Thursday, November 16, 2006

Current Technology in Doubt


Using Technology to Cover Incompetence


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Way back in the days of yore, I took a few courses in law enforcement (cop school). Somewhere along the way, we were introduced to what's called the "21-foot rule" of street survival. Put simply: if the bad guy has a knife out in view and is less than seven meters away, while the good guy still has his pistol in his holster, then no matter how fast the good guy is at drawing and firing his weapon, the bad guy can run and stab him before a shot is fired. The point of my illustrating this rule is, obviously, that superior technology can be trumped by superior tactics. Puts a different light on the old canard of "bringing a knife to a gunfight," doesn't it?

Now, consider the various strengths of the Israel Defense Forces: tanks, planes, bombs, night-vision, armored personnel carriers, all sorts of expensive and fancy mechanisms, along with the training that goes with them. Superficially, it would seem, most of that stuff didn't work too well in the last conflict. (If you're a soldier, don't worry, you'll have your time in a bit.)

What with the recent missile attacks on northern Israel, we now have an even fancier gadget due to be deployed around several cities - an American-built laser-powered anti-rocket system. It sounds great, is very costly, and no doubt will soothe the nerves of many people who were so upset at the odd explosion in their neighborhoods a few months ago. At least, I hope it soothes them, because they're paying for it.

The only problem with this new light-show machine is that it won't work. Period, end of sentence.

I can hear the bubbling hostility already, and I know all the arguments - technical, military and political. Believe it or not, I say that they are all correct, and in more ways than their proponents may think.

Nevertheless, this system will not work.

Why? Because the entire concept is flawed in one crucial sense: the Arabs made it obsolete on the first day of their rocket launches last July. Superior tactics, my dear, remember?

Let's take the problems one at a time:

First, notice that most of the missile launches were from multiple sites, with many rockets triggered at one time from each launching platform, usually with mechanical timers so that the missile crews would be absent when the rockets fired. Combine this with launching platforms that are emplaced in or near homes, well camouflaged and ready to be deployed by civilian-dressed technicians, and you have virtually no way to stop dozens of missiles being put into the air before even the most modern observation-strike planes can find and destroy them. Only the big, single-missile launchers can be found and taken out this way, and the IAF made yeoman work of doing just that. Unfortunately, it takes troops on the ground to find the rest.

So, this means that any anti-missile system has to anticipate dealing with hundreds of projectiles at one time, with a very good chance of missing some rockets that will continue on to their targets. All the enemy has to do is throw enough rockets in the air to make certain that some get through. Unless you're unlucky and happen to be within the kill-zone when one lands, an occasional bang is not a very effective military weapon; but it only takes one explosion to rattle an entire city's population. Remember Haifa, Netanya, Kiryat Shmona - the videos of those cities' residents boarding buses with just a memento or two in hand?

Secondly, this kind of anti-missile system is unbelievably expensive. That is a severe limit on how many can be developed or bought, and that means that only cities considered a priority to the government will be "protected" by these systems. Everyone else, well, be sure your bomb shelters are up to snuff or have a friend or relative you can bunk with for the duration. That is, if there is any place that is out of rocket range next time.

All this brings us to the final problem, which is the motivation behind buying these light-saber machines. Politics is wonderful and even entertaining, but it should have little to do with the safety of a country's civilian population. Have you thought about what's going on behind closed doors at the cabinet table when these kinds of decisions are made?

Consider: Plans are presented by the Northern Command to push through to the Litani River, thus enabling the IDF to backtrack and clear the southern half of Lebanon of missiles and other enemy emplacements. Not allowed. Special units are called to attack vital supply routes, caches and military headquarters in order to disrupt the Hizbullah chain of command and prevent the kidnapped Israeli soldiers from being taken out of the country. Not allowed. Reserves are called up to free regular army units for combat. Not allowed until too late in the war. Combat units are ordered to take positions for jumping off into Lebanon, but are not allowed to move except in piecemeal fashion, endangering the troops.

I could go on, but I won't, for brevity's sake. The point is that certain decisions were made, and a war that was started by accident was ended by unadulterated incompetence. It left Israel with so many questions about itself and its government that people are now grasping at any solution presented to them, mostly by the very fools who got the country into this situation in the first place.

The facts are that the real solution to the problem of missile attack is not more technology, but rather a tactical one. Go in, find the enemy, kill him, leave no stone unturned. That was what was presented to the cabinet, and it was a short, workable and reasonably cheap method, which would've resulted in less lives lost or disrupted than what actually happened. Alas, they blew it big time.

Now, the politicians are in snake-oil-salesman mode, as if they were trying to put a bandage on a spreading cancer instead of showing that they know the actual cure. I'm not certain if the public completely buys this routine anymore, but I certainly don't. It is time that citizens of Israel see the real wizard behind the Emerald City's curtain for what he is. All the gears and switches and flashing lights don't change the fact that the problem with the machinery is operator-error.



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יט וְשָׁבַרְתִּי, אֶת-גְּאוֹן עֻזְּכֶם; וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-שְׁמֵיכֶם כַּבַּרְזֶל, וְאֶת-אַרְצְכֶם כַּנְּחֻשָׁה. 19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass.
כ וְתַם לָרִיק, כֹּחֲכֶם; וְלֹא-תִתֵּן אַרְצְכֶם, אֶת-יְבוּלָהּ, וְעֵץ הָאָרֶץ, לֹא יִתֵּן פִּרְיוֹ. 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield her produce, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.
כא וְאִם-תֵּלְכוּ עִמִּי קֶרִי, וְלֹא תֹאבוּ לִשְׁמֹעַ לִי--וְיָסַפְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם מַכָּה, שֶׁבַע כְּחַטֹּאתֵיכֶם. 21 And if ye walk contrary unto Me, and will not hearken unto Me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.