken 900km away...) a problem emerges. A flight of 40 minutes will mean that the task force has had the opportunity to move 18.4km, with Aegis radar they will know the missile is coming, and where it is going – the warhead of a ballistic missile, once it goes into re-entry, cannot be changed mid-flight because it gets too hot to receive transmissions. This combined with the fact that the warhead will more than likely have a significantly smaller yield than the Tsar Bomba; a well-managed task force could therefore in theory escape serious damage altogether, even without firing any Anti-Ballistic Missile weapons it might have.
The problems above are on top of the problems of detecting the task force; relying upon satellites whilst understandable, is open to interference – the satellites could be shot down or damaged,  communications could be interfered with by jamming, the ground stations could be destroyed (all leaving to one side the options and ramifications of physical espionage or cyber espionage). UAVs and manned aircraft are also open to various forms of interdiction, destruction of fuel supplies, destruction of runways, disruption of communication/command & control and of course being shot down. Submarines whilst offering a very potent method of intelligence gathering; loose a lot of their advantages and put themselves at far greater risk as soon as they have to come up to shallower depths required for communication with their home...and again that communication can be disrupted. In the end it is all a variable, with a good deal of luck involved on both sides of the detection equation. The same principle problems apply when considering the other weapon of area denial, long range cruise missiles.
Target acquisition is a major problem; but for cruise missiles due to their different patterns of operation they have the advantage of self-acquisition because of on-board sensors and mid-flight course corrections. However, they also have the problem that since the first use of Kamikaze’s navies have been faced with the prospect of large numbers of suicidal guided bombs. There is therefore a well-practiced, well tested, well developed methodology of dealing with them;
  1.  Detect early, Airborne Early Warning and good reconnaissance/intelligence are essential if this is to be achieved (long range radar on ships keeps aircraft & missiles down below the Radar Horizon where they use more fuel, AEW turns that advantage on its head and allows fighters to ponce.
  2.  If possible destroy the launcher before it launches the weapons; at the very least disrupt/weaken so the attack losses co-ordination and becomes easier to deal with by the ships.
  3.  Engage the weapons as far away from the ships as possible, fighters and long range AA weapons.
  4.  Deploy the maximum number of distractions in order to confuse the weapons; electronic jamming, flares, chaff, decoys
  5.  Have concentrated numbers of rapid firing weapons to deal with any weapons which get through the outer layers.
Believe it or not, this methodology is not that different to what was developed by John Thack under the Big Blue Blanket system. It works, although of course like any system it can be overloaded; which is of course what many of the participants are discussing. However, it is also the nature of weapons technology that there is a constant competition between offensive and defensive weapons, but offensive weaponry always gets more press than defensive. Hence the latest Chinese missiles pops up all over the discussion boards, yet what is undoubtedly the anti-dote (should the situation reach a state of) for missile saturation, the Raytheon Phalanx Laser system[2], seems in comparison to just slip along barely noticed. However, that is the system if it reaches that point… any commander will of course aim to stop it reaching that point.
A commander will wish to go on the offensive, will wish to take advantage of 1 and carry out 2; at the disposal of any US commander in the future will be such systems as the AQ-47, the F-35 and the Tomahawk replacement able to be fired from a multitude of surface/sub-surface platforms – even possibly railguns. This is the other often over looked variable, all those A2AD weapons require infrastructure, they require support and this means they will be visible, they will be findable, and that makes them destroyable. If there is one lesson from history that is taught over and over again, there is no such thing as truly one-way fight. There again if we are going on history alone, then every form of A2AD has been ultimately ineffective – mines & shore batteries were good but ultimately did not stop the Union navy of the US civil war when it set its mind to something, submarines & torpedo boats were built by the French as a counter to the British Battle fleet…the British just built torpedo boat destroyers (soon shortened to just ‘destroyers’) and it was a battle never fought, and of course aircraft and submarines were supposed to clear the seas and make it impossible for any fleet to move during the Second World War…yet convoys still went through the Mediterranean to resupply Malta, the Arctic Ocean to Russia, Atlantic to Britain…yet the RN & USN managed to get the US Army to Europe, and the Canadians, the Island hopping campaign succeeded and D-day took place, as did many raids upon occupied Europe. The lesson, losses will be taken in war, and its crushing for the families affected, but the fact is no system is absolute, no system is as good as its salesmen tell the world and for every action there is equal and opposite reaction – or more appropriately for every new technology an answering one will emerge which will change the balance of the scales once again.

Containerised Missiles

The comments on Solomon’s Blog[3] are thought provoking; it forces countries leaders to make decisions…the first being offensive or defensive? It’s not only a question for those defending against such systems to ask, but also those using them. On the balance for both sides it is probably better to be offensive. This is the reasoning:
  • For those nations employing them, should they use such systems as a deterrent then they will need to keep the circling around the world constantly, they will need to find a way to maintain them, keep in constant contact with them and ensure they never get stored at the bottom of a pile of containers…or otherwise they might have trouble launching. The problem with all that though is that it will draw attention to those containers and also with their constant circulation, there come’s the problem of bad luck, the black swan, the random would be fief opening the wrong container looking for some computer chips to rob and finding a set of missiles staring them in the face. Such a system would be a nightmare to run. This means it makes far more sense to build them, store them in a warehouse near some docks and deploy them when it’s decided to make a first strike.
  • For those nations defending against them; well unless it’s the size of Luxemburg or smaller it really is not achievable to build a complete air defence network – there just isn’t the national will that European countries had for it prior to World War II, just consider the outcry over the temporary deployment of air defence missiles for the London Olympics. The people don’t want such systems in every park, and they certainly would not want to pay the costs for such a system. So again that leaves the offensive; the only real counter for them is to aggressively seek them… have intelligence agencies hunt down the warehouses, monitor the factories, and if they get deployed hunt the container which has an electronic signature – as it will need some sort of power supply; it will be shielded, but no shielding is perfect. Find the weapons and deal with them before they go off; after all its far simpler to drill a hole in a fuel tank on the ground, than shoot down the missile while its flying at Mach 3.
Anyway that’s my two-pennyworth, and thankyou for reading. And sorry no pictures... am currently traveling and didn't have the time to find good ones and put this up whilst I had a decent internet connection - same reason if there's any spelling mistakes, had to trust the old spell checker and hope it was right.

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