Everyone has heard by now of the apparent cruise missile (C-802 is the most likely) attacks on two US Navy ships. If you haven’t, you can check out the USNI article (1). The USS Mason, a Burke destroyer, launched two SM-2 missiles and one ESSM in response to the cruise missiles. Both cruise missiles landed in the water short of the ships and there is no indication that either was shot down by the destroyers missiles. It appears that either the cruise missiles never had a target lock or the destroyer’s electronic countermeasures prevented a lock.
I’m not going to waste time speculating about the performance of the weapon systems since we don’t have enough information. Instead, let’s see what other lessons we can learn.
First, the fog of war is eternal. Despite all our sensors, electronics, radar, IR, optics, and computer software, we don’t know whether the missiles we fired in defense hit anything. How is that possible? No one was trying to deny us sensor data as would happen in a peer war. We had a completely unhindered view of a small battlespace and yet we couldn’t even see whether any of our three missiles hit anything? This should serve as a lesson to all those who want to commit us to the vaunted Third Offset strategy based on networks, unmanned vehicles, and a wholly unfounded belief that we will have an omniscient view of the battlefield thereby enabling and enhancing our forces. What a bunch of cow droppings! We can’t see an uncontested battlefield clearly and it’s only going to be much, much more confused when a peer enemy contests the battlefield with electronic warfare. We won’t know jack about what’s going on. That’s the reality of war. That’s the fog of war. We should be training for that confusion rather than blindly believing we’ll see everything. The fog of war is eternal and all-encompassing. We need to embrace it and train for it, not ignore it.
Second, we need to respond with massive and deadly force – or leave the area. Any other course is just going to get
sailors killed and ships sunk. Failure to respond will simply embolden our
enemies and ensure further attacks. The
various actors in the area need to understand that threatening US ships is a
fatal mistake. If it’s not a mistake and
they can launch missiles at us with impunity as we demonstrate our restraint
and passivity then we need to leave the area because we clearly aren’t doing any
good. I think the odds of us responding
are negligible so I think we should leave the area. US
Third, this illustrates the need for a counterbattery (countermissile, in this case) capability. The moment the incoming cruise missiles were detected, Tomahawk missiles should have been heading towards the cruise missile launch point. Further, a UAV should have been directed to the launch point to look for follow up attack possibilities. The two cruise missile attacks were apparently launched an hour or so apart. It’s not clear whether they were launched from the same point (there’s that fog of war, again!) but a UAV should have been overhead, watching, for the second launch. A UAV might also have allowed us to preemptively attack the second missile launch site. If we’re going to operate on the modern battlefield, split seconds will be all we have and a countermissilebattery fire capability is badly needed.
What response will the Navy and the country make? If history is any indicator, none.
What lessons will the Navy learn? If history is any indicator, none.
(1)USNI News website, “USS Mason Fired 3 Missiles to Defend From Yemen Cruise Missiles Attack”, Sam LaGrone,