The general public became familiar with smart weapons during the First Gulf War. CNN video cameras brought the power of guided missiles into the living rooms of millions of people around the world. At that time, we all thought that only a well-funded state military could afford this kind of weaponry. After all, warfare has always been a mix of expensive, cutting-edge technology and manpower.
Technology allows military strategists to conduct the microsurgery on the battlefield – no collateral damage – that democracies demand.
The current production cost of a Tomahawk missile is around $500,000. It’s worth its tag price if used against a strategic communications center on enemy soil. However, it rather seems like splurging in today’s guerilla warfare. A moped with two half-shaved guys – the driver with a Kalashnikov strapped on his shoulder and the one on the pillion with a light anti-tank gun – is not worth firing a Tomahawk.
So far, the standard practice for dealing with secondary objectives is to use many unguided rockets. Unfortunately, unguided rockets are not precise and, as a result, they are more likely to miss their target. Furthermore, since the number of rockets per pod is limited, this strategy has the inconvenience of limiting the number of targets per mission.
Technology is changing the rules. Innovators in the arms industry are coming up with cheaper, smarter and smaller weaponry. They are using off-the-shelf parts, open-source software, Google Maps, commercial data-links, available infrared technology and GPS navigation systems to produce cheap, guided micro-missiles.
Military strategists are thrilled with this new technology. A weapon’s precision allows them to neutralize more targets per mission. It also allows them to conduct the microsurgery on the battlefield – no collateral damage – that democracies demand. And all within budget. It sounds too good to be true.
There is only one flaw.
New technologies are making precision weapons cheap – and available – for the bad guys as well. You can’t stop non-state tech-freaks from developing this kind of weapons. They are also likely to produce deadly smart weapons using commercially available parts. They may not be as reliable, neither as accurate, as ours, but it would be sufficient to cause us some pain.
No need to panic. We just need to be aware of it. Governments are already protecting their people. They are developing defense technologies against this new kind of threat. Fortunately, the good guys are always ahead of the game.