The United States has long possessed the most powerful, technologically advanced, and well-trained military force in the world — but powerful and invulnerable are very different things. America’s broad and diverse fighting force has been at war in multiple theaters for the better part of two decades, not only wearing American troops and equipment thin, but offering the nation’s opponents ample opportunity to observe and work to offset American combat advantages.
America’s military might may be overwhelming for nations with smaller military forces and budgets, but it’s important to base strategic assessments on the reality of warfare, rather than a strict analysis of the numbers. America’s opponents don’t need to match America’s power in order to stand and fight with the world’s best military — they need only to find ways to mitigate America’s advantages within the region they’re fighting in. The United States Navy may possess 290 ships, including nearly a dozen aircraft carriers… but America’s security obligations bar the Navy from devoting the entirety of its fleet to any one conflict or region. Likewise, with every other branch: America has to maintain combat, advisor, and security operations in countless places around the world, preventing the U.S. from amassing the entirety of its forces in any one place. While China would devote the entirety of its large and growing Navy, along with Coast Guard and militia assets all toward a conflict in the Pacific, America couldn’t respond in kind without leaving other areas of the world susceptible to instability.
But the strategic disadvantages of being the biggest and most powerful don’t stop on the macro-scale. In combat zones around the world, groups intent on fighting the U.S. don’t need to develop the same capabilities America has — they need only to find ways to mitigate them. China and Russia, for instance, aren’t hurrying to build their own massive satellite infrastructure like the U.S. relies on; instead, their military-space initiatives are focused squarely on interfering with America’s ability to use its satellites in the fight. It’s always easier to develop offensive capabilities that it is to devise ways to defend against them, and America’s supremacy positions it so that it must constantly be in a defensive posture: finding ways to protect our military infrastructure from weapons devised specifically to leverage observed weaknesses.
This isn’t to say that America is truly at a disadvantage, of course. America’s massive military apparatus is, as stated above, the best in the world. The point here is to emphasize the fact that a nation or motivated group don’t need to match America’s technological prowess or overall size in order to offer real and legitimate threats to American troops in the fight. And because America’s war efforts are directly tied to the nation’s politics and political support, each American death has a larger strategic effect than deaths racked up by opposition forces like ISIS, or nations with strict control over their populaces, like Iran.
Earlier this week, Iran revealed their newest gadget aimed specifically at mitigating American advantages in the Middle East: a small unmanned ground vehicle that that would zoom around the battle space like a remote-controlled dune-buggy, driving under or near American armored vehicles and detonating them from below. This type of attack couples the destructive force of an IED with remote control technology, allowing Iranian troops to bring the IED directly to U.S. personnel, rather than waiting for a vehicle to approach pre-positioned explosives.
#Nezaja unveils its #Heidar1 project, a network-connected series of smart unmanned ground vehicles (#UGV‘s) developed to carry out assault against enemy infantry and armored units.#Iran #ایران https://t.co/5OsJBkzmsC pic.twitter.com/WtoGtDYAmN
— Iran Military (@Iran_Military) October 4, 2019
Would these remote-controlled bombs turn the tides in a war with Iran? That’s unlikely, but they could prove a significant threat to American troops in theater. This six-wheeled weapon, if fully functional and mass produced, would offer an extremely cost-effective way to create far more American casualties than Iranian forces likely could with their conventional military alone.
Again, weapons like these little buggers aren’t enough to defeat an overwhelming American force, but they could make such a war feel much more costly at home. After nearly two decades of combat operations in the Middle East, most Americans are already reluctant to see a new war unfold in Iran — and if Iranian troops managed to kill a number of Americans in the early days of an offensive, popular sentiment regarding the operation could quickly sour.
Of course, the United States is already developing a number of weapons designed specifically to mitigate unmanned vehicles of all sorts, and it seems likely that it wouldn’t take long for the U.S. to devise a way to mitigate these low-tech threats. Therein lies the challenge of being at the top: when everyone is looking for a chink in your armor, it’s a full-time job trying to keep them covered.
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