The Role and Limitations of Technology in U.S. Counterinsurgency Warfare

The Role and Limitations of Technology in U.S. Counterinsurgency Warfare

The Role and Limitations of Technology in U.S. Counterinsurgency Warfare

The Role and Limitations of Technology in U.S. Counterinsurgency Warfare


Although the United States plays a leading role in the development of technology, particularly that used by militaries around the world, the U.S. military nonetheless continues to find itself struggling against lower-tech foes that conduct warfare on a different scale. Emerging technology is indeed available and is regularly employed in American counterinsurgency efforts; however, since it is also constantly in flux, strategies for its use must continually evolve to ensure that available resources are put to best use against disparate enemies.

Counterinsurgency operations are inherently political conflicts, and in The Role and Limitations of Technology in U.S. Counterinsurgency Warfare, Richard W. Rubright addresses the limits and constraints of technology in enhancing American military capability. Analyzing the confines and self-imposed restrictions on the use of technology as well as current military doctrine, he develops a new rubric for guiding the military in modern warfare.

Drawing on textual analysis, personal interviews with international military professionals, and firsthand experience on the ground in Iraq, this book is the first to address the role of technology in counterinsurgency operations within operational, tactical, and strategic contexts.


This work started to form in my mind during the 1990s when I was first exposed to the fervor in military circles of the coming revolution in military affairs. As an avid technophile I was awestruck by the potential of technology to profoundly change military capability. Unfortunately, at that time I had not yet studied strategy. Yet as a soldier in U.S Army Special Forces, I was acutely aware that war had a human dimension beyond the realm of photogenic widgets of military hardware.

As the years progressed and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq became the national focus, I started to notice a disconnect in the U.S. military’s conception of technology and its applicability in counterinsurgency strategy. Those parts of the military that did not understand strategy, much less counterinsurgency strategy, were still strident in their belief that technology would prove decisive. I was not alone in this appraisal, and soon a backlash about technology occurred. Yet rather than developing a coherent middle ground of blending technology and strategy, rival camps emerged.

This book started as a doctoral dissertation to address the gap in understanding technology and strategy within counterinsurgency warfare not only in the present but the future as well. I endeavor to make sense of technology and counterinsurgency through a strategic lens; however, to do so I also have to accept the changing nature of technological advancement and how its exponential rate of change is nonlinear. I have found the work as challenging as it has been rewarding.

The book is not meant to be a prescriptive step-by-step guide on how technology is applied to counterinsurgency. Instead the reader should find a metanarrative that facilitates thinking about the application of technology to counterinsurgency warfare. Although how the United States conducts counterinsurgency will change, with commensurate changes in technology, this book should not be limited by time. It should stay applicable as long as people remain the center of gravity in counterinsurgency warfare.

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