Friday, October 07, 2005

Smart Bombs vs. Coalition Warfare

I would like to amplify something said in class yesterday. It is interesting that, despite advances made in precision guided munitions(PGM), the rules of engagement (ROE) have become more restrictive. Or does this make perfect sense? Even PGMs have a tough time hitting small, mobile, hidden targets; rates of attrition on this class of targets is not good. Look at the after-action reports from Operation Allied Force (OAF). Why do smart munitions function poorly outside of theatres involving large units operating on flat terrain, e.g., Iraq? Should Iraq, especially the first Gulf War, be a test case for the technological dominance of air power? During the Gulf War, the makers of the Patriot Missile turned off the missile's feedback system because they knew it was a substandard munition.

Warfare is highly political. OAF offers a great example of how ROE can limit the coercive power of military force. The Dutch refused to permit the bombing of the Presidential Palace in Belgrade because it houses an original Rembrandt. The French were adamant that destruction of infrastructure be kept to a minimum; they contested hotly the use of munitions that incapacitated Serbia's power grid, not destroyed, but incapacitated.

PGMs are great. They can minimize collateral damage and are very effective against large, stationary targets. They have limitations, however, and improvements remain imperfect. Therefore, politicans cannot wipe their hands of the fact that war remains the business of coercive violence: it is, as Dr. Tsuboi said, politically incorrect. Nevertheless, should we let them micromanage warfare, or demand they admit in a non-political way that "surgical strike" remains a problematic and essential means of coercive force?

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