Western Tech May have Beaten Iran’s Air Attack, but Greater Challenges are to Come

It was the largest combined drone and missile attack in world history. On Sunday Iran launched a huge air strike package of roughly 320 munitions against Israel, consisting of some 170 drones, 120 intermediate-range ballistic missiles and 30 cruise missiles.

It was twice as big as the biggest single Russian air raid against Ukraine, which occurred in December 2023 and comprised 158 missiles and drones. The ballistic missile element of Sunday’s attack alone constituted the largest salvo of these massive weapons ever recorded.

The prompt, accurate and effectively complete annihilation of this entire threat by joint allied action represents an extraordinary demonstration of Western military-technological prowess in every sense. The full magnitude of this achievement is difficult to comprehend. Orchestrating such a complex multi-domain defensive operation, across so many different allied forces using an array of different types of sensors, platforms and interceptors, against such a multi-layered threat coming from multiple directions, has now set a new benchmark for 21st-century battle management and warfighting at the high-end of the scale.

This crushing success was not only the result of exquisite Western technology working as intended – even when used for the first time in combat, like the American SM-3 missiles for exo-atmospheric (i.e. in outer space) ballistic intercept – but also of the exceptional military skills, training and all-round professionalism of allied Israeli, US, UK and even French and Jordanian armed forces.

The previous benchmark for allied high-tech warfighting – but in an offensive rather than a defensive operation – had been set six years previously, and also in the Middle East. It was the space-enabled precision missile strike in Syria on 14 April 2018, in retaliation for the Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons in Douma.

That allied strike in Syria involved 105 Western missiles of five different types, against three different target areas, involving sea, air and subsea launches from positions dispersed geographically across three different seas, by ships and planes of the UK, US and French armed forces. It was an extremely complex airstrike mission plan, executed to perfection with almost all the missiles arriving on target at the same time despite their widely varied launch conditions and flight profiles. The US Air Force Secretary at the time, Heather Wilson, called it “the most precise strike in the history of man”.

Key to the precision was the ability of US forces to optimize the GPS constellation, where some satellites are moved into certain orbits to minimise errors across the system. This is important because the accuracy of the weapons directly influences the number of weapons deployed and the size of their warheads. A single missile with a smaller warhead can be used if the planners are certain it can strike exactly where it is targeted.

Read the rest at Brussels Signal.

Gabriel Elefteriu is a Fellow at Yorktown Institute.


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