By Steve Russell
Here at BreakingDefense, we get a lot of op-ed submissions arguing for more spending on new weapons. Today, we present an argument on why new technology can sometimes be a trap. The author, Steve Russell, is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, and — though he’s too modest to mention this — a recipient of the Bronze Star for Valor for his actions in Iraq.
Using national resources for national defense is always difficult. Programs, policies and politics play pivotal and competing roles. The challenge for lawmakers, security advisors and department secretaries is to get it right.
Even during times of intense budgetary pressure, America has an obligation to invest in next-generation weaponry. But newer isn’t necessarily better.
In America’s culture of optimism and innovation, there is always the desire for the better mouse trap. Sometimes, traps are needed to catch rats and not mice, so the mouse traps must be replaced. Sometimes, the existing traps can be modified to more than do the job against the actual threat they face. But we must be intellectually honest and ask, “Can what we have already get it done?”
Such is the case with the Tomahawk missile. Designed in the 1970s and improved since, Tomahawks provide vital American strategic projection. Over 2,000 missiles have been launched in combat from 1991 to present. America has defeated threats in Desert Storm, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Sudan, at clandestine terrorist locations, and most recently in Libya. Over that time, they have proven uniquely reliable and versatile.
With current Tomahawks, known as “Block IV,” missions can be planned in an hour. Once the missile is launched, controllers can alter its trajectory, change its target, or even direct the missile to loiter in the air for hours at a time. Tomahawks can strike across land, water and any environment over 900 miles from their launch points –that’s more than the distance from Washington, DC to Atlanta. The US can conduct strikes in heavily guarded airspace without directly endangering American military personnel. They are also used by our closest allies.