You know what a barrel bomb is, don’t you? They’ve been in the news quite a bit lately, particularly as employed by the Assad regime against its rebel enemies in the Syrian Civil War. The “barrel” is simply that, a large barrel, or oil drum, packed with explosives and shrapnel and with a crude detonator, airlifted to and dropped on its target by means of a helicopter. Its destructive power is roughly equivalent to any other airborne ordnance, but it has two major advantages: it is extremely cheap and easy to manufacture in large quantities, and it is extremely accurate. It is easy to take out one building without any damage to adjoining structures.
The world’s most advanced air forces can achieve similar results with bombs dropped by fixed-wing aircraft, but these require specialized, expensive to build and operate fuel-gulping aircraft, highly trained crews, airport facilities or aircraft carriers, and complex command and control facilities. It really makes little economic sense to engage in this kind of warfare against guerrillas and rebels, especially when even a highly successful attack will cause much less damage to the enemy than the cost-per-sortie required to deliver it on target. And to duplicate the pin-point accuracy of the barrel bomb, you need highly specialized and advanced munitions, drones, smart bombs, GPS-guided glide bombs, and other high-tech devices that often are dropped with extreme accuracy on the wrong targets, or even on friendly forces!
The major nations of the world glibly pontificate about their “surgical strikes”, “precision weaponry”, “guided munitions” and other marketing rhetoric but the fact remains, in the fog and confusion of war, lobbing expensive computerized projectiles at your third-world enemy makes no sense, military or otherwise. Innocent people will die, and more often than not the bad guys will get away or move into the rubble and hide. It simply makes no sense to launch a million dollar missile from a 50 million dollar jet to take out an artillery spotter or a sniper on a rooftop.
Once you make the decision to use air support in urban warfare, the barrel bomb is probably just as humane as the laser-guided missile, and on a dollar per dollar basis, a lot more cost-effective in the long run.
So why are we constantly bombarded with the cruel inhumanity of the barrel bomb and reminded continuously on how selective and precise our own weapons are?
If you want to take out a wedding, or a hospital, or a mosque, either will do the job just as easily.