Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Theater Missile Defense: Reflections for the Future

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Theater Missile Defense: Reflections for the Future

Article excerpt

AS A RESULT OF Gulf War efforts countering Saddam Hussein's shortrange ballistic missiles (SRBM), theater missile defense (TMD) has emerged as a leading doctrinal issue. Our inability to halt Scud attacks spurred a virtual cottage industry. Pundits and prognosticators of all shapes and sizes are offering insights into how we should best counter this "new" threat. The two distinctive TMD lessns that emerged from the Gulf War were (1) that missiles will play a significant role in future wars, and (2) that locating, targeting, and destroying mobile missile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) is both time and resource intensive. Yet before the United States Air Force (USAF) develops new TMD doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures, it would serve us well to first reflect on the past.


The Gulf War was not the first time airpower was required to counter enemy cruise or ballistic missile attacks. During World War II, Operation Crossbow, the Allied attempt to counter German V-1 and V-2 operations became the dominant focus shaping airpower employment during the critical spring and summer months of 1944. Unfortunately, Gulf planners did not learn Crossbow's lessons, because, as this article shows, most of the challenges faced in World War II resurfaced during efforts to suppress Scuds during the Gulf War.

Two factors inhibited Gulf War air planners from properly anticipating or countering the Iraqi Scud menace. First, Air Force officers are poor students of history. Our in tellectual foundation tends to be based on Jominian reductionism. Rather than properly studying history to gain a rich appreciation of the subtleties of war, we ransack the history record in search of principles that guarantee success. This "cookie-cutter" approach typically leads to dogmatic application, not strong doctrinal thought.1

To avoid this pitfall, the Air Force must reject its biases toward using history to discover the indisputable laws of war and instead adopt a Clausewitzian view that requires that history be properly studied to gain an apprecation of the physical and psychological factors governing conflict. This approach instructs us how to think, not how to act. For Clausewitz it was not a matter of 'knowing that, which is important, but of "knowing how to act,n which is critical!2 The examination of history, therefore, yields no specific formula, no single guide for action; instead, it educates the warrior to find his way through the jungle of chance and uncertainty that characterizes the combat environment. The second inhibiting factor is the Air Force doctrinal bias for air superiority based on neutralizing manned fixed-wing aircraft. Airmen often proclaim that, first and foremost, the enemy's air forces must be defeated by air supremacy-a war cannot be won without it.3 This belief suffers from "mirrorimage" analysis. Because America relies on fixed-wing aircraft as the primary means of waging air war, then these must be the only "things" that are really important. This is dogma, not doctrine. It ignores the trend within the third world, where ballistic missiles play an important role.4 The initial drafts of the latest Air Force doctrine are reexamining the restrictive definition of air superiority, but changing doctrine requires more than just new words; we must refocus our thinking!5

Just seven days after D day, a V-1 launched from France hit a railroad bridge in London. Thus, a new era in warfare was born-the employment of missiles against civilian and military targets. Iraqi use of Scuds during Desert Storm continued this trend.6 Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein had similar purposes for launching their missiles. Each wanted to incite civilian terror to erode public support for the war effort and to provoke a reaction from his enemy that could fundamentally alter the war. Despite inaccuracy and small warheads, ballistic missiles can leverage an opponent and contribute to breaking the enemy's will to fight. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.