Re-Think the Weapons Mix

Too much attention is being paid to platforms and not enough to the munitions needed to fight future wars, according to the authors of “Sustaining America’s Precision Strike Advantage,” a study to be released today by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. In a Tuesday briefing for reporters, study authors Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark explained that US adversaries have caught up to the US in precision-guided munitions, and have effective countermeasures to thwart them. These include electronic warfare, anti-satellite systems, cyber weapons, surface-to-air systems, high-fidelity decoys, and hardened/buried targets. Consequently, the “probability of arrival” of any PGM, now usually counted as near 100 percent, will likely fall below 50 percent against a basically armed opponent, meaning the number of munitions needed to destroy a given target will at least double. At the same time, as defenses improve, the need for standoff munitions, which are larger, costlier, and require more sorties to deliver, will increase. While precision allowed a reduction in mass, the future may demand “precision plus mass,” Gunzinger said, and this is unaffordable with the weapons mix now available. He and Clark said the “sweet spot” for weapons, by range and cost, is in the 100-400 mile range; a niche only occupied today by the AGM-158 JASSM. An affordable approach might be to “add rockets or motors” to cheaper, direct-attack munitions like the JDAM, JSOW, and the Small Diameter bomb, Gunzinger said, to give them sufficient standoff range to increase attack aircraft survivability.