Precision Weapons Will Be Critical To Dealing With Hybrid Threats

America’s adversaries have learned a lot from watching how we have conducted military operations since the end of the Cold War. In particular, they have noted the ease with which our joint and coalition forces destroyed fixed targets and defeated all enemy conventional forces. One of the primary reasons that some countries are pursuing so-called anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities is to deny the U.S. military such asymmetric advantages as air dominance, sea control, expeditionary power projection and massed mobile operations.

Even lesser challengers, those that lack the wherewithal to pose a full-fledged A2/AD threat, are seeking ways of limiting U.S. military advantages. A new class of adversary is emerging, one that uses Old World tactics combined with New World technologies to counter U.S. military strengths and drag U.S. and coalition forces into protracted land operations. These hybrid adversaries are making selective use of advanced weapons systems, exploiting commercial communications and information networks, avoiding presenting large and targetable formations to enemy sensors and weapons and otherwise blending in with non-combatant populations. Hybrid adversaries will deliberately seek to operate in complex environments, particularly urban settings where fighters and non-combatants will be difficult to distinguish. They will use urban infrastructure and even religious sites and national monuments as fighting positions, daring U.S. forces to attack.

The challenge for the U.S. is to identify ways of engaging adversaries employing hybrid tactics that are extremely rapid, precise and also effective. This means continually improving ISR capabilities, shortening the kill chain and deploying weapons systems that can be effectively employed in close proximity to non-combatants. The U.S. has made tremendous progress in the first two areas, employing a wide range of manned and unmanned aerial platforms such as Predator and Reaper drones, MC-12 Liberty aircraft and fixed aerostats with electro-optical sensors, intelligence fusion capabilities and targeting tools to locate, track and target adversaries.

The remaining challenge is to develop and deploy a full range of extremely precise weapons and munitions that can be employed against enemy forces operating in close proximity to non-combatants. The military has a long history of deploying air-delivered precision weapons such as the JDAM and Small Diameter Bomb. More recently, the Army and Marine Corps have been investing in a number of new very precise, very effective capabilities. One of these is the Excalibur GPS-guided 155-mm artillery projectile which can hit within a few feet of a target up to 35 miles away. Over 600 Excalibur rounds have been used in Afghanistan with tremendous effect and very low collateral damage. The Army is working on a precision-guided 120-mm mortar round, called Dagger. This would be particularly valuable to infantry and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. A third is the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) which is a guided version of the venerable 70-mm rocket. The APKWS would be fired from helicopters and probably unmanned aerial systems.

The Marine Corps also is the service responsible for managing the joint program to develop non-lethal capabilities. Such capabilities are extremely important when U.S. forces are operating amidst large civilian populations. Over the past decade, the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate has developed a variety of capabilities that can be used to defeat hostile personnel and equipment without risking harm to non-combatants. The most interesting capability is the Active Denial System which employs millimeter waves to cause significant discomfort to targeted individuals but no injuries. In those instances when it is not possible to separate combatants from innocents, non-lethal systems offer a way of defeating the enemy without causing collateral damage.