Monday, September 19, 2022

Is it logical to use quarter-million dollar weapons to kill $15k targets?

Looking at an academic paper published in 1976, written when heart by-pass surgery was in its infancy, 15% of the operations were to by-pass a single clogged artery, 40% were for two arteries, 39% were for triple by-pass, 5% for quadruple and the remaining 1% was for quintuple by-pass.

Anecdotally, single by-pass surgery is far more common and triple and quadruple by-passes are now far less common. Open heart surgery, while still a serious affair, is no longer reserved for patients in extreme situations. Better to address a single clogged artery (with the change of throwing a clot) that to wait for it to worsen. 

Something similar happened with smart-weapons.

Originally designed to shoot-down very fast, maneuverable targets with stealth-capability they have become so commonplace that they are now used to shoot down a trailer carrying petrol pulled by a Toyota Hilux and armored personnel carriers with a single fighter running a machine-gun.

One bit of footage from early in the Ukrainian conflict shows a Russian Hind flying on the straight-and-level. My untrained eyeball estimates it is moving at 40 knots and about 150 feet of elevation. Fighters some 200 meters in front of the Hind fire a manpad from the craft's 2 O'clock and the pilot has no time to react.

If you can believe the footage played by the mainstream media, most targets that get smoked by expensive, smart-weapons could just as easily have been "killed" by a dumb 107mm rocket with a smart head/steerable fins based on a commodity "Android smartphone" with the IR filter removed from the lens.

Eventually the economics of using quarter-million dollar smart-munitions to kill $15k fuel trucks tips in favor of the team fielding the trucks.

If I were the Pentagon, I would commission some smart grad students to re-jigger dirt-cheap smart-phones to drive smart-heads. I would use the "portrait mode" face finder to find hot targets. Then trowel on a P-I-D, Ziegler-Nichols algorithm to drive the fins to center the hot-spot. Commodity + a commodity = a custom app. 

Incidentally, one pre-paid cell provider offers at least six smartphones that cost less than $60. Any one of those phones probably offers more computational power than the Apollo space craft that landed on the moon.


  1. It would be simpler to get a cheap small uav with a digital thermal camera and an impact detonated phosphorus grenade, maybe with C4 or thermite added for penetration.
    It helps that no launch platform is required, just a guy with a backpack.

  2. Economics in war have never made sense. It makes even less sense when you can "print" as much money as you need to keep buying expensive weapons. In the last countries that ran out of gold had to stop fighting. That reality has been short circuited with fiat currency.

  3. Economy of scale comes into it also... sigh

  4. It would also depend on if the guys using the 'smart' weapons, regardless of cost, had a whole lot more of them than the other side had fuel trucks and/or technicals. Kill all of their resources and equipment, and you 'win' as long as you still have weapons left for just in case.

  5. To be honest, you never know what a target, even a low monetary value one, can cost YOU. That 15k technical can damage or destroy the same helicopter that is on the way to bail 10 of your guys out. Then there is the cost of dead or injured personnel and the time to replace them. Israel makes the same calculation when employing the Iron Dome.

    1. Very good point; what matters is relative cost to you, not absolute cost.

  6. Why would Raytheon build an affordable, technology agnostic weapon such as that, when one with much more expensive and proprietary technology can be sold to the CONgress by tractor trailer loads?
    Expecting CONgress to make prudent, wise, financially sound decisions is just un-American!

    1. There seems to be plenty of profit in angioplasty and stents which compete with bypass surgery.

      If domestic producers don't fill the technology void somebody else will, perhaps somebody who will supply our enemies first.

  7. ERJ, although far too simplistic a premise, it feels like the logical outcome of the "War as Video Game" mentality, where supplies are endless and the supply chains not considered.

  8. A question, not a statement ...

    What do those state of the art weapons 'actually' cost to manufacture (not including the research, development and profit at every separate step of the process)? I'd guess, just like your iPhone, pennies (OK, more likely a few dollars, but 'not' the millions they claim).

    Coincidentally sci-fi (more specifically military sci-fi) is full of exactly the suggestion you raise, of repurposed everyday tech items to do (often better than the original) what certain companies charge mega-bucks for.

    Chips for processing, sensors for guidance, attitude, steering are all in your base-model smart-phone, all that's really needed are designs, construction and software to run, what is essentially a pipe filled with boom strapped to a rocket (for sale in your local hobby shop).

    The fact that 'someone' hasn't done it already suggests that someone else is making sure they don't.

    I already know which of the local nerds I'm 'recruiting' should I need something along those lines.

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