Friday, November 4, 2016

ATACMS and Geo-Strategic Reality

Once upon a time, the US military engaged in geo-strategic military planning.  This meant that we identified our potential enemies, studied the geography of the expected battlefield, identified weaknesses of our own associated with the geography, sought advantages we could gain from the geography, and planned and equipped for that geo-specific battle.  Thus, our forces and capabilities were closely aligned with the anticipated battle and battlefield location.  Simple and wise.

The classic example of this type of strategy was the Air-Land Battle strategy designed to counter a Russian invasion of Europe.  We understood the geography.  We understood how the geography would dictate the operational planning of both sides, how it would impact operational execution, and we developed plans and equipment designed specifically to take advantage of, and work within, that geography.

Now, however, the US military has abandoned geo-strategic planning in favor of techno-strategic planning.  Rather than develop strategies to counter specific enemies (heck, we won’t even name our enemies!), we now develop strategies to counter generic technologies – technologies that any given enemy might or might not have.  We have abandoned planning for the geographic realities associated with any specific enemy and, instead, are planning generically for opposing technologies.  Thus, our planning overlooks or ignores geographic considerations and cedes geographic advantages to the enemy.

For example, a fight with Russia will occur in a completely different geographical setting than a fight with China and yet we’re treating both the same from a strategic perspective.  We’re attempting to counter their technologies rather than the geo-military realities. 

Let’s look at a specific example.

The Army has announced that it is adding a seeker to its land based ATACMS (MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System) missile in order to be able to hit moving ships at sea at a range of 100 miles or so (1).  The Army is reviving its coastal artillery concept in order to remain a relevant player in the Pacific Pivot.

Two obvious, related points jump out.

  • This is clearly an attempt to remain budget-relevant in a Pacific theater that allows for little use of Army ground forces.  Is a ship-attack ATACMS really useful or even viable?  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is that it can be used to strengthen the Army’s budget position.

  • This is clearly a niche capability that has little usefulness in any geo-specific battlefield that we are likely to find ourselves fighting on.

An anti-ship ATACMS suffers from the same challenge that every long range missile system does which is the difficulty in targeting at long range.  The 100+ mile ATACMS needs a target and the land based Army has no ready means of providing that targeting.  UAVs could be used although they suffer from the same susceptibility to destruction and susceptibility to communications disruption that all UAVs do.  Land based radar, unless sited on a significant elevation, can’t detect surface targets at that range due to the limited radar horizon.  Targeting data can be provided by Navy or Air Force patrol assets but that not only requires dependence on networking, which we’ve already noted is likely to be degraded and only sporadically available, but it requires dependence on cross-service networking.  Intra-service networking (within a single service) is unreliable.  Inter-service networking (across services) is a fantasy.  We’re still working to get all the services to use the same communications protocols – we’re not going to get cross-service networking to function!

Army ATACMS - Impressive But Useless

So, we’re left with a theoretical capability that sounds good on paper but has little likelihood of usage or success.

Now, let’s look at the geo-specific considerations which the military has chosen to ignore, as we’ve noted.

The Pacific-Chinese theater has very little land accessible by the US military within a 100-200 mile range of any likely battlespace.  China already controls the first island chain and is beginning to eye the second.  Japan is a possibility for siting ATACMS units but 100-200 miles from mainland Japan is not where the main battles are going to occur. 

Well, can’t we seize the first chain islands and then place ATACMS on them?  Sure, but if we have the power to seize the islands then the likelihood that we can’t totally control a 100 mile range around the islands is miniscule.  Look at a map.  The first chain islands are generally not within a hundred miles of likely battles.  If we’ve seized the islands, there won’t be any Chinese ships remaining within range.  They’ll have been destroyed or pulled back to defend the mainland.  Thus, there won’t be any use for anti-ship ATACMS.

Now consider a war with Russia.  It will be a European land war.  Russia simply doesn’t have a significant Navy that is going to operate near land.  Their few ships will be destroyed at the outset by airpower.  There will be no use for an anti-ship ATACMS in a war with Russia.

Similarly, Iran and NKorea possess no relevant navies for an anti-ship ATACMS to defend against.

This is nothing more than recognizing the geo-strategic realities and the enemy order of battle.  When we consider the potential for use of an anti-ship ATACMS, it quickly becomes obvious that there is no practical use.  If there is no practical use then that only leaves its use as a budget leverage gimmick.

Well, why would supposedly intelligent Army leaders want to pursue this if it’s nothing more than a budget leverage gimmick?  They pursue it because it does provide budget leverage.  Remember, the goal of current military leaders is not the defense of our country; their goal is enhancement of their service’s budget slice.  Additionally, this is another symptom of a military that is techno-strategic rather than geo-strategic.  The few military leaders that are not blatantly political and bureaucratic have forgotten what geo-military analysis is and know only how to match technologies.  An anti-ship ATACMS is cool technology, when considered in isolation from any geo-military reality.  The fact that it has no practical use is lost on leaders who have never known any other way to analyze a military problem than by focusing on technology match ups.

Our military leaders have been educated in business management, systems analysis, politics, budgets, accounting, and civilian business practices.  They no longer know how to formulate a coherent military strategy.  Consider the hundreds of poor military management decisions we’ve highlighted on this blog.  They were poor decisions because they were based on factors other than a guiding military strategy.  This anti-ship ATACMS is a symptom of a military that has forgotten how to formulate a strategy.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Carter, Roper Unveil Army’s New Ship-Killer Missile: ATACMS Upgrade”, Sydney J. Freedburg Jr., 28-Oct-2016,


  1. I dont' mind multiple purpose seekers, if it can be done affordably. Having a secondary anti ship role for the Standard didn't hurt anything, as far as I can tell. Its questionable how useful it is, but I'm a firm believer that in time of war its nice to have as many tools in the tool box as you can.

    But I agree with your assessment. This isn't a 'Nice secondary role in case we ever need it' type role. Its more of a budgetary power grab.

    This is really distressing to me that it seems like overall strategic planning in the military is on the wane, and has been.

    On another blog Lazarus mentioned that the 600 ship Navy was the result of very in depth study of our strategic situation and that we could use one now. (Sorry Laz if you're reading this and I misquoted).

    That astounds me.

    It hasn't happened? It isn't happening? In the past few years we've had major shifts in Russia, breakdowns in Syria and Iraq, the rise of ISIS, and a marked increase in the long term aggressive posture of the Chinese.

    We aren't taking a step back and thinking about the big picture? And, more importantly, without that big picture strategy we're blowing billions on the Lightning II and the Ford Class? To do *what role* precisely in the coming years?

    WT.... Heck?

    weapons system design and acquisition outside of a strategic model lead to stupid things like multi billion dollar carriers with short arms.

    A good strategic review got us the 600 ship Navy with ships that fit the plan. A good review of the Army gave us the air land battle and the Big 5 that could fill that role.

    None of it was cheap but it gave us systems that lasted decades and performed their role.

    A big point made in many LCS discussions when people talk about making Frigates instead of the LCS is that 'The Navy doesn't think it needs them'.

    That's a fine statement. But without a good top to bottom strategic study how does the Navy know *what* it needs beyond the short term???

    What on earth were the QDR's supposed to do? They certainly haven't given us a clear direction.

    1. I'm really not sure where your confusion is coming from. The F-35C is a replacement for some of the older Hornets and the Ford-class is a replacement for the Nimitz-class. Both platforms will be used for similar duties as the platforms which they are replacing.

    2. "The F-35C is a replacement for some of the older Hornets and the Ford-class is a replacement for the Nimitz-class."

      This as superficial a statement as is possible. I expect better. The previous commenter referenced the "big picture strategy" relative to the F-35 and Ford. He's wondering how those platforms fit support our ?non-existent? strategy.

      Simply noting that the platforms will be used for similar duties fails to note that, in the case of the Hornet, that platform is ill-suited to the Navy's foreseeable needs. In a somewhat similar vein, the Ford represents a staggering investment for a very small return on capability and no return on any strategy-relevant capabilities.

      Why don't you add some depth and analysis to your comment and address these issues. I expect better of readers.

  2. This does seem like a strange capability to add. In the Army's defense, looks like this was pushed on them a bit by Congress.

    There's a RAND study (link below) that seems to have been the start of all this. There's a map on page 18 of that study where they posit that basing ASMs in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan could basically bottle up the South China Sea. At the very least, that seems it could free up some higher end air and naval assets from having to play defense.

    Could these be useful in the Baltic, Black Sea, or Persian Gulf? The last one looks interesting, ASM batteries in Qatar would threaten Iranian ships all the way to their docks.

    Doesn't say much about the targeting problems though. Since most of the areas of interest are full of civilian shipping, does the "white-hull" idea work here? That obviously would require a lot of preparation and coordination with allies...using semi-civilian allied ships for targeting could go wrong in all sorts of ways, but we can't let our opponents be the only ones playing swarm.

    A lot comes down to cost--if this really is a realatively cheap addition of a new seeker to the existing ACTAMS inventory, probably not the worst idea.

    Remember that post from a while back on "A ships a fool to attack a fort?" Between the attacks on the Mason and this, it looks like a 21st century fort might actually be a bunch of trucks spread over a few hundred square miles. Much better way to close a chokepoint than a big pile of concrete.

    1. Your comment is not bad but you've stopped short of fully analyzing the situation - just as the Army has!

      You mention "bottling up" the South China Sea by which you presumably mean that the Chinese couldn't get out into the Pacific. Based on everything you know, is there any scenario under which the Chinese would want to send surface ships (unsupported by airpower since they don't have functional supercarriers) out into the Pacific? I can't think of one. If there is no such scenario then "bottling up" the South China Sea is not needed since the Chinese won't try to leave it. This is exactly what the post was about - the lack of geo-strategic thinking.

      As far as threatening Iran's navy, we would have overwhelming airpower and their navy (or commercial shipping) wouldn't last 24 hours from the start of hostilities. Again, thinking through the geography and order of battle!

      Give me a realistic, likely scenario in which an anti-ship ATACMS would be useful. Failing that, it's an unnecessary capability.

      If we had extra money laying around that we didn't know what to spend it on, then, sure, why not add this capability - but that's not even remotely the case. The Army needs so many things more than this!

    2. For land use, ATACMS is a medium range, Missile Technology Control Regime compliant, offensive weapon. And, would have been used to defeat follow on eschelons in a war against Russia. But, as an anti-ship missile, I see it more as a long-range coastal defense weapon. It's published range is 300 km with a 500 lb unitary warhead.

      South Korea and Taiwan both have a fair number of ATACMS. For Taiwan, I can envision an anti-ship ATACMS used to defeat a potential Chinese amphibious assault.

      You're probably right about the politics and budget aspects of this, but if this was something that could be done cheaply, but effectively (which doesn't always happen), it would give an old weapon a new use. And, we've put new seekers on missiles before to give them new capabilities. For example, the AGM-78 anti-radar missile was a modified RIM-66 with the seeker of the Shrike missile.

    3. "it would give an old weapon a new use"

      You're running dangerously close to having missed the point of the post. What new use? Where? What scenario?

      The point of the post was that this has no geo-military use. Give me a realistic and likely example where the US could use this cause I can't think of one.

    4. Isn't one of China's current goals to be able to project power to the countries surrounding the South China Sea? Preserving freedom of navigation through the Straits of Malacca is a U.S. strategic interest. China seems to want to become a regional power with the ability to use military force to resolve territorial and economic disputes in that region. Land based ASMs could figure directly into that picture.

      More concretely, right now, with the Admiral Kuznetsov on its way to Syria, wouldn't it be a useful option to put these in Turkey or Sicily?

      Certainly a surface group or subs could do the same jobs, but not without risk. Maybe more important, ships and subs are scarce and flexible assets--if deploying land based systems frees them up to do something else, that's a win.

    5. "More concretely, right now, with the Admiral Kuznetsov on its way to Syria, wouldn't it be a useful option to put these in Turkey or Sicily?"

      Why? Are we going to shoot at the Kuznetsov during peacetime? If a war with Russia starts, the Kuznetsov won't be anywhere near Syria and if it is it will be sunk by airpower immediately.

    6. Two examples. First, Taiwan uses them to repel an amphibious assault by China. Second, we use them to defend Okinawa for the same reason. They could be fired in a coordinated attack to overwhelm a ship's defense, perhaps as a feint to focus an enemy's attention elsewhere.

      With a range of 300 km, ATACMS is not strategic weapon like China's DF-21 or any other IRBM. I see this as a coastal defensive weapon.

    7. The US Army is not in the business of developing weapons for Taiwan so this is not a rationale for the Army to develop the weapon.

      China has shown no serious interest in Okinawa that I'm aware of. There is zero chance of needing to defend Okinawa. A war with China will be about Taiwan and the South China Sea. Okinawa would come into play only if China were handily winning the war and decided to grab Okinawa just for fun. If that happened, the US would have far more pressing issues than defending Okinawa!

      So, neither of those examples justify the US Army developing an anti-ship ATACMS. This was the point of the post - that the geo-strategic realities are being ignored in discussions about weapon developments.

    8. "Why? Are we going to shoot at the Kuznetsov during peacetime?"

      Only if they mess with our election. Joking aside, you could ask this question about any weapon system. There are many purposes for peacetime deployment, in this case, the goal is to convince the adversary that escalation is not in their interest. I feel a deployment of a system like this would be a reasonable response to Russia's deployment of S-300/400s in Syria and their explicit threats against U.S. aircraft.

      To put this in more formal geo-strategic terms: A robust land-based ASM force would allow the U.S. and our NATO allies to maintain naval dominance in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Mediterranean with fewer air and naval assets and at less risk in the event of hostilities. Appropriate deployments would hold at risk the Russian Baltic, Black Sea (FWIW) and possible Northern fleets' transit routes to the Atlantic without the need for standing deployments of air or naval forces.

      Re: Okinawa. The Chinese strategy in a major conflict would probably include trying to suppress the airbases there. That would probably be via ballistic missile, but since it's only about 425mi from the mainland a ship sortie couldn't be ruled out. Sure, the air power there could deal, but then we're fighting in a time and place of the other guy's choosing. Really more of a tactical than strategic concern, but still some self defense capability would be nice.

    9. You are ignoring recent historical reality. A deterrent threat is only viable and effective if it's believable. Our recent history demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that we will not respond with force to a peer, near peer, or somewhere in the distant vicinity of a near peer. The Chinese forced down and seized our EP-3, an act of war, and we did nothing. The Iranians seized two US warships, an act of war, and we did nothing. And so on. We could set up row upon row of anti-ship cruise missiles lining the shores of the entire world and they would be useless because we won't use them. The only response we ever make is against sub-low end threats by firing Tomahawks at purported radar stations that no nation claims as theirs. There is absolutely no point to deploying any weapon if we won't use it. We are not going to attack Russia.

      In a war, China will do everything they can to avoid bringing Japan into it. They will offer to respect Japan's neutrality in exchange for Japan refusing us basing rights. Failing that, China will squish Okinawa with ballistic missiles and that will end that story. So, again, no use for anti-ship missiles.

      You need to think through the actual strategic realities before advocating weapon developments that serve no purpose.

    10. 1) Japan and Philippines are US allies

      2) Under the Taiwan relations act, it is US law to provide Taiwan with weapons necessary for Taiwan's defense

      3) The PRC claims Taiwan as its territory and has threatened to invade Taiwan in order to capture its "lost province."

      4) China has claimed Japanese territory in the Sneaky and Ryuku Islands.

      5) PRC is preparing for operations to seize Japanese islands in a "short sharp war."

      The ATACMS ASM seeker provides a useful capability for defending threatened territory in the Ryukus, Taiwan, and possibly the Philippines.

    11. "The ATACMS ASM seeker provides a useful capability for defending threatened territory in the Ryukus, Taiwan, and possibly the Philippines."

      You do realize that the US Army is not based in Japan, Taiwan, or the Philippines on an active defensive basis, right? Therefore, there is no need for an ATACMS ASM weapon. Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines might want such a weapon but it's up to them to develop or obtain it, if they so desire.

    12. The army would try to deploy to those areas in a war. Your post is about the importance of geography in military planning.

      You do realize that the Taiwan strait is only 100 mi wide and that the ATACMS has sufficient range to attack ships transitting the strait. The strait is a major Chinese geographic weakness. Defending Taiwan and closing the strait are two major strategic objectives. If the army can multipurpose part of its inventory and provide a valuable export then the program would be worth ons or two huindred million.

    13. You do realize that when China decides to seize Taiwan, it will be a nearly instantaneous fait accmpli. It will be over almost before it begins. The US will have no leisurely opportunity to establish a military presence. There is no use for ATACMS ASM.

  3. I read this. And I read this morning about the adaption of the small diameter bomb for use with the GRMLS.

    I cant help but feel sorry for their poor little tracks.

    Carrying multiple number of at least 3 types of ordinance. The little buggers will be zooming round the battle field countering Everything, Putin and his Dog ( Borris )

    One has to conclude that the budget drive will be for more than just the seaker in the end.

    Given the competing nature of outstanding current military requirements. Third Offset et al. It does seem weird this is even being considered.

    Roughly how many enemy naval gunfire fatalities and amphibious assault incident have their been in recent US history ?


  4. Right direction, but wrong target. The US army should work on precision long range rocket artillery like PLA's AR-3 (300km range, 30m CEP). Taiwan needs such counter battery fire to cross over the 200km strait.

    1. Tim, I deleted your comment because it's factually incorrect. You might want to read up on the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. It does provide for military security for Taiwan.

      The US emphatically does NOT recognize Taiwan as part of mainland China. Again, read the Wiki description of the TRA(1979) to get a feel for the US position.

      Yes, the US tries to tiptoe the fine line between supporting Taiwan and not upsetting China but it is clear which side we come down on.

      Please feel free to factor the corrected information in and repost.

    2. Please google 'US state department, Taiwan"

      First paragraph of US-gov webpage,


      The United States and Taiwan enjoy a robust unofficial relationship. The 1979 U.S.-P.R.C. Joint Communique switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. In the Joint Communique, the United States recognized the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China....

      So, what is this?

    3. Read the Wiki article on the Taiwan Relations Act. It explains that we do not have an official embassy. Read the other provisions of the act for the degree of military security and diplomatic relations.

    4. OK, CNO

      I was born in Taiwan, and I have read all the relevant strategic ambiguous work there is vis a vie US-Taiwan relation. The bottom line is: if Taiwan calls, you better pick up, you promised.

      As far as my comment goes, I do read the Chinese stuff (e.g., and ruminate them back into my replies. There is a degree of believable transparency in the PLA stuff- given what they shown and says (I don't know if their naval guys read your blogs, because I find enough similarities in theirs and yours outlook on naval warfare.) Btw, did you delete my comment because I'm wrong? Or, I'm so wrong++ that it's not worthy of appearing?

    5. Tim, your comment was fine other than the incorrect statements about the US not having a military support agreement with Taiwan and the other Taiwan Relations Act information. By all means, update your comment with corrected information and repost.

    6. OK, CNO

      For the US Army trying to find a role in the Air-Sea battle, first it must try to see where that confrontation might take place. For now, lets leave out the NK (the US army is automatically in); the precipitation of major westpac dust off will be: Senkakus, SCS, and Taiwan. If and when that dust off is assumed inevitable, without differentiated degree of US involvement, then I believe China will choose the battlefield to maximize its leverage. China will try to grab Taiwan.

      1. If Taiwan falls quickly (the proverbial 2 weeks), Senkakus and SCS are strategically taken/bypassed (even if Senkakus remain Japanese, and man-made islands destroyed.), and Japan flanked (geo-strategic-mil-realpolitik).

      2. Taiwan is 150km from China. By bottling up the Taiwan strait from both end (i.e. anti-sub, anti-mine, anti-air). It's a 200km dash along the whole SE mainland coastline (you see, now PLArmy and Marines got jobs too in anti-Air-Sea-battle). And its rocket artillery will precisely bombard Taiwan's defense before the invasion. Each PLA short range ballistic missile is about $1M USD, each rocket is about $100K USD. And Taiwan has no such counter battery fire, and can't $keep up$ with anti-invasion missiles of their own.

      Therefore, the US Army needs to come up with their long range (>300km, 30m CEP) rocket artillery, for Taiwan's counter battery defense.

    7. "Therefore, the US Army needs to come up with their long range (>300km, 30m CEP) rocket artillery, for Taiwan's counter battery defense."

      The rest of your comment is reasonable enough although Taiwan will be the primary initial target of any Chinese war.

      Your statement that the US Army needs to develop a weapon for Taiwan is non-sensical in that the US Army is not in the business of developing weapons for foreign governments (at least not directly and exclusively). The US Army is not stationed on Taiwan so there would be no US Army weapons there (barring sales to Taiwan), no operational need for such weapons, and no money for such weapons. The US Army has many, many other priorities for the limited budget they have.

      So, from the US perspective, there is no impetus whatsoever to develop a weapon that can only be used in Taiwan. That's the cold, hard fact.

  5. The Army is the MLRS / HIMARS program manager. The USMC has been discussing putting HIMARS on amphibs and an anti ship / anti land capability to shape in support of amphibious ops. Maybe this is what it is about.

  6. Example. Helicopter+Exocet.
    Can do the same job, sink ships.

  7. I think being able to drop off a small detachment of soldiers with a HIMARS maybe a drone group would be pretty valuable. Across the the 1st island chains myriad of small islands, Taiwan, Philippines Palawan, spratlys, etc..

    China doesn't own the first island chain and neither do we. Will our forces be jammed sure we can do that to, but at the sametime we can adapt jamming is not 100% nor is it everywere all the time with all equipment. Will the army naval artillery be destroying frontline Chinese destroyers maybe maybennot but I got money those missiles boats china intends to use and those cargo ships and many other small craft will be forced to either draw out a major asset ship to deploy or risk destruction. Most of the islands are uninhabited or very lightly. Putting some army forces on those islands with such systems would could be quite a threat to any Chinese surface ships attempting to push into the pacific. The threat to Chinese movement would be real and to defeat it they would be forced to forcibly take those same islands then hold them no small feat that if nothing else will draw their forces out. The disadvantage of amphibious invasion in the face of modern weapons tells me we need/our allies need to either permanently deploy forces to these islands or at least draw plans to do such in very short order prior to possible hostilities preferably.

    Islands are unsinkable troops are hardy and supplying stationary forces is not that hard, lot cheaper than say getting maintaining a aircraft kill box or naval ship on station.

    Bottom line I think any war with China will see a huge middle ground were control will flow we maybe able to push a bubble into it china maybe able to push a bubble into it but it will change flow counter move. The trick will be denying the enemy freedom of movement without risking your primary assets while forcing the enemy to show their primary assets to enter the gray area to counter your denying force so you can then use your primary assets to kill theirs. Back and forth grinding. Army deployed on those small islands forcing our enemy primary assets or bottling limiting movement of their lesser offensive units will be very valuable.


      this site had some good EEZ maps showing just Japan and how it encroaches limits Chinese freedom of movement if the small islands were leveraged. They would not be easy targets either if it required troops doing landings with all that would entail nor aircraft it will take enough air craft and surveillance assets over head to find destroy. All of that will force their assets into the contested space open to our counter attack.

    2. "I think being able to drop off a small detachment of soldiers with a HIMARS maybe a drone group would be pretty valuable."

      This would be unsustainable and absolutely pointless. If we have sufficient control of the seas to be resupplying little outposts scattered around the outskirts of the S/E China Seas then we don't need little outposts. If we don't have sufficient control then the outposts are doomed.

      As stated in the post, an outpost will have no targeting ability beyond the horizon. A small drone simply can't cover the area. Thus, the outpost and its missiles will be useless.

      This is one of those ideas that sounds good on paper but is impractical.

  8. Just because we cannot control an are does not mean we will not have nor will be operating in contesting such areas. Same for China. I think the first Island chain SChina sea and in to China's coastal waters will be controlled by neither party and will be regularly operated contested in by both parties. Resupply of small forces would not be a huge task or risk a helicopter small ship or even small medium transport making such a run randomly perhaps coordinated with other operations would well within our abilities. Like I said I don't think China will control these areas anymore than we will. If operating resupply in contested areas is impossible how is the chinese SChina sea islands going to survive? Or are you saying these areas will be controlled by China and the best we can hope is to defend contest what litoral Japan, north Australia, east Indian ocean, and pacific east of 1st island chain?

    Even with limited range organic targeting the outpost would contribute just as the island spotters with little more than visual range and radio monitoring assisted vs the Japanese. Regardless you cannot jam everywhere all the time so these contested areas will have outside drones, aircraft, ships, subs penetrating, patrolling, transiting. Having a string of fire bases that could on call throw a few spears without you giving away your position would have value. Also by having men on those islands you get safe areas for downed/ditching pilots, SOF to base out of lily pads, security of knowing your enemy is not there doing such to you, and finally a trip wire your enemy must take before pushing deeper or risk leaving his rear/follow on/resupply forces open to attack.

    Attacking those outpost would not be as easy as you put off magnitudes more difficult than a resupply of such. Would they probably be doomed if hit with a full coordinated invasion sure, it is just a small force but at what cost to the enemy? Aircraft will have a hard time finding attacking a dug in well hidden launcher, a helo assault would be under risk of being intercepted plus a few manpads could cut it up pretty good, a small ship strike would just be fodder for the launchers as they closed, and the same for a attempted single anphib strike. Relatively small number of men and assets would require a large movement of aircraft and ships coordinated to dislodge them. That movement would be seen and targeted by outside forces once initiated. Draw them out.

    1. You almost answered your own question. So close!

      What do you think the Chinese view the purpose of the first island chain as? Answer that and you'll understand how the islands fit into our strategy and whether or not it makes sense to do these little outposts.

  9. Perhaps the army simply wanted a guided short range ballistic missile, couldn't get the funding, pulled this stunt to get the funding, and hey presto, the army now has long range precision support no longer needing to rely solely on the oft absent airforce to support its troops in a crunch.

    wouldn't be the first time some generals lied about the intended use in order to get something past bureaucrats.


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