The Time Has Come For "Unconventional" ABM Countermeasures

Posted in NATO , Terrorism | 19-Jun-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The murderous attacks of September 11, 2001, had a lot of different consequences. One of the most important is the fact that “homeland defence” has become first priority for security politics in the USA.

The attacks from September 11 and follow-on attacks around the world have proved that the initiative – when, where and how – of those operations lies with the attacker.
That poses a great challenge for the US-government to reduce the vulnerability at home and abroad.

Countermeasures have to cover the whole spectrum of potential attacks – from Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to dirty suitcase bombs.
The US-ABM system is on its way. But it will take a long time before the system will be operational.

It’s a waste of time to discuss the likelihood of an attack with land-based ICBM. The fact, that those are and will be possible forces US government to enhance the security of their people – at home and abroad. Some nations across the globe have declared their will to join the Us initiative.

But there is no time out. Potential attackers will not wait until the US system will be operational.

The ongoing vulnerability will offer the “states of concern” and non-state terrorist groups opportunities for political blackmail and disaster.

Obviously, there is the need to do something now. The time has come to pay more time and attention to “unconventional” countermeasures.

There are a wide range of opportunities – based on mental innovation, creativity and cleverness – which could lead to rapidly available and cost-effective countermeasures.
Areas, which offer opportunities are:

# information warfare
# cyberwar
# electronic warfare
# special operations
# command, control, computer and communications

Tom Clancy already wrote about the wide range of opportunities years ago in his book “The
Bear and the dragon”

Aim and objective should be to exploit the own superiority in high-end technology – proven
again in the successful Gulf war 2003.

There is no law, that “asymmetric warfare” is a monopoly of the potential attackers.

A crucial prerequisite for any of those is “strategic reconnaissance” especially Human Intelligence(HUMINT). That is again one lesson learnt from the Gulf War 2003 that space-based and technical reconnaissance have their limits. Well camouflaged silos and underground storage sites were not detected and mock-up of tanks and howitzers were taken for real ones. There was no sufficient reconnaissance on the ground and therefore a huge deficit in pre-war information.

Without this knowledge there is no chance to target these targets successfully – not to talk about training and preparing operations.

It is far from easy to recruit reliable sources in those “states of concern”. But in those states there are knowledgeable people prepared to cooperate with the West against the hated regime.
They might have lost friends and relatives by state-sponsored murder.
Knowing as much as possible about the ballistic missile sites and their infrastructure will
Offer opportunities to destroy those weapons by unconventional means – prior to the launch.
Penetrating from safe havens in neighbouring countries, helicopters with highly-trained and well-equipped commandos can do their job – from cutting energy supplies to sealing the doors of silos.

From a distance, hackers can do their job. They could destroy or change Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Intelligence assets. The potential aggressor will – and should – learn about these newly developed countermeasures. Success stories should be published. A mixture of information and deception should at least bring uncertainty to potential aggressors: They should not even be sure that their missiles will really hit their programmed targets. In the case of a blackmail attempt, they might be told that the missiles will hit his own territory. Potential aggressors should lose their present comfortable position of relatively low risk. These unconventional countermeasures are much more credible as deterrents than the threat to use the “big bang”.

The unconventional approach also has a huge political advantage. No partner or ally will oppose it for political reasons. Collateral damage and own casualties tend to zero. The political threshold for joining or supporting – safe havens – will be very low. The same is true for the financial burdens.

There are partner countries in the world who have already some experience in this area. Why not learn from them?

Unconventional countermeasures are not a hundred percent substitute for a high-tech anti-ballistic missile defence, but they can be started today. They are not very attractive for “big industry”, but they make use of Western and Asian “human capital”. They might turn the table of “asymmetric warfare” in favour of the West and its Asian partners.
A credible and visible regime of relatively cheap countermeasures would make investments in developing ICBMs politically less attractive and economically too expensive. If political blackmail failed because of unconventional countermeasures, a potential aggressor would be seen as a paper tiger and would lose any political clout.

In combination with efforts for effective arms control that way should reduce the incentives for countries to win new political quality and clout by developing and possessing ICBMs with weapons of mass destruction.

Why should we sit on our hands and wait for a better political climate, which might or might not come? The threat will not go away because we might have a nearly perfect “conventional” system in years to come.