World Naval Developments

By Norman Friedman

Kosovo, however, is a very different proposition. Arms and troops can enter fairly freely via Albania. If Serbia went to war on a larger scale, she might get help from traditional friends, Russia and Greece. The Russian government in particular might find armed assistance to Serbia an attractive way of demonstrating its independence of the United States and of a NATO that increasingly irritates Russian nationalists and pan-slavists.

The problem is somewhat more subtle. The world is divided into nation-states, and most diplomats would say that it is very difficult to maintain peace between them if countries decide that they can intervene in each others' internal affairs. That is a difficult pledge to keep, since a government may do terrible things to its population. The diplomats maintain, however, that intervention carries even worse implications. During the Cold War, the basis of Soviet foreign policy was the urge to socialize the world, i.e., to convert the entire world to the Soviet political system—intervention on the broadest scale. We became used to counter-intervention, to pressing for our kind of government everywhere. Indeed, many Americans found it shameful that the United States would deal with, let alone support, dictatorial governments inimical to our ideals. Since the end of the Cold War, we have taken pride in forcing dictators, e.g., in Africa, to relinquish their power.

That is the first step down a slippery slope. Many governments have radically different ideals than our own; what we see as social justice, they perceive as something quite dangerous. They are likely to oppose us. They also are likely to see, in our willingness to intervene in their affairs, a license to intervene in our own. Once the rules change, we also have to live with them. We can see the beginning of the problem in the recent announcement, by Amnesty International, that the U.S. prison system is unacceptably oppressive (Amnesty more often condemns regimes such as the one in China).

Today, we very fortunately have no serious ethnic unrest on the scale of, say, Kosovo; our allies, however, have not always been as lucky. To what extent did the world community have a right to intervene in, say, Northern Ireland? In the Basque country of Spain? In separatist parts of France or Italy?

The counter argument, of course, is that sometimes what happens inside a country can have fatal consequences for those outside. Consider Germany in the 1930s when Hitler began oppressing people inside Germany—he was not yet killing them in great numbers—as part of a political movement that soon moved to aggressive war. Would it have been legitimate for the World War I allies to have overthrown Hitler in, say, 1935? He was, after all, rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty they had extracted in 1919. Or would such action have been rejected by their populations as a disproportionate sacrifice and an invasion of a government's legitimate rights?

Right now, the Russian government has several internal problems, most famously the Chechnya. It has no reason at all to accept the right of other governments to question its handling of such matters, no matter how brutal that may be. The other governments may protest, and may cut off aid as a result; but air strikes and military occupation are another matter. To the Russians, Kosovo represents a deadly precedent. It takes little imagination to project separatist movements in Siberia. Given the vast natural resources involved, the Russians can well imagine that foreign governments, resorting to high-sounding arguments about minority rights. would support such movements.

In the end, can we foresee the future well enough that we know we will be nipping disaster in the bud by intervening—or will intervention in Kosovo and, inevitably, beyond, lead to disasters in the coming century?

We seem to be coming down on the side of intervention, which may well be the dominant form of U.S. military operation for the next three or four decades. If that is so, we may be buying the wrong kinds of systems. Our new strategy, "Joint Vision 2010," is designed to defeat an enemy force trying to attack in more or less conventional fashion. It is not really concerned with the sort of occupation or peace-keeping likely in places like Kosovo. Nor is it relevant to the problem of defeating or deterring a hostile government like that of Serbia. Precision-strike weapons can destroy point targets, but they are few in number, and they are unlikely to force a determined government with substantial public support to the bargaining table. Experience very strongly suggests that attacks on the population supporting the war are unlikely to help; the target population tends to blame the bombers, not to make the logical leap to blaming the government for the war. Our unhappy experience in Vietnam suggests that often we fail to understand the structure of other societies, hence that we often cannot decide just what attacks would do (or threaten) decisive damage.

The current situation in India and Pakistan is an interesting case in point. The countries have fought two major wars (in 1965 and in 1971) since partition, and in recent years tension over Kashmir has very nearly led to a third war. When both exploded nuclear weapons last year, it seemed obvious that the subcontinent would be the scene of the world's first full nuclear war. On the other hand, nuclear deterrence seems to work far better than any conventional balance of power. Maybe it was no accident that Europe had its longest period of peace in the shadow of nuclear weapons, after 1945.

The U.S. government has steadfastly opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons, on the theory that they make the world far more dangerous. Perhaps it is time, given the Indian-Pakistani example, to think twice; perhaps nuclear weapons really do make governments think twice. It is interesting to reflect that the Chinese strongly preferred proliferation, on the theory that it clipped the superpowers' wings. They reportedly supplied the bomb design the Pakistanis used. Maybe they were right.

Airborne Tomahawks

In February it was reported that the Royal Air Force was considering placing Tomahawk launchers on board some of its transport aircraft. A C-130 apparently can carry a pair of sixmissile rotary launchers. The proposal would restore a measure of strategic reach to the Royal Air Force, although not on an intercontinental scale, and so is consistent with the Prime Minister Tony Blair's new explicit emphasis on power projection.

The concept has been developed as a proposal for the Future Offensive Air System (FOAS), which is to replace the RAF's current Tornado bombers. System alternatives include an adapted Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a version of which the Royal Navy may buy; a new stealthy bomber something like the U.S. Air Force's F-117; and unmanned combat aircraft, a perennial alternative to manned aircraft. Probably central to any choice is the RAF's unhappy experience with Tornados trying to disable Iraqi airfields during the early part of the Gulf War, flying in low-level to deliver their runway-busting bomblets (whose success may in any case have been quite limited). Certainly the RAF has been impressed by the success of the hundreds of Tomahawks fired by U.S. ships during the Desert Fox operation at the end of 1998.

The RAF has had another important negative experience as well. The case for the two new British aircraft carriers was made when British aircraft were refused permission to fly out of some Gulf airfields within range of Iraq. Suddenly it became apparent that the RAF was not likely to be a reliable instrument of power projection, whatever its pretensions. The C-130 and perhaps the C-17 or some future transport are today the only longrange aircraft available to the RAF, and there is no money for anything else. Without the Tomahawk shooters, the RAF may well be reduced to a transport and local air-defense force, its finances exhausted by the purchase of the new Eurofighter.

The C-130/Tomahawk idea recalls proposals made during U.S. President Jimmy Carter's administration for modifying large airliners like the Boeing 747 to carry cruise missiles. The idea was to concentrate the system's performance in the missile, not in the aircraft carrying it. In the case of the 747 derivative, dozens of nuclear-armed cruise missiles (ALCMs rather than Tomahawks, but offering similar performance) clearly could inflict terrible damage on the Soviet Union if, as was expected, they could penetrate Soviet air defenses.

The Tomahawks, of course, attack point targets with high explosive warheads. It took several hundred to do very limited damage to Iraq last December, and it is not clear just how decisive a few C-130s bearing six or twelve missiles each can be, since an airplane capable of penetrating to (or near) a target can deliver explosive equivalent to about four or six Tomahawks. That strongly suggests that Tomahawks or their equivalents are most valuable as precursors for attacks by manned aircraft, as in Iraq: they can disarm an enemy's air defenses efficiently. Clearly, they also can wipe out some vital command-and-control targets, and in some—but hardly all—cases that may be decisive. The key difference is that airplanes can deliver their ordnance, rearm, and attack again; they are very efficient means of delivering massive quantities of high explosives. Once a missile has been launched, on the other hand, it has to be expended. In addition, airplanes offer the potential for a human being to deal with unexpected circumstances, something denied to missiles. But the possibility of downed air crews becoming prisoners of war also figures in the equation.

All of this suggests that, for Britain, the combination of new carriers launching strike aircraft and new surface ships that may be armed with Tomahawks is likely to prove quite effective. Tomahawks permanently divorced from aircraft are a different proposition. As this is written, the future of British participation in the multinational Project Horizon frigate seems shaky at best. There are strong rumors that the Royal Navy will pull out in favor of a national project. One striking feature of Project Horizon is that it is armed only with surface-to-air missiles, in a launcher that cannot be adapted to Tomahawks. That drastically limits the ship's flexibility, and strongly reflects its Cold War origins. Should the Royal Navy withdraw from the project, presumably it will be interested in something more flexible, capable of carrying cruise missiles as well as antiaircraft weapons.

 

Norman Friedman is a consultant on global naval strategy, naval trends, and naval warfare. An internationally known military technology analyst and naval historian, he worked for a decade as an advisor to Secretaries of the Navy, and for another 10 years with a leading U.S. think tank. Dr. Friedman travels the world speaking to military and defense industry leaders, and appears frequently appears on television as a guest commentator. He has authored more than 30 books, and has since the 1980s contributed regular columns analyzing world naval developments for Proceedings magazine. His PhD in Physics was earned at Columbia University.

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