Weapons Testing 2/4/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

The top US exports today are petroleum (and related products) and pharmaceuticals.  The top ten exports, in fact, can be related back to one of these two overarching products.  But let’s be honest; weapons are also a major export, even if its not top ten. 

But there’s a problem.  How do we test our weapons, especially against the other superpower weapons such as Russia and China?  At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, the answer is war and armed conflicts. 

Most US weapons have been designed for a European arena of conflict.  In the ‘90’s we started our ground war against Iran, a war by the two Bush presidents.  This war bled over to Afghanistan and a twenty-year conflict with no victory despite the photo-op on the aircraft carrier.  It was in these settings that the US realized that our military equipment didn’t handle the desert as well as we had hoped.  As the intake of our mechanized army became clogged with sand it became apparent that major upgrades were necessary to the intake filtration, a problem that, no doubt, was resolved in twenty years in Afghanistan. 

Whether it’s intentional or not, small conflicts are a terrific way to test US military technology without launching into a full-scale war with a major superpower, especially if our opponents use weaponry from one of them.  Iraq developed long-range missiles called “Scud” missiles.  They were very poorly constructed, basically built on a smaller short-range missile with something like a booster to increase its range.  They were so poorly constructed that they often fell apart on their own, but it was the first real-world conflict (of which I’m aware) when the US had the opportunity to test the Patriot anti-missile defense missile.  It had good success although there were questions about it the Patriots were actually striking the Scud missiles, or simply hitting the debris as they fell apart.  But the US is not the only superpower that used the arena to test their missile systems.  On one such Scud missile launch, the Chinese “Silkworm” anti-missile missile shot down a US Patriot missile.  It was the only such incident, and the only one necessary as national interest shifted from purchasing Patriot missiles to the Silkworm.

The war in Iraq launched with an operation called “Shock and Awe”, an attempt to frighten Iraq into surrendering with a demonstration of the might of the US armed forces.  In the operation, 320 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from thirty US naval vessels.  The US has the most accurate weapons in the world, spending 90% of development costs on the last 5% of weapon accuracy, and it was demonstrated well in this operation with very few missiles going awry.  Of course, what we didn’t hear is that a significant fraction of the cruise missiles failed to even launch.  Another excellent opportunity to discover the reason for the failed launches, and find fixes for the problem. 

Just a couple of days ago, the Biden administration announced that a large number of US tanks are being provided to the Ukraine in anticipation of a major Russian offensive once the winter weather breaks, and offensive that has actually already begun as Russia has been fighting to take back some of the territory lost in Southern Ukraine.  Germany opposed the concept of providing its tanks to the Ukraine, but about the same time that the US announced this shipment, Germany decided to add their tanks to the effort.  The US may not have started the war, but there is no doubt that they are keeping score on how the US weaponry fares against that of Russia.  What a golden opportunity to test American weapons against those of Russia without actually becoming involved in the war. 

Don’t misunderstand me.  Russia started the conflict in Afghanistan, arguably long before the invasion a little less than a year ago when they illegally annexed the Crimea.  Yes, the Ukraine does deserve help, and we must make a statement to Russia that we will not stand for military aggression, or risk the danger that they will set their sites beyond the Ukrainian borders.  But make no mistake that the performance of our equipment is being watched and analyzed.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is tragic that it must be done against the backdrop of so many people fighting and dying in the process.  Of course, we’re also trying out new weapons technology, and defenses against it, such as drones.  Because of so many dead, our weaponry is most assuredly getting some major upgrades.

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