16 September 2005

Jeweler's Screwdrivers.

I remarked earlier this week that the U.S. military needs not sledgehammers (i.e nuclear weapons and other massively destructive devices), but jeweler's screwdrivers. This is the direction that the U.S. military is going. Several of its new initiatives are designed to make ordinance smaller. While huge new bombs, like the 21,000 pound MOAB ("mother of all bombs") may make headlines, many of the new military developments are working on another problem. Bombs that are too big will destroy more than what you want or need to destroy.

One of these developments is the Viper Strike missile. Designed to be about half the size of the Hellfire missiles which are now used on Predator drones and originally designed as a helicopter borne anti-tank missile, the new Viper Strike missiles are designed to provide close air support to troops in urban settings, allowing them to blow up a room in a house without destroying the whole house, or to blow up a truck without destroying the trailer.

Another is the concrete bomb (September 15, 2005 entry). This is a laser guided or "smart" bomb filled with concrete instead of explosives. Why? So that the Air Force can hit targets like anti-aircraft weapons in urban neighborhoods, while avoiding civilian casualties, or destroy single spans of bridges, without ruining the entire bridge, so that the bridge can be more swiftly rebuilt when hostilities are over.

A third development along these lines is the small diameter bomb, a 250 pound "smart bomb" that fills a gap left in the usual array of 500 to 2000 pound bombs, again allowing more precision. The new F-22 fighter, which will have the smallest bomb payload of any combat plane in the U.S. Air Force or Navy when it enters service, is designed with these in mind.

The military isn't going to stop making larger weapons. But, the military is shifting from primarily planning for all out war against another superpower with a host of heavily armed allies, to preparing for small conventional wars against less heavily armed foes at locations around the world, and is deciding that it has different military needs as a result.

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