🔷 Cost Imposing

Today is Cinco De Mayo; the perfect reason to enjoy some Sunday margaritas!

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Credit: U.S. Air Force

Cost Imposition

On 13 April 2024, Iran launched a multi-axis attack against Israel using approximately 300 weapons—110 ballistic missiles, 30 cruise missiles, and over 150 kamikaze drones. It was one of (if not the) largest unmanned aerial attacks in history, but almost none of them hit their target.

Roughly half crashed due to technical issues, and of the 170 that remained, 99% were shot down—never to reach their target.

The Pentagon’s well-coordinated multinational regionwide effort to defend Israel worked, including the first combat use of SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors and a herculean effort by Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles that downed 70 drones.

It was effective, but the problem is it’s not replicable. The issue is partly capability and partly capacity, but the real problem is the strategy—cost imposition.


As a rule of thumb, defensive weapons are roughly twice as expensive as offensive ones. This is because they are often much more complex, a result of the significant technical demands of air and missile defense interceptors.

But that 2:1 is just missile vs. missile. The cost ratio of Iran’s attack is likely closer to 10:1…in favor of Iran. Considering all the other factors that enabled those allied missiles to be in the air—development, operations, logistics, sustainment, and the manpower to do it all—it’s easily 100:1.

The proliferation of low-cost, expendable drones makes this even worse.

In the Red Sea, military ships are forced to use high-end weapons because they are not defending themselves—they’re providing wide area defense for unarmed merchant ships. The result: $2m SM-2 missiles intercepting $2,000 Houthi drones. To this point, the Navy has expended $1 Billion in munitions countering attacks in the Middle East in the past six months. But it’s even worse when you consider this 100:1 cost exchange is before factoring in the costs associated with the ships shooting the missiles. Ouch.

Good news: Right now, the Pentagon currently has a cost-focused counter-drone team looking at this problem.

Cost Imposition

Whether deliberate or by circumstance, the US has been caught off guard by a cost-imposing strategy.

This type of strategy thoughtfully applies select technologies in ways that compel adversaries to allocate disproportionate resources to counter.

Cost imposition is not only painful in the sense of cost exchange; it’s scalable pain, too. Dialing up the effect of a cost-imposing strategy results in massive second and third-order impacts: magazine depth planning, logistics, and all the coordination to re-arm ground launchers, jets, and ships (which have to port to reload).

As the US military looks to reoptimize for great power competition, cost-imposing strategies are one of the most beneficial elements of the competitive spectrum.

credit: U.S. Air Force / K.P. Ekman

What Now

In the air defense realm, the US is on the wrong end of the equation because it’s using equipment to counter a threat that was not considered when it was developed.

Uncrewed systems are already saturating the battlefield, and the US needs to quickly rethink its force structure to flip the cost imposition. Iran’s attack, as big as it was, is nothing compared to what China can do.

That said, cost-imposing strategies are not a magic wand to wave at all military challenges or circumstances, but they should be part of any deliberate strategy assessment. As a byproduct, this also makes it easier to see when and where adversaries are attempting to apply a cost-imposing strategy on you.

It’s more complicated than factoring cost-per-shot—it requires cost-per-effect ops analysis (a nascent area with growing interest).

In an era of heightened global tensions and global competition, adopting military cost-imposing strategies is not just wise—it's essential.

In That Number


The Air Force revealed that it plans to field 100 Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) by 2029 as Increment 1 of the 1,000+ AI drone program


Today is Cinco De Mayo, a holiday celebrated in parts of Mexico and the US that honors the Battle of Puebla, a military victory that occurred near Mexico City in 1862. Who did the Mexicans fight?

A) English
B) French
C) Indians
D) Spanish

On the Radar

The Marine Corps established a “Fusion Center” to focus on transitioning things already developed from R&D programs, specifically reviving tech developed by the service’s Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) that has gone by the wayside. Its initial focus will be on counter-drone tech following the extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicles.

  • The Merge’s Take: YES! Finally, an office is NOT focused on spending R&D money to prototype things. Instead, it focuses on the real problem plaguing the Pentagon: the ‘valley of death’ between development and full-scale production. There are enough defense tech development initiatives and plenty of science projects on the shelf collecting dust—nice to see the Marine Corps acknowledging it and doing something about it.  


The Marine Corps is on track to field its new Medium Range Intercept Capability (MRIC) next year. MRIC is an Iron Dome-derived air defense system built via a partnership between RTX and Rafael. On the heels of that, 2 other systems are set to field, too—the mobile short-range MADIS and L-MADIS.

  • The Merge’s Take: This is all being done with a sense of urgency—the Marine Corps plans to triple the size of its air defense forces by 2029.


The US is buying $1.6B in Ukrainian-made weapons for Ukraine to fight Russia. This was part of the recently approved $61B aid package ($14B went to buy new weapons). This results from Ukraine’s international fundraising campaign to raise $10B from abroad to procure Ukraine-made weapons.

  • The Merge’s Take: Battlefield innovation has supercharged Ukraine’s defense tech, and if Ukraine succeeds in its “buy Ukraine” effort, it will be rocket fuel for their industry. Want to know more? Stay tuned…we have an upcoming podcast episode on this.


The Defense Innovation Unit transitioned 10 projects from commercial prototypes to military capabilities in fiscal 2023, down from 17 the prior year. The number is down, but the value of those transitions went up—the largest being a $350m small drone submarine program.

  • The Merge’s Take: The process takes time from flash to bang, so don’t read too much into it. That said, expect big things down the road since Congress recently appropriated $983m to DIU to do more—a 400+% budget bump.

They Said It
"It's a security risk not to have it. At this point, we have to have it."

— Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, speaking about autonomy in aircraft, after landing from seeing it first-hand. He just flew in the front seat of the X-62 (test F-16) during an AI pilot vs. human pilot dogfight.

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B. French, English, and Spanish troops invaded the country in 1861, but by April 1862, only the French remained. On May 5th, 1862, a poorly equipped force repelled a French attack, killing 1,000 troops. The war lasted another 5 years, but the battle became a symbol of resistance.