Even if not technologically advanced, missiles used by the “third word” nations could be extremely effective in armed conflicts, especially carrying mass destruction weapons (MDW). Moreover, even a primitive missile system like SCAD can be efficient in several ways, not only as an MDW vehicle.
Most missile defense systems fail to detect approaching ballistic missiles, which means they strike unexpectedly and are virtually impossible to intercept. Even a low-precision, conventional-explosive ballistic missile can serve as a powerful demoralizing factor affecting civilian population. During WWII, Nazi Germany used them for 7 months, firing around 4,300 FAU-2 missiles at cities and towns in England and Belgium. Only around 75% of the FAUs shot at England actually reached its territory (1,054 in 1,402 discharges), and only 517 missiles hit London. Casualties totaled 9,277 – 2,754 killed and 6,523 injured. Although missiles of that technological level could neither change the complexion of the war in Germany’s favor, nor stave off the collapse of Hitler’s regime, they exerted enormous psychological impact. People panicked because nobody could tell when and where the next missile would hit. The government arranged the evacuation of 250 mothers with children from London, and more than a million fled independently.
A similar situation developed in the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-88. This time both sides used ballistic missiles to hit each others cities. They were used highly intensively in March and April 1988 – a period now known as the “War of the Cities.” Iran fired 77 missiles in 52 days, 61 of them hitting Baghdad. They shot up to 5 missiles a day. Iraq, in turn, fired 183 missiles during the same period, an average of three a day. On the whole, Iraq made 361 SCAD discharges in that war, while Iran, over 100. Those strikes caused only minor destruction, but each warhead hitting its target produced major psychological and political effects. They hit unexpectedly and nothing could shoot them down. It was the missile strikes that forced one-third of Teheran’s population to leave the city. It is worth reminding here that SCAD is the acronym for the Soviet 9K72 tactical system using the R-17 missile. Its first version was put into service back in 1961. SCAD is a low-precision missile system, as during the 1959-1961 field tests, 65% of the missiles fired showed range errors of up to 1,250 meters, and direction errors of up to 750 meters. Its range-tables even allowed a maximum range error of 3,000 meters, and a maximum direction error of 1,800 meters. The missiles’ payload was up to 1,000 kilos. However, it was a terrible weapon for the enemy’s cities.
Even with an efficient ABM system in place, ballistic missiles still have a tangible impact, mainly psychological. The Iraqi version of the SCADs, the Al Hussein missiles with their lower-weight warheads and bigger fuel tanks, which ensured a greater range, became famous during the 1991 Gulf events. Thirty-nine missiles were fired at Israel killing 2 and injuring 208 people. Such low casualties were primarily due to the timely warnings given to civilian population, but on the other hand, to the missiles’ low precision and small warhead capacity. At the same time, the effect Iraq expected was mainly psychological, and it did have success. Statistics have it that four Israelis died of heart attacks and eight, from misuse of their gas masks; 225 unauthorized atropine injections were registered. In addition, the missiles destroyed 1,302 houses, 6,142 apartments, 23 public buildings, 200 department stores and 50 cars, causing a damage of $250 million.
Therefore, some experts conclude that the missiles used by a number of countries had little effect in military terms, which means conventional warhead missiles were not cost-effective. However, if one looked more attentively at the effects of ballistic missiles used in combat, they would see a different picture.
It is due to ballistic missiles that Iraq managed to reach its enemy’s important facilities, while neither its air forces, nor artillery could do it. Let’s not forget that Iraq was using outdated low-velocity missiles at the time; they required a longer pre-launch preparation and did not have a detachable warhead, which made interception easier. However, the American ABM system highly praised in the post-war period, proved catastrophically ineffective: an intercepted missile caused almost as much damage as a non-intercepted one. We could also add that Iraq practiced individual shooting with a low intensity. A missile that hit the housing complex for foreign military personnel in the Saudi city of Dhahran inflicted the heaviest casualties on the Anti-Iraq Coalition killing 28 and injuring over 100.
It follows from the above that ballistic missiles are a relatively cheap, effective and survivable weapon. It could be the only choice in case of your enemy’s air-superiority, for example. The latter detail is of importance, because one side’s ground superiority-is easily jeopardized by the other’s qualitative air-superiority. Modern airborne forces fitted out with high-precision weapons can now accomplish missions which had earlier required the use of nuclear arms. The conventional defense systems most nations use, designed to intercept piloted aircraft, are becoming antiquated. An “asymmetrical strategy” is the only way to do substantial damage to a high-technology enemy in a direct conflict. Ballistic missiles are the most important element of such strategies.
Only ballistic missiles pelting the enemy’s cities can turn his elegant TV-show war into scurrying to air-shelters, into the drab realities of a refugee’s life and other wartime “joys.” So we can rightfully assume that many nations hold ballistic missiles as a means of strategic deterrence at the regional level. New technologies are being developed daily: the range, precision, mobility and destructive force of missile systems are growing. The old individual-shooting concept is being replaced at full drive by a new one: massive strikes to cause guaranteed damage and penetrate the ABM system. Iran is procuring ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2,000 kilometers and detachable warheads, equipped with GPS systems and ABM penetration systems, according to certain sources. Such missiles can be an effective weapon of war against a highly developed aggressor and his allies.
In addition to that, the “third world” nations are now developing high-precision hard-fuelled tactical missiles to work in the close-in zone: the North Korean KN-02 and Iran’s “Lightning” with maximum ranges of 120 and 250 kilometers, respectively. The systems can be constantly on alert, can fire very fast and, most importantly, can hit even small-size high-priority targets, like command centers, depending on the warhead type.
Ballistic missiles coupled with pilotless or space information-acquisition systems make an economy-class integrated reconnaissance-strike complex. Some nations – Iran, for example – have already developed such systems, albeit low-technology ones so far. This might make many hotheads think twice before launching another short victorious military operation.