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‘Shock and Awe’ is still alive....
Low Intensity Conflict and the shift from mass destruction to precision-strikes are changing paradigms
The development of ICBMs necessitated the development of a deterrent to thwart the threat of incoming missiles and thus was the advent of the doctrine of minimum deterrent of which the development of an ABM or an Anti Ballistic Missile System was a critical part. During the development of the now rather famous Patriot ABM system, USA realised that it’s far more easier to develop a ballistic missile than to develop something which can destroy it before it hits the target.
The Patriot ABM was not so successful in the initial stages, especially during Gulf War I, when it could not even take down the otherwise obsolete Iraqi Scuds. Later on, the US started working on a more advanced version of Patriot system as part of a larger ABM programme known as Theatre Missile Defence System and the National Missile Defence System, with the former being aimed at protecting US from short range missiles while the latter includes in its paradigm protecting US from all kinds of missiles including the ICBMs. This system, which is known as Theatre High Altitude Defence System (THAAD), is yet to be operational. Today, probably every country among the top league is working on some or the other kind of ABM system. While the Russian S-300, S-400, S-500 and the Galosh, Gazelle series of ABM has been extremely successful, the Israeli Arrow ABM system, which works in tandem with the Green Pine Radars, have been successful too. Countries like India too have been working on endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric air defence systems. In fact, the very concept of ABM is an extension of the ambitious Star Wars programme initiated by the Reagan Administration in 1980s to protect USA from Soviet ballistic missiles. But the development of the ABM system did not mitigate the threat perceptions as it gave rise to the concept of Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV), wherein an incoming ICBM would carry multiple warheads and before re-entering the atmosphere would disintegrate with each warhead going in a separate direction. The objective in this case was that even if some of the warheads would be destroyed by the incumbent’s ABM system, some others would still reach their designated destination. Thus, the doctrine of MAD continued with its prominence.
The last decade of the twentieth century had a lasting impact on how the war doctrines would undergo a structural shift. First, the disintegration of the Soviet Union vindicated the fact that the secured existence of a nation cannot be guaranteed by the mere presence of a huge arsenal of weapon systems unless the economy is strong enough. Strangely enough, for forty long years, the US planned the demise of the USSR, but when that happened in reality, not a single bullet was fired. USSR was crippled by its own weight and for diverting critical economic resources for war preparedness, which took the economy into coma. It was from that time onwards that countries started keeping an eye on what proportion of their GDP goes into defence spending and that it doesn’t cross certain limits. On the other hand, countries like China, in their quest to increase the defence expenditure to fuel their global expansions, kept aside all their inhibitions with respect to economic globalisation and made sure that they became the key hub for global industrial production. They realised that it was only through this they can pile up their forex reserves and GDP for fuelling their defence spending. More GDP would mean more earnings from taxes, which then could be diverted for defence spending. Today, if USA is a superpower and if India and China are increasingly becoming forces to reckon with, it’s not just because of their growing military might but because of their increasing ability to compliment it with economic clout.
The two Gulf Wars and NATO crusades over Serbia with respect to the Kosovo issue reminded the world that the German concept of Blitzkrieg and US concept of ‘Shock and Awe’ have not lost their prominence till date. It also vindicated that war from now on would be decided on quality and not on quantity. The Iraqi Army was quantitatively far superior to the western force but was no match to the sophistication of US’s arsenal. So when the Tomahawk missiles were launched in hundreds from the US warships stationed in Persian Gulf and Red Sea followed by aerial bombings by the B-52, the B-1 and B-2 bombers, Iraqi forces were pulverised and almost defeated with their fleets of tanks and missiles of Russian vintage being of no match. The remaining work was finished by the ground invasion along with close air support from the Apache Attach Helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolt gunships. Even in the case of Kosovo war, US literally decimated Serbia with aerial bombing for 75 days. And that was good enough to make Serbia President Milosevic surrender. Truly so, blitzkrieg and ‘Shock and Awe’ was alive and thriving.
By:- Written by Pathikrit Payne with Sray Agarwal & inputs from Akram Hoque
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