Kemp notes that theater ballistic missiles (TBMs) operated by both near peer powers, such as China and Russia, and regional militaries, such as Iran and North Korea, represent “an increasingly complex challenge” since finding countermeasures for these weapons must take a varied strategy. To supplement missile defense systems, new solutions and capabilities should be targeted at TBMs both before and after they launch—part of an overall theater strategy to blunt their effectiveness in combat. In his paper, Kemp explores the history of the modern TBM threat, dating back to Operation Desert Storm, and how these weapons are in fact complex systems not just missiles on mobile launchers, with associated command and control, logistics, and maintenance components.
As the reach and mobility of TBMs has improved over time, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) preparation of the battlefield has grown more important, and in an A2/AD environment must be rethought. Solutions will require a mix of capabilities, such as harnessing space-based assets to support tactical counter-TBM operations and using penetrating and stealthy aircraft to locate TBM systems and elements as part of initial strike operations in joint campaigns. In short, as part of an expanding A2/AD problem set, mobile TBMs pose a “unique threat” that must be addressed “with both advanced technology and well-developed operational art,” Kemp writes. A solution will depend on correctly applying airpower’s advantages, along with missile defenses, to present the most comprehensive counter to these weapons.