Adversaries mobile land-based missiles – surface-to-surface, surface-to-air, and anti-ship missiles mounted on transporter erector launchers (TELs) – oontinue to be an unsolved problem for American military planners and strategists. The success these weapons enjoy by hiding and moving to where they are needed means that virtually all new land-based missile systems, whether short-range anti-aircraft weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), are now deployed on TELs, with mobility built into their operational concepts. These mobile systems, now operated by China, Russia, Iran, and many other possible U.S. adversaries, threaten to raise the costs and risks to potential U.S. expeditionary operations.
Relying solely on interceptor-based missile defense is not a solution to the mobile missile problem. Missile defense systems, both land- and sea-based, have had mixed success in actual combat. With the effort and resources being expended by the Pentagon on missile defense, we should expect better performance in the future. But we should also expect that, against high-end opponents capable of mounting multi-axis saturation attacks, some attacking missiles will get through.
They will inflict great damage, especially on modern warships. Most important, the all-in cost of interceptors is as much as an order of magnitude greater than their targets, giving the attacker a steep advantage in this competition. Having the capability to hunt TELs, or “attack the archer,” will be highly desirable, especially if doing so can undermine an adversary’s fundamental assumptions and strategy.
Developing technologies and operational concepts to counter adversary mobile missiles should thus be a top priority for the Pentagon’s new Defense Innovation Initiative, also known as the Third Offset Strategy. Indeed, as this essay will discuss, some of the pieces needed for effectively countering mobile missiles before they are launched could be on the threshold of reality, available for Pentagon planners to assemble into a combat capability useful to field commanders. When successful, this counter-missile capability would disrupt a popular and effective operational concept currently employed by many potential adversaries, threaten their large investments in mobile missile forces, and likely cause these potential adversaries to lose confidence in their plans and strategies. That result — if achieved at a reasonable cost — would be the essence of a “competitive strategy.”…