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Strategic strike

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Strategic strike is the application of kinetic (i.e., physically destructive) and nonkinetic (e.g., information operations deep into enemy territory, affecting military forces in the homeland, or population, industry, and infrastructure. A wide means of methods can be used, from nuclear weapons to sabotage by a hand tool wielded by a special operator.

The formal US definition is generic: "An attack to damage or destroy an objective or a capability".[1] By targeting beyond the forward edge of the battle area, strike provided the ability to weaken an enemy’s capacity to fight by degrading that enemy’s command and control, key production facilities, infrastructure, logistic support capability and, ultimately, combat effectiveness.[2] It can be directed at ground or maritime targets.

The term "strike" long was euphemistic for the use nuclear weapons, but, especially since the development of precision guided munitions, are not necessarily nuclear attacks. Strikes may use combinations of aircraft and missiles. The aircraft may drop free-falling bombs, perhaps with guidance, or launch missiles. Missiles can also be launched from ground and sea platforms, often to help clear defenses that could interfere with strike aircraft. Air, sea, and land based electronic warfare assets can help the strikers penetrate.

A less obvious form of strike warfare deploys special operations forces in the enemy's rear areas, either to destroy critical targets by direct action, or as special reconnaissance to guide long-range weapons precisely on target. The role of air operations may be not to attack the target, but to deliver special operators to it.

Classic definition: strategic bombing

Strategic bombing is a subset of strike, and is more of a term from the Second World War and before it, such as in the writings of Giulio Douhet. Douhet's motto "the bomber will always get through" certainly was not true in WWII, as early as the Battle of Britain. Allied daylight bombers needed fighter escort to avoid catastrophic loss rates against Germany. Unescorted bombers operated against Japan, but only after Japanese industry and defenses had suffered from severe shortages caused by submarine operations against supply lines.

During the Vietnam War, there were a variety of strike operations against North Vietnam. Operation ROLLING THUNDER was essentially futile. With less restrictive rules of engagement, Operation LINEBACKER I was effective at the operational level. Operation LINEBACKER II was decisive in achieving a specific short-term strategic goal.

Perhaps the most complex operation using conventional bombs, the British "BLACK BUCK" raids during the Falklands War were effective, again for a specific objective. The most effective large-scale strike campaign, considering both the results and the strategic goals, was Operation DESERT STORM. Subsequent strike operations in the Balkans and Iraq War were more limited, in part due to a lack of suitable targets.

Before the introduction of large-scale use of precision-guided munitions, even during World War II, there was significant debate about the effectiveness of the conventional strategic bombing of the time. The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was analyzing the effects of the attacks on Germany even while the Pacific war bombings were taking place. [3], and the analysis of the German attack contained the prophetic prediction
The combination of the atomic bomb with remote-control projectiles of ocean-spanning range stands as a possibility which is awesome and frightful to contemplate.

The traditional triad

See also: Single Integrated Operational Plan

Nuclear weapons, with their massive destructive power, presented an alternative to increasing the precision of munition delivery. This became less attractive as the Soviets developed their own nuclear capability, with the survivable second-strike capability that led to the joint strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). [4] With the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the availability of precision-guided munitions, there is still a nuclear threat that needs to be deterred, but even past commanders of United States Strategic Command have questioned if nuclear weapons are necessary to deter it. [5]

When nuclear weapons dominated strategic warfare after World War II, the initial delivery vehicles were manned bombers. While there were assorted tactical and short-range submarine-launched weapons, there was a fundamental change around 1960, when the United States and Soviet Union began to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). These three delivery systems, each presenting a different defensive problem, formed what theorists called the Triad.

While there were additional strategic delivery methods, such as cruise missiles launched from air, ground, and subsurface platforms, and while there were aids to attack (e.g., multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV), low-altitude penetrating bombers) as well as defense (e.g., ballistic missile defense and mobile missiles), the Triad remains the basic strategic model among major powers. It may, however, be growing obsolete.

In particular, the ICBM leg of the Triad is relatively inflexible, and precision guided nuclear and possibly convention munitions may threaten the fixed missile silos. Submarines and bombers are mobile. Submariners claim credit for having the original stealth platform, while the only strategic bombers seriously expected to penetrate air defenses are the stealthy B-2s.

Without going through the long history of different theories of nuclear warfare, the reality is that for a number of missions, precision-guided munitions (PGM) and information operations may provide equivalent effectiveness to nuclear weapons, but with far less collateral damage and political risk. Some of the same Triad platforms, especially bombers and submarines, may deliver non-nuclear PGMs.

A new triad?

"A strong case can be made that the United States should take steps to create a new strategic-strike triad, relying on its precision- and electronic-strike capabilities to form two of the three legs, with a smaller residual nuclear force comprising the third leg."[4]

Electronic strike, at the "blunt" end, can involve electromagnetic pulse, or large-scale attacks on electric power transmission lines using carbon filaments to short them out.[6] At the precise level, it can involve a full range of malware or subtle disruption of specific circuitry.

Special operations forces can deliver kinetic or nonkinetic strikes, or, in advance of conventional forces, can seize strategic targets.


  1. US Department of Defense (12 July 2007), Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
  2. Royal Australian Air Force, Strike, Air Force during Military Operations
  3. United States Strategic Bombing Survey (September 30, 1945), Summary Report: (European War)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Krepinevich, Andrew F., Jr. & Robert C. Martinage (March 2001), "The Transformation of Strategic-Strike Operations", Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
  5. Butler, Lee (October 3, 1996), "Chaining the Nuclear Beast", State of the World Forum
  6. "CBU-94 Blackout Bomb’ BlU-114/B Soft Bomb", Globalsecurity