Much has been made about the asymmetric tactics and techniques employed by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan against Coalition forces. The primary asymmetric weapon employed by our enemies, whether in Iraq or in London and Madrid, is the improvised explosive device (IED). Far less attention has been paid to growing U.S. asymmetric advantages that not only are useful in countering insurgents abroad, but also in protecting the homeland and forces overseas against attack.
One example of U.S. ingenuity is the effort to find an effective replacement for landmines. In 1999, the Ottawa Convention prohibiting the production and use of antipersonnel landmines went into effect. The essential argument against antipersonnel landmines was their indiscriminate character. The United States was not a signatory to this treaty, having determined that landmines were necessary for the protection of U.S. forces in places such as the Korean Peninsula.
At the same time, however, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy pressed the Pentagon to develop a safer alternative to landmines. Senator Leahy’s brainchild, called the Alternatives to Antipersonnel Landmines Program, is about to bear fruit. Within the month, the Army could begin low rate production of an effective alternative, called Spider.
Unlike conventional antipersonnel landmines, Spider is a networked system of sensors and munitions. It is a smart barrier that contains a remote control unit that allows for continuous man-in-the-loop direction of the system, a munitions control unit that contains sensors to detect intrusions and a variety of lethal and non-lethal munitions. Spider is a revolutionary advance over existing barrier systems. It can be turned off at will, the munitions have self-destruct features and the entire network can be rendered safe and recovered.
But Spider is much more than simply an alternative to landmines. Its sensors will enable it to be used to gather battlefield intelligence. The ability to employ non-lethal munitions will allow for greater operational flexibility than existing tactical defensive systems. It is an intelligent, controllable, discriminating, precision system. It is the antithesis of traditional landmines.
It is ironic that even as our adversaries pursue indiscriminate means to achieve their ends, the Department of Defense is achieving greater discrimination in its use of force. Modern technology is allowing the U.S. military to employ force more discriminately but to greater effect. The Spider system is an example of how the U.S. asymmetric advantage in technology and creativity can meet operation requirements for force protection and battlefield intelligence while simultaneously solving the problems associated with traditional landmines. Senator Leahy deserves credit for pushing the military in a new direction, one that will protect Americans and reduce casualties.
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