Winston Churchill noted that, “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war” – so too once the war-war has started, “it is better to buzz-buzz, then to bang-bang.” U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work’s desire for new electronic-warfare (EW) solutions AKA Raid Breaker, aimed at large missile salvos in particular, is necessary not only for the arena of physical war, but the internal war of budgets and force planning that enable such critical fights.
For the following argument I assume the effectiveness of soft-kill (EW) over hard-kill options. I also assume that ultimately shooting down a guided missile is more expensive than confusing it; as Secretary Work states,“for relatively small investments, you get an extremely high potential payoff.“
However, beyond the immediate cost/effectiveness argument, we are forced to spend more in other areas due to the increasing amount of space/weight/weapon systems we dedicate to missile defense on our surface ships. That dedication to defense pushes out offensive capabilities, which we must then buy in other areas. Some might argue that the “need” for the F-35 and its stealth capabilities were, in part, driven by destroyers whose long-range weapons weapons were almost wholly turned over to defense – requiring a carrier for offensive punch. That technological bias towards the defensive has become so extreme that it has required VADM Rowden’s new “Distributed Lethality” effort – a course change back into a realm that should be a natural instinct for the surface force: distributed operations and killing enemy ships.
Of course, the pricetag and weight of kinetic systems has also prevented the fleet from finding more cost-effective ways to increase the ship count – requiring DDG’s or, in the case of the original LCS plan, expanding smaller ships to take on additional responsibilities. With significant investments in defensive systems not requiring a vast VLS magazine, we could build smaller ships with bigger relative punches at a lesser cost. We could more aggressively pursue the Zumwaltian dream of the High-Low Mix: more ships for more effect for less money – every CNO and SECNAV’s dream.
Raid Breaker is a case of finding, and exploiting, competitive advantage. We have been using our best offensive capabilities – the kinetic weapons – for defense. We have let the best defensive options languish, and in so doing pushed expensive requirements into other areas where we must find our offensive edge. A firm dedication to electronic warfare for “soft-kill” options gives us our ships, and our procurement flexibility, back.
In the end, the excitement over Raid Breaker should not primarily involve its awesome war fighting impact if successful – but all the other ideas it will all the Navy to pursue. What makes Raid Breaker so beautiful is that the raid it breaks, in the long-term, is the one on our bottom line.
Matthew Hipple is a Naval Officer and Director of Online Content at CIMSEC. He also produces our Sea Control podcast, hosting the US edition.