The Navy has concluded that a recent failed anti-ballistic missile test of the Standard SM-3 Block IIa was due to an operator who inadvertently input an identification of the target as a “friendly”, thus causing the SM-3 to self-destruct before hitting the target.
Defense Agency review of a failed ballistic missile intercept test showed that
a mistaken input into the combat system by a sailor on the destroyer John Paul
Jones caused the missile to self-destruct before reaching the target. U.S.
A tactical datalink controller, in charge of maintaining encrypted data exchanges between ships and aircraft, accidentally identified the incoming ballistic missile target as a friendly in the system, causing the SM-3 missile to self-destruct in flight …” (1)
We’re building a vast network of sensors and weapons as the foundation of the Third Offset Strategy – a strategy that will give us an unrivaled edge over our enemies and assure us of maintaining combat superiority. At least, that’s what we’re being told.
And now, we see that a simple operator input error can entirely negate a ballistic missile intercept. What if that had been an actual intercept instead of a test and the missile had been a nuclear missile aimed at a
base or city?
Do we really want to base our entire military “advantage” on a system so
prone to inadvertent and haphazard failure? US
All of us understand that software systems, and their inputs/outputs are subject to bugs and glitches under the best of conditions, let alone in the middle of war when electronic countermeasures will be blitzing the system, cyber/hack attacks will be constant, and the stress of combat will guarantee that input mistakes and output misinterpretations (remember Vincennes?) will happen with regularity. Do we really want to bet our military future on such a strategy and such systems?
It’s interesting to note that the Russians and Chinese, while investing heavily in electronic and cyber warfare, are also producing massive increases in traditional, raw, brutal, explosive firepower. They seem to understand that electronic and cyber warfare will be useful but that firepower still rules the battlefield.
Recall the Vietnam war. Recall the air strikes by US planes. For all the sophisticated surface to air missiles, radar warning receivers, countermeasures, and high performance aircraft with computer controlled navigation and weapon delivery systems, etc., our aircraft were still shot down, all too often, by old fashioned ZSU-23 barrage gunfire.
There’s a place for electronic and cyber warfare, without a doubt, but it’s as a complement to explosive firepower not a replacement for it and certainly not as the foundation of an entire military strategy.
(1)Navy Times website, “Sailor error led to failed US Navy ballistic missile intercept test”, ”, David B. Larter, 24-Jul-2017,