Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mainly because the targets are getting smaller

I was going through some old magazines, and came across this one that appeared in the 20th September 2006 Jane's Defense Weekly, on the back cover. I'm not a subscriber to JDW, but I do like to read it when I have the chance - the content bias aside, it's no worse a source for international news than the Economist, which is the fashionable magazine for Canadian university students and profs who like to feel well-informed. It should be retitled Am. J. Conventional Wisdom.

But I digress.

The SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pod is a device that allows warplanes to clearly view, track, and identify distant targets, and can be configured to supply information in tandem with radar and satellite to all J-series ordnance. And, like the ad says, "Sniper is the only targeting pod that exceeds USAF ATP requirements. Sniper ATP. Battle proven. Best value."

"LOCKHEED MARTIN. We never forget who we're working for."

Awww! They're so sweet!

The ad, does, however, contain a grain of truth. As far as the USAF is concerned, the targets ARE getting smaller (the stakes are NOT getting higher, but understatement doesn't move merchandise) . While the US has to periodically contend with national governments who have actual armies, with ships and tanks and bases, the bulk of its fighting today is against people who travel in cars, on donkeys, or on foot. This is Vietnam, minus the jungle and the NVA. The power differential is huge - militarily, the US Army, Air Force, and Navy are unstoppable - victory for the US in any conventional war is assumed - Iraq in 1991 had the world's 4th largest army, and one that was battle-hardened over 8-years against Iran, yet it collapsed in 4 days. The Chinese might put up a fight, but that's purely hypothetical.

Today, however, the US finds itself struggling against an enemy that is without air power, without artillery, without fire-control systems, satellite intelligence, real-time battlefield management, and billions and billions and billions of dollars to sink into every project imaginable to squeeze every marginal advantage out of a combat situation.

So are they winning?

In military terms, the answer is yes. They take fewer casualties, control more territory, and have greater freedom of movement by air, land, and sea. Their operations have a much higher success rate than those of their adversaries.

That would only matter, though, if military victory mattered. As Hezbollah showed last summer, military victory doesn't matter - where everybody assumes that defeat is a foregone conclusion, being seen to have survived against the obviously superior opponent is victory in itself. It's amazing how few people learned that lesson from Vietnam.

Without making a moral judgment on the entire Western enterprise in the Muslim world (which I promise to do some other day), maybe the people reading these ads should ask themselves if Sniper ATP actually does provide the "Best value."

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