Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Effect of Tactical Ballistic Missiles on the Maritime Strategy of China

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

The Effect of Tactical Ballistic Missiles on the Maritime Strategy of China

Article excerpt

Weaponry and concepts (that is to say, combat theory, or more specifically, doctrine regarding the practical employment of some specific weapon) have endured as themes of warfare throughout the history of mankind. From the perspective of their development, there has always been an interactive relationship between weaponry and combat theory. Lack of coordination in the development of these two elements has led to a spiral in which one continually supersedes the other. A weapon based on a completely new concept appears; it is often not employed according to the commander's original intentions, precipitating a change in how it is used and a shift to alternative technological improvements.


From the most fundamental point of view, every action on the battlefield can be summed up as "the action and counteraction between capabilities - more specifically, firepower - and information, between the opposing parties." Undoubtedly, the birth of aviation weaponry and its massive use produced a revolutionary impact on the patterns of modern warfare. The most prominent manifestation of its "revolutionary" character is the fact that airpower provides commanders with a relatively easy method of penetrating physically the enemy's defensive system and delivering firepower - in abstract terms, of conducting power projection.

As aviation (and space) weaponry of all kinds developed, air-defense systems evolved as well, from "barrage balloons" to surface-to-air missiles, from point air defense to area air defense, all the way up to today's out-of-area interception technology. From a historical perspective, and in terms of the interaction between offensive and defensive systems, changes in "delivery methods" of firepower can be understood as simply the continuous evolution of the cost-effectiveness ratio. During World War II, vast numbers of bombers, "Flying Fortresses," covered the sky over strategic nodes of the Axis powers. During the Korean War, bombers confronted newly developed jet-propelled interceptor aircraft, and the high cost-effectiveness of this mode of delivery became difficult to sustain. Until the Vietnam War, the United States possessed absolute air superiority; then, however, facing surface-to-air missiles, it often exchanged the missions of tactical aircraft and heavy bombers, employing F-105 fighter-bombers to attack targets deep within enemy territory while relying on B-52 strategic bombers for support missions on the battlefield and against forward positions. During the Persian Gulf War, coalition strikes against deep targets were all undertaken by tactical aircraft - for example, by the F-117A stealth fighter, which carries only two laser-guided bombs. It is important to note that since the Korean War, the majority of wars involving great powers like the United States have been of medium or low intensity, so their combat systems have been used in relatively benign environments.

Cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, both of which appeared in the final stage of World War II, possess even stronger capabilities than existing types of tactical aircraft for penetration of the enemy's defensive space, and at an even better cost-effectiveness ratio. Ballistic missiles, given the same tactical parameters, offer more outstanding penetration capability and cost-effectiveness than cruise missiles.

One of the reasons that numerous third-world countries favor tactical ballistic missiles is that because of their limitations, they are generally at a significant disadvantage in confrontations with great powers. Under such circumstances, how to guarantee penetration of the enemy's defense space is the first problem to be solved. By means of ballistic missiles, an actor inferior in combat aircraft can deliver firepower against a dominant actor. From the economic point of view, developing an effective air force is very complex and requires a long gestation period. …

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