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This article was Originally Published on Oct 01, 2002 in Volume: 1  Issue: 5

Needed: New Capabilities for New Threats

Like Gulliver, the mighty U.S. may be at risk to the Lilliputian threat of terrorists engaging in "asymmetric warfare."

by Congressman Bob Stump

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N ever in the world’s history has a military force paralleled the power and capability of the present-day United States military. For over fifty years, our conventional and strategic forces have been the bread and butter of our nation’s defenses by protecting our interests at home and abroad, promoting peace and stability throughout the world and helping prevent nuclear conflict.  Yet, despite our military might and advanced technologies, we failed to detect, deter, and defend against the deadly attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Recent reports from the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and outside experts assert that because of the United States’ conventional military superiority, our adversaries will instead seek “asymmetric threats” – indirect and covert attacks on our more vulnerable areas.  Our eyes were pried open last fall to such threats and the United States must move aggressively to develop tactics, technologies, and capabilities to counter these new threats.

The most notable asymmetric threat is nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons delivered surreptitiously or on ballistic missiles by rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, or Iraq—countries that are openly hostile to the United States. North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile—currently under development—are capable of striking the U.S. today, and Iran could have a similar capability within the next three years. Given these quickly emerging threats, the President has rightly decided to reduce our national vulnerability and move forward immediately with ballistic missile defenses, while also enhancing security at our airports, harbors, and borders.

The second most recognizable asymmetric threat prior to last fall was cyber attacks on United States information networks, government agencies and economic nodes.  Government and industry, spurred on by Y2K concerns and a series of high-profile hacker intrusions and electronic viruses, have worked diligently to maintain the security of these networks.  However, persistent vulnerability to cyber attacks calls for increased attention and protection, particularly as public sector entities, such as the U.S. military, rely more and more on computer and network-based systems.

Know Thy Enemy

Among the most important realizations over the past ten months is the glaring need for more rapid and efficient intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing, and the necessity to quickly and accurately detect and identify biological agents. Both intelligence gathering and biological agent detection are critical to fight asymmetric threats against the homeland, and both have military and civilian application in the wake of 9-11.  For example, we need detection systems that can signal rapidly when our troops are under biological attack, when anthrax-laced mail is moving through the postal system, or when a terrorist has released bacteria into a subway system.

Real-time intelligence gathering and analysis have been greatly enhanced at the operational and tactical level with the advent of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These systems demonstrated their value in the skies over Afghanistan, and their retrofitting with weapons have made them particularly lethal. The key now is for DoD and industry to further develop these systems so that they are even more lethal, survivable, reliable, affordable and capable than they are today. UAVs and their armed brethren, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, must become an integral part of the U.S. military’s inventory. They must also be adapted to meet each of the services’ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements, and be tailored for every level of the battlefield. The result will be timely and accurate information that will increase situational awareness and combat effectiveness.

Bird’s Eye View and Bloodhound Measures

Equally important is the continued development of space-based systems that can fulfill a variety of strategic and non-strategic missions, from overhead ISR and communications, to GPS, remote sensing, and weather information. As our dependence on these systems increases, the U.S. must safeguard them from both destruction and disruption, as well as ensure that adversaries cannot acquire tactical, operational, or strategic information from commercial platforms and providers during crises.

While we have watched the dramatic development of UAVs over the last several months, the United States has not demonstrated similar progress in the development of portable biological weapons detectors that are capable of quickly, reliably, and somewhat remotely, detecting and identifying a broad range of agents. Such technologies are absolutely necessary on the modern battlefield.

Beyond the military necessity of high-quality biological agent detectors, these devises hold important intelligence and homeland security applications. For example, strategically placing detectors at U.S. ports of entry or likely terrorist targets could have an incredible deterrent effect on potential adversaries, and could build the confidence of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, the intelligence value of these technologies would also be extremely important in the United States’ nonproliferation and counter-proliferation efforts around the globe. Portable detectors could be used by friendly states to interdict weapons of mass destruction (WMD) material trafficking within, or through, their borders.

Digging In

In addition, it is also important to develop satellites and high-flying aircraft capable of providing full-scope detection, surveillance, and means of destroying underground facilities. Much ado has been made lately about the Bush Administration’s interest in developing earth-penetrating weapons capable of destroying hardened and deeply-buried facilities that may house enemy command and control bunkers or WMD development and production facilities. Destroying such facilities is critical, given recent reports that more than 10,000 underground military facilities have emerged in more than 70 countries during the past decade; that many of these facilities are located within the borders of potential adversaries; and that more than 1,400 are reportedly known to shelter WMDs, ballistic missiles or command centers.

The opponents of such earth-penetrating nuclear weapons often do not realize that the United States currently has earth-penetrating nuclear weapons in its stockpile without the means to penetrate “hard” targets, and that the United States will not have the capability to produce new nuclear weapons any time soon. One fact is clear—the United States must develop both conventional and nuclear weapons that are capable of destroying hardened or deeply-buried facilities while limiting collateral damage. To accomplish this goal, the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review did not recommend developing new nuclear weapons, but instead directed the development of new packages or casings to ensure the deep delivery of existing weapons.

Similar to our current inventory of conventional and strategic weapons—as well as missile defenses—the value of earth-penetrating weapons is as much in their deterrent effect as in their actual capabilities. The ability to destroy hardened and deeply-buried targets will dissuade potential adversaries from burrowing underground, where they feel safe from U.S. weapons. Our opponents must understand that they have no place to hide, no place to seek shelter, and no place to develop or store their most lethal weapons of war. Only then might they be convinced to end their pursuit of these deadly weapons.

Although the United States clearly emerged from the Cold War as the lone superpower, recent events evidenced that we are not invincible. While 9-11, the anthrax attacks, and the ongoing military operations in Afghanistan have exposed some of our shortcomings, they have also given us new direction and compelling incentive to defend the nation against asymmetric threats.

The new charge of the United States is now in maintaining the strength of our conventional and strategic forces while developing new technologies, tactics, and forces to combat the emerging threats of the 21st century. 

Congressman Bob Stump, a Navy veteran, is a 13-term representative from Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District

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