It’s difficult not to pay attention to the saber rattling in the Middle East, not with gas prices approaching or exceeding $4.00 per gallon in most of the United States and a constant barrage of articles on the news wires like THIS, THIS , and THIS. I’m neither a politician nor a diplomat, but I am a military analyst and weapons technology expert with a more than passing familiarity with the weapons and forces that will shape a potential conflict. I’ll beg your indulgence while I engage in a bit of military futurism.
Setting the Stage
Let’s say we have three countries, Freedonia, Sylvania and Trentino.*
Freedonia is a global superpower, with military forces and commitments spread around the world. These forces are well equipped with modern weapons, electronics and communications. Freedonia has a vital strategic interest in the part of the world (let’s call it the “Meso-Orientale”) where both Sylvania and Trentino are situated. This strategic interest is due to the fact that a large portion of Freedonia’s energy supplies come from petroleum drilling in Meso-Orientalian countries. Much of this petroleum is shipped in tankers through a narrow waterway off of Trentino’s southern coast.
Sylvania is a dominant regional power whose forces are at least as well equipped as those of Freedonia. It is surrounded by states that are politically and, given its position as the world’s only Semitic state, theologically hostile to it. It has fought six wars with some or all of these states since its founding in the late 1940s, and faces an ongoing threat of terrorism from organizations claiming to represent an indigenous population group that, for various reasons, was displaced by Sylvania’s founding. These groups are supplied and funded by Trentino, and regularly launch mortar and rocket attacks against Sylvanian cities. To defend against these attacks, Sylvania has developed an indigenous integrated radar and interceptor rocket system called “Steel Roof.” Sylvania is widely thought to be a nuclear power, but there has never been any objective confirmation or denial of this capability.
|Trentinan uranium enrichment facility, near Qom.|
|Anti-Freedonian rally in Trentino|
As a result of these concerns, the Sylvanians are actively planning for a contingency operation in which the Sylvanian Air Force will destroy the dozen or so Trentinan nuclear facilities in a surprise precision attack. Meanwhile, the Freedonian administration, which is notably more distant in its relations with Sylvania than previous administrations, is both advising restraint and admonishing Sylvania as to the dire consequences of unilateral action. However, the Sylvanian government remains adamant that its priority is to protect and preserve the Sylvanian state. Trentino is making no effort to diminish tensions, in fact, quite the opposite. The Trentinan government routinely threatens both Freedonia and Sylvania. In fact, itwas recently discovered that Trentinan agents in Kush had been planning to bomba Sylvanian ship as it transited the Alexandria Canal.
In early April, the Sylvanian government is advised by its intelligence agencies, and very likely, those of regional allies, that left unhindered, Trentino will be able to build a nuclear weapon within three months. Faced with this stark reality, the Sylvanian government reluctantly authorizes the strike.
As darkness falls on April 24th, Sylvanian aircraft take to the skies. These, however, are not the F-16 and F-15 fighters that will bear the brunt of the fight, but Eitan, Harpy and Harop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
|Eitan MALE UAV|
The Eitan, a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV serves as a reconnaissance platform, providing real-time feedback to Sylvanian strike controllers as to the state and condition of Trentinan defenses. However, a number of the Eitans have been modified to carry electronic warfare payloads. These payloads give the Trentinans tremendous capabilities, from mimicking a maintenance cell phone signal that puts a cell network out of action by commanding it to “sleep” to jammers that interfere with first responder emergency frequencies and signal generators that at one moment will spoof the Trentinan air defense radars so that at first they see a perfectly clear sky and at the next moment see a sky filled with many hundreds of aircraft.
|Runway Attack Munition|
Before the Sylvanian aircraft enter Trentinian airspace, Sylvanian cyberwarfare experts – the country’s militarized hackers – launch a pair of devastating cyberattacks. The first introduces a virus into the Trentinan electrical grid, which has been left connected to the Internet. Minutes after virus is loosed, power plants in Trentino’s cities begin to malfunction, and the country is plunged into darkness. Backup power systems come online, but these do the Trentinans no good as the second half of the Sylvanian cyber attack, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack of enormous proportions, hits. All Trentinan command and control nodes that rely on the Internet are suddenly unable to function.
|Sylvanian F-15I Raam|
|Trentinan S-400 SAM Launcher and Radar|
The returning Sylvanian pilots are greeted as heroes.
|GBU-28 Penetrator Bomb|
|Trentinan F-14A Tomcat Fighter and Aircrew|
|Trentinan Moudge Class Frigate Jamaran|
Shipping companies order their ships to observe the Trentinan blockade.
Overnight, the price of gasoline spikes forty cents.
|FNS Ticonderoga Class Cruiser Cold Harbor|
|Trentinan C-802/Noor Missile|
|Trentinan Zulfiqar-1 Main Battle Tank|
|Freedonian Seawolf Class Attack Submarine|
Tanker ships remain bottled up in the Gulf of Dalat, and the global economic impacts are both swift and severe. The Freedonian national average price for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline jumps to $5.75. Similar impacts are felt in the surging economies of the People’s Sinosian Hegemony and Hindustan as well as in Europe and South America.
|Trentinan Submarine Yunes 903|
|Freedonian Tomahawk Cruise Missile|
Within eight hours of the assault’s start, the Trentinan Navy effectively ceases to exist.
|Trentinan Shahab-3 Missile|
|Sylvanian Steel Roof Missile Launch|
With the destruction of the Trentinan naval threat, Freedonian naval vessels, as well as those of Freedonian allies including the United Monarchy, Oceania, Teutonia and Hollandia begin escorting tankers in and out of the Gulf. Freedonian air assets begin enforcing a no-fly zone over Trentino. Gas prices in Freedonia, which spiked at $7.15 per gallon in parts of California and New York are slowly declining. Additional Freedonian forces are sent to the Gulf region, but no additional threats are anticipated from Trentino in the near future. The longer term impacts to the Freedonian, and global, economies are significant. Capital that would have otherwise been available for business expansion and development is reallocated to basic operating expenses, and the economic recovery, fueled by job creation, is stalled. The unemployment rate, which had fallen to 8.3%, spikes to nearly 10% in the wake of the oil crisis. Families across the income spectrum are impacted as the price of any goods that are transported, from paper to milk to clothes to vegetables rise by double digit percentages. The grim, austere economic conditions are reflected politically, and in the presidential election, the incumbent party is soundly defeated by an angry public.
Fascinating as the match-up of military hardware and forces may be, it’s important to look at the root cause of the issues in the Middle East. The Middle East matters, but why? It’s not because the world has a burning desire to solve the Israeli-Palestinian issue, or because the majority of the planet cares deeply about urban development in Dubai. It’s because the world remains dependent on fossil fuels in general and petroleum products in particular, of which there are huge reserves in the Middle East. As a result, blood and treasure are spilled wantonly by powers in both hemispheres seeking to either create stability in or exert control over the Middle East’s oil fields, and the region assumes a disproportionate importance on the global stage.
The most effective response to instability in the region is to deprive it of importance. Realization of this goal depends on the achievement of energy independence. Remove energy dependency and the strategic rationale for defending the region disappears, as does a major bone of contention between the developed and the developing world. The result of that disappearance is an abnormal condition called “peace.” Despite this, no American administration in the last half century has made energy independence an overriding national priority.
* With apologies to the Marx Brothers.