Owen Cote, associate director of the MIT Security Studies Program, has written extensively on military doctrine. In addition to co-editing the journal International Security, Cote currently is writing a book on the success of the U.S. Navy’s antisubmarine warfare during the Cold War. Technologyreview.com associate editor David Cameron spoke with Cote about how advances in precision weapons and unmanned aircraft are making this war with Iraq very different from the last one.TR: How far has the U.S. come with precision weapons in the last ten years?
Cote: In the first war, only about ten percent of the U.S. airplanes were capable of using precision weapons. Now, every airplane that flies a strike mission has the capability to use precision weapons-laser-guided bombs and satellite-guided bombs navigated by the GPS signal. Ten years ago they were pretty much using gravity bombs, not all that different from WWII and Vietnam.
Interestingly, GPS guided weapons were first considered unfeasible because they were too expensive. In the mid 1980s it was hard for the military to embrace the million-dollar-a-piece weapon. But once the revolution of GPS receivers in the commercial world occurred, GPS-guided weapons became much cheaper.
The advantage these precision weapons provide is that-at least in terms of fixed targets-we can destroy many more targets much more quickly while essentially dropping many fewer tons of bombs. The overall fire power we drop will be a lot less, while the overall speed and precision of the campaign will be greatly accelerated.
TR: What about Patriot missiles, which were so maligned in the first Gulf War?
Cote: The missile used in the Gulf War was Patriot PAC-II. Now there’s a new generation missile called the Patriot PAC-III, a fundamentally different kind of missile. It is very early in its deployment cycle. I think it already has been deployed into the region. The testing hasn’t been 100 percent successful, but there have been some successes. It’s plausible that the Patriot will be more successful in this war than in the first Gulf War.
Another big development is that Israel has its own missile defense system called Arrow, which is in many ways more capable than Patriot. Israel is also using the Patriot, so now they have a multi-layered defense. Essentially, Arrow can reach out further and therefore intercept earlier, and Patriot has a shorter range. So, in theory, if there are missiles launched against Israel, Israel will get multiple shots against each individual warhead.