The Precision Revolution
A century ago the number of battleships it possessed measured the combat power of nations. Fifty years later, the manned bomber had replaced battlefleets as the primary arm of military powers. In future war, military superiority will be gauged by the amount of PGMs a country maintains.
For centuries ballistics has been the rule of thumb for the accuracy of bombs and shells. The limitation of technology meant for a weapon to hit its intended target, improvements could only be made to gunsight or bombsight. Accuracy did improve over time, but very slowly. Only when modern electronics and miniaturization allowed the shell or bomb to guide itself did precision improve dramatically.
The first success was by the German military during World War 2, who used radio-guided bombs to sink the Italian battleship Roma, and other naval vessels. The Vietnam War witnessed the initial use of PGMs by the US military. On April 27 1972, F-4 Phantoms using electrically-optical guided and laser-guided bombs destroyed the Paul Daumer and Thanh Hoa bridges in North Vietnam. All attempts to destroy these bridges since 1967 with old-style dumb bombs had ended in failure and much loss of pilots and aircraft. Too late to affect the outcome of the war, the potential of PGMs clearly pointed to a revolution in warfare.
During World War 2, at least 9000 bombs were needed to destroy a single target. Improvements in aircraft and advanced bombsights meant that by the time of Vietnam, only 300 bombs were needed for the same job. By the Gulf War, the first truly precision conflict, only 1 or 2 PGMs were necessary to accomplish a mission.
The impact of such a revolutionary weapon is obvious. With the lessening need of multiple sorties to incapacitate the enemy, less aircraft are needed. With the increase in firepower, smaller numbers of troops are required to seize territory and defeat other armies. With the rise in precision of its cruise missiles, navies no longer have to deploy large fleets for extended periods. Thus, by increasing the number of PGMs, huge armies, navies, and air forces have less to do, and vast numbers of older tanks, aircraft and ships are being discarded without replacement. The new technology is saving lives, while at the same time, reducing the cost of war.
For the present, the US has a predominant number of PGMs, and is testing and acquiring much more. For the foreseeable future she is a superpower without equal. However, the relative inexpense of such weapons, and the unstoppable global arms market, will make her increasingly vulnerable by the same technology she has created. Small countries with small defense budgets can acquire such weapons in large stocks. Nations with a high technology base, such as Israel, Singapore, and Sweden may one day displace the superpower, which has controlled most of the world's power and wealth, and dictated its fate since World War 2.
Mike Burleson Copyright (c) 2004