Western way of doing things is usually to go for highly advanced technology. However, is that a good thing? I don’t think it is, for reasons I will explain.
When we take a look at any war, we see that there are always certain realities at work:
People are required to get job done.
Technology is required so people can do their jobs.
Numbers are required so as to be able to absorb unavoidable losses, to establish relevant combat presence and to overload opponent’s capacity to process information.
Reliability is required so as to train personnell and deploy sufficient force presence, and for technology not to fail in combat
Consequently, weapon has to be cheap and simple enough to be procured in large numbers while leaving enough resources for training the pilots, reliable enough to be used often and not require too much maintenance, but also capable enough to get the job done.
While simulators exist, they are limited in how well they can simulate reality. As such, weapon’s operator will have to actually use the real weapon, and use it often, to get familiar with it and how it will handle in real combat. This is of particular importance to fighter pilots, where ground facilities cannot simulate changing G forces that pilot has to withstand during fighting. Cheaper to maintain weapons also mean more money left for training.
History has shown that in combat, training trumps other factors – with only exception being extremely large numerical disparity. Top Gun instructors got 40 to 60 hours of CFM per month, and always beat students who got 14 to 20 hours. It is no different in any other area – during World War 2, Tiger tanks’ tank crews’ superiority in training often led to their utter dominance over technologically superior IS2 tanks.
Training allows weapons to be used more effectively, as well for force to more effectively break opponent’s OODA loop – a prerequisite for gaining the positional advantage over the opponent. Yet in US, F-22 pilots get 17-20 hours per month, and pilots of other fighters are not far behind – nor is situation much better in Europe.
What has to be understood in numbers game is that twice as complex weapon will often provide not half of combat presence, but around quarter of it – each weapon will be not only twice as expensive, but will also require twice as much maintenance. And while this is not a hard rule, more complex weapons always require more maintenance than less complex ones of same age and production quality.
As such, even if twice as complex weapon is twice as capable – which it often isn’t – it is going to face more than twice its own number in simpler weapons. Worse, due to the Lanchester Square law, weapon outnumbered 2:1 has to be four times as capable to offset for numerical disparity – but 4:1 qualitative advantage also usually requires four times costlier weapon. And this is all assuming that twice as costly weapon will really be twice as capable. It should be noted, however, that this is only true close to its entirety for air combat, due to the far smaller force-space constraints. In ground combat, twice as costly weapon will “only” have to be thrice as capable.
Furthermore, no matter how “capable” weapon is, one weapon can only ever be deployed to one place at the time. Defense of its own and disruption of opponent’s supply lines is easily one of most important tasks any military faces, and it requires sufficient, and often large, number of individual units.
Reliability in combat
More complex system is more prone to failure in stressfull combat environment. This does not only apply to weapons, but also other systems – such as those required for BVR IFF capability. In fact, in 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom misidentified US aircraft were repeatedly lost to BVR fire. Compared to passive sensors, active sensors also have far more complex detection and targeting process, which is therefore more prone not only to internal failures, but also to interference by the opponent.