August 8, 2006

Military Thoughts

This is the slightly eccentric but hugely informative blog from the well-stocked mind of old solider "coolbert." Here's the July archive (page down past the blank part), which has lots of good technical, tactical, and strategic stuff about Israel's wars, present and past.

Hezbollah's strategy of building tunnels to protect its troops, which worked well for the Viet Cong, and firing lots of small rockets remotely from disposable launchers has so far stood up well against Israel's advanced counterfire suppression capabilities. Civilian deaths in Israel have been running about 1 to 2 a day on average for the last four weeks (with a significant fraction being Arab Israelis). Hezbollah's goal is presumably to demoralize Israelis into slowly leaving Israel, and to discourage capital investment in Israel. Historically, bombing campaigns have had a very poor record of breaking the morale of a civilian population (see the London Blitz for one of many examples). Like invasions, they tend to just make people madder. On the other hand, rocket threats could more plausibly discourage, say, Intel from building an expensive facility in Israel.

A technical fix allowing Israel to defend itself from these rockets would be most welcome. As you'll recall, about four years ago, Palestinian suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Tel Aviv pizza parlors was widely seen in the more excitable regions of the American press as the ultimate strategic weapon, requiring Israel to conquer the whole Middle East merely to survive. Instead, simply building a fence largely shut down suicide bombing.

A practical ABM system would be similarly valuable. Most American ABM development has gone into developing ways to destroy nuclear missiles, which means that the cost of each interceptor is less important. But Israel is facing attacks from swarms of cheap missiles, so using extremely expensive strategic interceptors isn't cost effective. coolbert cites a couple of potentially cheaper systems.

One potential system, "Dumb Pebbles," was the brainchild of that ultimate gun nut, Canadian cannon-designer Gerald Bull, who was assassinated by Mossad in 1990 when his inability to get the U.S. military to fund to completion his various giant gun designs led him to work for Saddam Hussein.

The idea for this giant shotgun is that you take a 16 inch gun from a WWII battleship (there are, I believe, one to three dozen such cannons still in mothballs), and load it with a rocket-boosted projectile. The payload is merely ball-bearings, the equivalent of the lead shot in a shot-gun cartridge. When radar picks up a rocket headed from Lebanon to Israel, you fire away like a skeet shooter. (To prevent killing civilians in Lebanon, or even in Turkey, with the ball-bearings falling out of the sky, the guns could be positioned in eastern Israel and aimed northwest out to sea). I have no idea if this would work (would they have the rate of fire to avoid being overwhelmed by cleverly timed barrages?), but it's fun to indulge one's inner gun nut by thinking about it.

There's also the Tactical High Energy Laser project that the U.S. and Israel have been jointly working on.

And then there's the "rail gun" -- an electromagnetic catapult that propels nonexplosive projectiles much faster than chemical explosives ever could. Like so many sci-fi sounding weapons, it was first worked on by the Nazis during WWII (Hitler put much more stock in innovating wonder weapons that would somehow win the war than in churning out huge numbers of good enough weapons, which is what actually won the war for the Allies), and still isn't ready for prime time. The U.S. Navy plans to deploy rail guns with 250 mile ranges beginning in 2011, but, we shall see if that comes to fruition.

So, at present, there doesn't seem to be any quick fix that would obviate the need for Israel to go punch out on the ground anybody who launches a lot of rockets at them, but there is hope for the future.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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