Technology in military strategy: A realistic assessment

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<ul><li><p>TrcbnologvInS~~icly. Vol. S,pp. 139-1&gt;3(1983) Ptintcd in the USA. All tights tcsctvcd. </p><p>0160-791X/83 $3.00 + .oo Copyttght o 1983 Pergamon Press Ltd </p><p>Technology in Military Strategy A Realistic Assessment </p><p>Ralph Sanders </p><p>ABSTRACT. Today the Military Refotm Movement strongly criticizes the United States military for being mesmerized by technology to the detniment of other- including human -factors. Only in this century have writers given great attention to war technologies. In contrast to strategic thinkers like Sun- Tsv, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Molthe, and Maban, post- World War I theorists like Fuller, Liddell Hart, Doubet, and Mitchell made tecb- nology a key to their strategic concepts. Nuclear war theorists like Brodie, Kahn, and Woblstetter made technology a centrality, wbiie limited war tbeotirts like Osgood and Ktisinger gave it considerable, but less, stress. The reformers place more weight on the art of using militav forces than on weapons, emphasizing mobility and historica/ lessons, ratber than technology. Nuclear war theories rely too heavily on technological dimensions to expect a shift. Somewhat more attention cou/dpro$tably be paid to nontecbnologicai aspects of conventional war, but any violent pendulum swing should be avoided. </p><p>Nowhere does the interaction between social forces and technology have greater relevance for humankind than in defense matters. Whatever one thinks about the moral or practical utility of war, because of its abiding or threatened use around the world, we should pay close attention to developments in the relationship between technology and the concepts of war. Therefore, we should examine carefully the significance of a growing number of critics who are challenging the importance that the US armed forces ascribe to the use of technology in war. </p><p>Some commentators cautiously warn against relying too heavily on hardware, but strident critics, ,sometimes belonging to the self-proclaimed Military Reform Movement, loudly lambast what they consider to be a dangerous tendency by US defense leaders to overemphasize the benefits of technology. Members of this movement are systems analysts, lawyers, journalists, scholars, congressmen and their aides, and retired military officers. Activists seek to alter US military strategy, planning, tactics, weapons acquisition, and the very types of forces that the United States fashions and deploys. Reformers have established an effective network for furthering their views among important decision-makers in Washington. They have proved especially adept at convincing influential congressmen and reporters </p><p>Ralph Sanders ri present/y J. Car/ton Ward Jr., Dirtingutihed Professor at #be National Defense University, Indushia/ College of the Armed Fotzes. He has a/so serued at the White House andon the s@of the Secretary of Defense. Hti mny pubhations include International Dynamics of Technology, Science and Technology, and The Politics of Defense Analysis. </p><p>139 </p></li><li><p>140 Rdh Sanders </p><p>that, if the military establishment does not accept their suggestions, this country might very well undermine deterrence or lose a future war. </p><p>If the Department of Defense accepts their proposals, over time this nation would field armed forces that would look quite different from those existing today. Members of the Military Reform Movement do not agree on all points. Yet, in ag- gregate, they tend to convey an overall image of US military forces allowing tech- nology to dominate strategic thinking and choosing the wrong war technologies. </p><p>This discussion does not address the latter criticism, namely that US military forces need smaller, cheaper, simpler, and more easily maintained weapons. Nor does it examine the thorny question of quality versus quantity of weapons that so often accompanies debates in which reformers participate. On the following pages appears a brief summary of this issue. Rather, this analysis focuses on the argu- ments of some reformers that defense decision-makers should de-emphasize the role of technologies in their military strategies and operational concepts in favor of other - including human - elements. In short, it is concerned with the weight given technology in general and not the specific technologies that military forces choose. The reformers fierce onslaught, designed to shift the kind of strategic thinking commonplace since the end of World War II, is viewed chiefly in terms of technology in its generic sense. The questions that reformers have raised in this context deserve careful thought by students and practitioners of the military art. </p><p>Nuclear Versus Conventional War </p><p>Any sensible answer to the question of technological emphasis must first distinguish between its applicability to general nuclear war in contrast to conventional war. In regard to general nuclear war strategies, we must take into account two facts. First, although concentrating on technology, by no means did even nuclear war strategic thinkers abandon other factors. Above all, they produced a fascinating combina- tion of technology and psychology. </p><p>Over the years the giants of military strategic thinking have treated technology with increasing emphasis. 3 Figure 1 summarizes trends of warfare theorists in terms of general concepts as well as of attitudes toward technology. </p><p>ClassicaL Theorists </p><p>One might suppose that commentators on military strategy have always given ex- plicit thought to the role of technology in war, but such is not the case. Although not ignoring technology, strategic thinkers like Sun-Tsu, Machiavelli, Frederick the Great, Clausewitz, Jomini, Moltke, and Mahan gave it scant attention. They took technology for granted, often assuming its importance, but failing to address this aspect of war either extensively or systematically. They generally made passing ref- erences to existing armaments and almost none to the task of designing, develop- ing and acquiring military hardware. These early strategic thinkers failed to antici- pate the growing importance of war technologies. </p><p>The often-quoted Sun-Tsu enumerated five fundamental factors about war which the state should study thoroughly: moral influence, weather, terrain, com- </p></li><li><p>SCHOOL STRATEGIC THINKERS GENERAL CONCEPTS ATTITUDE TOWARD TECHNOLOGY </p><p>Classical Theorists </p><p>Sun Tsu: Machiavelli; Clausewitz; Jomini; Moltke: Mahan </p><p>War Fighting Purposes and Nature of War: Need and Use Military Forces; Command: Morale; Leaderahip </p><p>Took Technology for Granted: Little Explicit Articulation </p><p>Early Fuller: Liddell Hart: War Fighting Focus on Importance of Internal Technology Douhet; Mitchell Primacy of Mobility and Combustion Engine Vehicles </p><p>Advocates Manuever: High Attrttlon: Avoid Defensive Stalemate </p><p>Nuclear War Theorists </p><p>Kahn: Brodle; Wohlstetter: Schelling. Kaufman; DOD Posture Statements </p><p>Deterrence: Assured Destruction; Selected Nuclear Options; Balance of Nuclear Forces: Psychological Factors </p><p>Vary Heavy Focus on War Technologies: Capabilities Lmutationa of Technologies; Evolving Technological Comparisons </p><p>Limlted War Theorists </p><p>Osgood; Kissinger, Collins: Digby; DO0 Posture Statements NATO MC1413 </p><p>Deterrence and War Fighting Flexible Response: Balance of Conventional Forces; Tactical Nuclear Versus Conventional War </p><p>Less Intense. But Still Substanbal Focus on Technology: Technological Superiority to Compensate for Ouantitative lnferlority </p><p>Reformers Boyd: Luttwak: Canby. Lind </p><p>War Fighting Agility, Mobility and Maneuver I the Use of Mihtary Forces: Stress Historical Lessons </p><p>More Stress on Use of Military Forces than Weapons on the Battlefield; Criticism of Large Technologies Offeron! Maximum Attrition </p><p>FIGURE 1. </p><p>mand, and doctrine.4 Notice that he made no mention of technology and weapons. To him, these aspects of war did not merit deliberate or intense thought. </p><p>In book Two of The Art of War Machiavelli discusses arms and armor for about three pages, but devotes the remainder of his work to the political aspects of war, military organization, and tactics. He was more interested in the spirit of combat than in its technical character. He has been criticized for failing to grasp the signifi- cance of the newly emerging artillery.6 Frederick the Great also concentrated on military organization and tactics. Although he saw the value of artillery, he did not explore its importance in depth, considering it inferior to infantry or cavalry. In his classic work On IV&amp;, Clausewitz talked at length about the nature and theory of war, about strategy and how to engage an enemy, about the importance of the bat- tle, about uncertainties in military operations, about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the defense and offense, and about planning for war. He discusses marches, lines of communication, operating against the flanks, and boldness in combat. He makes little mention of the wherewithal needed to fight. In his discus- sion of crossing rivers, for instance, he never once identified the means to carry out his prescriptions. </p><p>Jomini touched on the technology of war by briefly examining the role of logis- tics, and he cast doubt on the value of the balloon for reconnaissance purposes. He reserved, however, most of his commentary for supporting his conclusion that the art of war consists of choosing effective lines of operations in order to hurl maxi- mum forces against an enemy at a decisive point . During the Civil War in America a number of technologies were pressed into military service, including railroads, ironclads, telegraph, and mass/standardized production, but American military writers generally did not spin strategies around them. Perhaps more than others Moltke saw the promise of new technologies, recognizing the potential of railways </p></li><li><p>for improving Germanys interior lines of communication and the influence of ac- curate, rapid-fire small arms on the battlefield. Moltke, however, did not dwell on the types and uses of war technologies.g </p><p>Here and there Mahan noted differences and similarities between sail and steam, but most of his inferences are from major naval battles. In citing the conditions that affect seapower, Mahan included geographical position, physical conforma- tion, extent of territory, size of population, character of the people, and the nature of the government, but he never mentioned technological competence. O </p><p>One should not conclude that during this period no strategic thinkers looked at the interaction of technology and military strategy. Vauban, the famed influential military engineer of Louis XIV, successfully developed, used, and wrote about siegecraft and the defense of the fortress. Aware of the rise of mass armies and their devastating firepower in the latter decades of the 19th century, Schlieffen was acutely interested in the progress of modern technology. He surfaced innovative ideas about railways and army railway engineers, mobile heavy artillery, and an air corps. l2 Yet most strategic thinkers largely ignored military technology. An intrigu- ing question is why?. </p><p>Only approximate explanations for this neglect seem to be available. First, throughout most of history, technologies of war advanced rather slowly and hence did not upset the continuity of ideas about ways of fighting. Second, neither armies nor navies undertook large-scale research and development. Here and there one could find arsenals or laboratories, but few concentrated, systematized efforts. Third, strategists generally considered logistics and weapons development as less important than strategy, tactics, organizations, and operations. In large part, they exhibited a medieval, aristocratic attitude: technology represented dirty work done by lower classes and hence not worthy of mention. Even today armed forces sometimes consider weapons acquisition as something less critical, demanding, and prestigious than fashioning strategy or leading troops in combat. Fourth, armed forces experienced cultural lag. Armies esteemed the cavalry long after military technologies made horses obsolete. Only with the dramatic technological advances of the latter half of the 19th century did military strategists begin to come to grips with the new situation, and then only slowly. </p><p>Earfy Apostles of Technology </p><p>In the present century writers on military affairs have increasingly come to consider the relationship of technology to strategy. No longer do weapons, mechanized transport, and communications receive nominal notice. In World War I the major belligerents organized their research and development establishments with varying degrees of success to aid in the war effort. In the 1920~ four major strategy-makers heralded the shift toward greater consideration of technological factors- Major General J.F.C. Fuller, Captain B.H. Liddell Hart, Guilio Douhet, and William Billy Mitchell. All four looked to the internal combustion engine to revolutionize warfare. General Fuller fervently and skillfully preached the value of mechanized ground warfare in the face of highly resistant fellow British army officers and gov- ernment leaders. l3 </p></li><li><p>Technology in Military Stmtegy 143 </p><p>Fuller later converted Liddell Hart, a leading British writer, to his crusade. Lid- dell Hart wrote that the static warfare of World War I was an abomination. He stressed that the key to military operations lay in mobility, arguing that the armies of his day had become, contrary to Napoleons maxim, mass without velocity. I4 Both Fuller and Liddell Hart looked to the cross-country vehicle, especially to the tank, to become the new way of warfare. By exploiting surprise and demoraliza- tion, these technologies would achieve strategic paralysis of the enemy command. Neither writer consciously embraced technology for its own sake. Yet, in their ef- forts to convince armies to avoid the bloody stalemate of World War I trench war- fare, in effect they preached a solution with heavy technological overtones. </p><p>What Fuller and Liddell Hart did for ground warfare, Douhet and Mitchell did for air warfare. I6 They provided both a vision and a strategic concept. Douhet ex- plained the technological concept of strategy, remarking that, The form of war- fare - and it is the form which is of chief interest to military men - depends upon the technical means available. He postulated that aircraft would prove an invin- cible offensive military technology against which no defense was possible. Aircraft could shatter morale through bombarding population centers. He prophetically saw that military leaders someday would give the destruction of an enemys indus- trial might a very high priority. </p><p>While Douhet proved a dispassionate advocate, Mitchell, a zealot, threw both his intellect and his emotions into the fray. His crusade became so controversial that he not only alienated senior admirals and generals, but finally caused Presi- dent Calvin Coolidge to call him a disturbing liar. He rebelled against what he considered ultraconservative, benighted Army leadership, a struggle...</p></li></ul>

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