Better military technology doesn't always win

Western armed forces' advantages over terrorist organizations are based on technological superiority. That superiority encompasses advantages in information systems; gathering essential data systems, such as satellites, unmanned vehicles and other platforms equipped with infrared, optical and electronic sensors; command-and-control (C4I) systems; accurate weapons; intelligence; and communications, just to name a few. During the last decades, the efforts of developing military systems have been shifted toward threats of global terrorism and its regional derivatives, such as Hizbullah and Hamas. Many successes have been achieved since. Thanks to new systems and the bravery of American, Israeli and other nations' warriors, the global war against terrorism has gained victories - for example, the intelligence systems and operations that led to the British success in preventing a series of mass-murdering terror operations aimed at civilian planes over the Atlantic. But, notwithstanding the technological superiority in general, wars are decided occasionally by temporal, partial superiority. A well-known example is the IDF's inferiority in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. The Soviets' antitank missiles and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) were not countered by appropriate armor and advanced electronic countermeasures. These two temporal and partial superiorities of the Soviet Union over the United States's and Israel's technology prevented the IDF from achieving a decisive victory. It took a couple of months to develop satisfactory countermeasures that helped the IDF's fighting in latter battles. In the 1991 Gulf War, Israel faced a different inferiority, much similar to the inferiorities in this war. Iraq launched at Israel 39 Scuds - primitive, 300-kilometer rockets. The technology resembles World War II German-made V-2 rockets, but Israel had no answer even though its technology was much superior. It took about 10 years to develop a suitable system - the Arrow - to defend Israel from long-range missile attacks. The IDF and its civilians have encountered two pinpointed, highly sensitive technological inferiorities. The IDF has failed to keep up with the requirements of defending Israel's civilians against the huge amount of Katyusha rockets which hit almost every town and village in northern Israel. Analysts were not surprised; they knew how many rockets Hizbullah possessed and the performances of each type of rockets. But due to the limited capabilities of existing technologies, no defensive or offensive operational system has been developed and procured. It will take a few years' accomplishing development and deployment of operational systems on the battlefield. The other inferiority is the threat of Russian-made antitank missiles, which have penetrated the thick and reactive armor of the Israeli-made Merkava, the "best tank on earth." Though only a few tanks had been destroyed, their teams suffered deaths and injuries and the threat has prevented armored units from enjoying freedom to maneuver, forced the IDF to change its tactics, and delayed its advancement toward the Litani River. In contrary to the Katyusha rocket challenge that will not be met soon, defensive systems against antitank missiles have been developed by Rafael - the armaments development authority - and TAAS (Israeli Military Industries) and were offered to the US Army. These automatic, active systems sense the incoming missile and detonate it safely before it hits the armored vehicle. Rafael's system has been developed; TAAS's should be completed in about four months. Production and installation on tanks and other armored vehicles is to be initiated immediately; the technological horizons are bright and promising. If we had decided, a year ago, to buy about 100 systems from Rafael and install them in 100 tanks - the first tanks to cross the border - our losses would probably have been far fewer. Making the right decision at the right time is the bottleneck of exploiting advanced technologies on the battlefield. Dr. Shmuel L. Gordon, a colonel (res.) in the IAF, is head of the Technology and National Security program at the Holon Institute of Technology.