If we look at today’s armies from a broader perspective the defensive aspect of warfare is in the lead.
It is hard to imagine a full scale offensive with tanks and other heavy ground equipment which could surprise a well developed country. First of all moving such forces out of barracks and bringing them close to the border with all of the satellites looking from above would be very hard. And what about the supplies? Second factor is the world we live in… Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, smartphones with processors more powerful than those ‘calculators’ which allowed us to fly to the moon… You could blackout those tools but this would be a clear sign that something alarming is happening which would put the other side on watch.
The above bearly touches the surprise effect. Add to that a well layered air defense of many types of rocket systems, radars, aerostats, unmanned systems, ground rocket systems, long range artillery, standoff weapons and aircraft on the watch and you end up facing not a bubble as the A2/AD is sometimes called. I would name it a hedgehog! The situation looks difficult right?
Here comes the tricky part. We are all networked, the systems become more and more interconnected which is good and that’s how it’s supposed to be but the security sphere is not catching up with the rest of the pack. I sometimes think that it’s pushed aside but in recent years there is a visible shift in favor of more broader thinking and tightening the “cyber”.
This leads to a conclusion that the offensive will start in the cyber realm and maybe the war in there is even rolling as I write it. Breaching the defensive measures and overwhelming the infrastructure might give a “green light” for real actions. If you can’t do it why send the ground troops in the first place? To meet the hedgehog?
But what if the situation demands to attack the hedgehog? You have to somehow move around his spines and do your job. Here the small, commercial grade off the shelf unmanned systems might be a serious threat. Imagine a low flying swarm of UAV’s that penetrates the border and attacks your systems, damage radars, launch sites, paralize a big chunk of communication lines. How to counter that? You wold have to jam the comms of those systems but what if they have hard-coded targets, AI, and when discover that they are cut out from the command post they do a preplanned attack or are able to change tactics and targets when spot your moves? And when I write “swarm” I don’t mean hundreds. I think about thousands of small drones that could do a lot of chaos. Of course they wont destroy Abrams like tanks but they can do a lot of disturbance. Such a force can be commanded with a single PC grade station.
Probably laser weapons will soon allow to counter such swarms but it will take time to polish those weapons and provide enough fire power and a huge rate of fire to counter a swarm. Also not every target will be protected. On the other hand we have to also remember that the UAV’s have a short range and new technologies to improve that are not seen on the horizon. The battle between the defense and offense is as always on and the recent development of hyper-sonic weapons brings the offense a step closer to changing the tide. How to efficiently counter them? Again lasers come to mind but as mentioned those systems are still in development. The next few years might bring us new inventions and strategies which will probably try to disrupt the current state of affairs in favor of either side.
One way or the other: we live in very interesting times!