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Ken Fabian

The Impact of Cheap weapons on Great Powers

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The attack on Saudi Arabian oil refineries appears to be a result of (relatively) low cost weapons. I recall reading SF stories by Donald Kingbury - "Courtship Rites", "The Moon Goddess and the Son" - that expressed a view of history of war of swings back and forth from elite professional soldiery, that are expensive to equip and train to peasant armies with cheap but effective weapons. (Hammers and knives and longbows in the hands of footsoldiers taking out armoured knights). The second of those stories (written before Gorbachev but set later with intact USSR) had a homemade drone-missile, made from parts on-line fired at the Kremlin and very nearly setting off all out nuclear war.

Is it possible that small, cheap missiles will come along that can take out multi-billion dollar assets like stealth bombers? It is surmised by many that the USA/USSR arms race effectively sent the USSR broke. Could that turn about and hyper expensive technologies become ineffective and a serious economic burden?

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Isn't "dirty bomb" cheap homemade version of nuclear missile.. ?

 

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4 hours ago, Sensei said:

Isn't "dirty bomb" cheap homemade version of nuclear missile.. ?

 

There have always been improvised weapons but they mostly have limited utility - terrorism, that might use a dirty bomb is mostly aimed at easy targets and rarely attacks or damages major military assets. They are only war winning where a regime is already very weak. In the modern context IED's are more nuisance than serious military threat to Great Powers. Drones are changing things in ways those do not and may offer an emerging ability to deliver small explosive payloads to places more conventional weapons cannot, bypassing defenses that would detect larger missiles - or Intelligence seeing the military movements ahead of their use.

Small, relatively low cost ground to air missiles were a major problem for Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan. Shoulder fired if I recall correctly, able to reliably take down a very expensive military asset. The recent attack on Saudi Arabian oil assets were able to penetrate past superior US aided military defenses; counterattacks by the USA on Iran (presumably) will not undo that damage. I wonder if we are beginning to see a new kind of drone warfare that defense systems are not adapting quickly enough to be able to deal with.

I mentioned the ability to target stealth aircraft; surely that has been a priority for military technologists around the world.  A lot of US military success is dependent on stealth aircraft but it seems to me it would be a mistake to assume small missiles capable of tracking and targeting them won't ever be possible.

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"homemade drone-missile" hitting a specific target sounds like movie-plot tech, which it sort of is. Fiction writers are free to make things up, which is why it's fiction. Is there any indication that such devices actually exist and fit the description of "cheap"?

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Air defense systems, against incoming threats, are optimized for relatively large threats, such as aircraft, and are of limited value against small missile threats.
They are practically useless against even smaller drones.

The future lies with directed energy defense systems, whether radar controlled laser systems that can track/target multiple threats, or directed EMP, which is electromagnetic and is focusable, or, in the future, direct bursts from solid state, steerable emitters ( similar to active radar array modules ).

Edited by MigL

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23 hours ago, swansont said:

 Is there any indication that such devices actually exist and fit the description of "cheap"?

My fictional example was indeed fictional, yet I think it remains illustrative - civilian autopilot system + GPS possibly could guide a cruise type missile to a specific target. Most of the components needed to make such a thing probably can be obtained legally - although such purchases may set off Intelligence alarm bells.

Journalists are increasingly writing articles like this https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-18/drones-changing-war-fare-like-ieds/11520196 and cite incidents like a drone attack on Russian aircraft on the ground in Syria -

Quote

 

In 2018, a number of resourceful Syrian rebels were able to stage a "drone swarm" attack against a rear-echelon base that housed Russian bombers.

Up until this point, these warplanes had been able to strike insurgents with impunity, but the attack overwhelmed the base's defences and left several airframes in ruins.

 

 We now have a "drone swarm" attack that did serious damage to well defended oil installations in Saudi Arabia. Journalists are describing the drones as low cost but details are still absent. Very likely these are military drones and compared to civilian ones they are probably expensive. Compared to the aircraft destroyed they may be cheap. It sounds like they are something that some State player is happy to sell to militias in war zones.

In any case I am asking whether especially effective low cost weapons could emerge that well equipped militaries could prove vulnerable to and how that might impact major military powers such as the USA?

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1 minute ago, Ken Fabian said:

My fictional example was indeed fictional, yet I think it remains illustrative - civilian autopilot system + GPS possibly could guide a cruise type missile to a specific target. Most of the components needed to make such a thing probably can be obtained legally - although such purchases may set off Intelligence alarm bells.

Journalists are increasingly writing articles like this https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-18/drones-changing-war-fare-like-ieds/11520196 and cite incidents like a drone attack on Russian aircraft on the ground in Syria -

 We now have a "drone swarm" attack that did serious damage to well defended oil installations in Saudi Arabia. Journalists are describing the drones as low cost but details are still absent. Very likely these are military drones and compared to civilian ones they are probably expensive. Compared to the aircraft destroyed they may be cheap. It sounds like they are something that some State player is happy to sell to militias in war zones.

In any case I am asking whether especially effective low cost weapons could emerge that well equipped militaries could prove vulnerable to and how that might impact major military powers such as the USA?

But the attack on the Saudi installations was, in all probability, Iran; a nation state, so there's no reason to think the weapons were cheap.

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1 minute ago, dimreepr said:

there's no reason to think the weapons were cheap

No doubt they were military hardware and by civilian standards, expensive. Yet compared to "conventional" missiles or aircraft capable of inflicting the same damage they probably are cheap. Compared to the damage inflicted they almost certainly are cheap - and conflicts can be lost because of the cost. It may be that Great Powers won't be at heightened risk of invasion or destruction, but their capability to "project" power, to invade or intervene elsewhere, could be severely curtailed.

Like I say, it is a question.

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13 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

No doubt they were military hardware and by civilian standards, expensive. Yet compared to "conventional" missiles or aircraft capable of inflicting the same damage they probably are cheap. Compared to the damage inflicted they almost certainly are cheap - and conflicts can be lost because of the cost. It may be that Great Powers won't be at heightened risk of invasion or destruction, but their capability to "project" power, to invade or intervene elsewhere, could be severely curtailed.

Like I say, it is a question.

It's like the Falklands war and the exocet missile, we we're lucky to survive a relatively cheap weapon, the problem is, that weapon only works once, but again that weapon wasn't actually cheap.

Edited by dimreepr

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24 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

My fictional example was indeed fictional, yet I think it remains illustrative - civilian autopilot system + GPS possibly could guide a cruise type missile to a specific target. Most of the components needed to make such a thing probably can be obtained legally - although such purchases may set off Intelligence alarm bells.

Civilian autopilot systems are cheap? Cruise missiles are cheap?

 

24 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

Journalists are increasingly writing articles like this https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-18/drones-changing-war-fare-like-ieds/11520196 and cite incidents like a drone attack on Russian aircraft on the ground in Syria -

 We now have a "drone swarm" attack that did serious damage to well defended oil installations in Saudi Arabia. Journalists are describing the drones as low cost but details are still absent. Very likely these are military drones and compared to civilian ones they are probably expensive. Compared to the aircraft destroyed they may be cheap. It sounds like they are something that some State player is happy to sell to militias in war zones.

“low-cost” may be in military terms, where a few million dollars is low-cost, because the item is being compared to a jet fighter.

 

16 minutes ago, Ken Fabian said:

No doubt they were military hardware and by civilian standards, expensive. Yet compared to "conventional" missiles or aircraft capable of inflicting the same damage they probably are cheap. Compared to the damage inflicted they almost certainly are cheap - and conflicts can be lost because of the cost. It may be that Great Powers won't be at heightened risk of invasion or destruction, but their capability to "project" power, to invade or intervene elsewhere, could be severely curtailed.

Like I say, it is a question.

That’s one of the strategies. Lower tech, lower cost, but having more of them. Or just having them.

Some countries want submarines but can’t afford nuclear, so they get diesel-electric, which are very quiet when operating in electric mode.

Some have huge, but relatively poorly-equipped armies.

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Exocet was certainly not cheap by sea-skimming anti-warship missiles of the time.
Neither was it a weapon system, rather, part of a system.
The other part consisted of D-B Super Etendard jets, which were being forced to operate at the extremities of their operational range along with A-4 Skyhawks,  having to take off from mainland airfields. That is one reason Royal Navy Harrier jump jets dominated the airspace
This was planned by the Royal forces, and is the reason for the long range strikes by re-commissioned Vulcan bombers on the island runways, denying Argentine forces a local base to defend from.
Considering the distance involved, it was actually a well planned operation by the Brits.
And planning is the most important aspect of force projection, not weapons.

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5 minutes ago, MigL said:

And planning is the most important aspect of force projection, not weapons.

Well yes, providing you know what weapons to plan for.

This thread reminds me of this:

 

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Reports now indicate that a mix of drones and cruise missiles may have been involved with more evidence pointing to Iran. I do not think that there is any good indication of the attack being particularly cheap. Of course, new technologies can (as they already have) disrupt conventional military doctrines. The attack does seem to highlight a certain imbalance in the capability (and perhaps cost) of defence systems. That does not seem to be a new thing, IIRC there were already critics of the Patriot system citing the high cost of it compared to cruise missiles. If there are cheaper weapons around, the biggest risk is probably proliferation, unless key components can be controlled effectively. 

Ultimately it is not only about the fact that these weapons are present, but also where they are and how they can be deployed.

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