Academic journal article Military Review

The Fog and Friction of Technology

Academic journal article Military Review

The Fog and Friction of Technology

Article excerpt

Blessed be those happy ages, that were stranger to the dreadful fury of those devilish instruments of artillery, whose inventor I am satisfied, is now in hell, receiving the reward of his cursed invention.

-Don Quixote, Cervantes

Merely because technology plays a very important part in war, it does not follow that it alone can dictate the conduct of a war or lead to victory.

-Martin van Creveld

APPLICATION of modern technology by by armed forces is supposed to reduce manpower requirements, provide transparency to the battlefield, and lessen risk and casualties to the force wielding the higher technology. In some past instances, technology actually has done just that--but usually atla price and to a comparatively limited advantage. Often its exact impact on military art has been badly misjudged. Magazine rifles, mamachine-guns, quick-firing artillery, smokeless powder and railway mobilization were supposed to give the offense a decisive advantage and lead to short, decisive wars. In fact, they promoted stalemate and attrition and deadlocked industrial war in Europe-World War I.1

Today, faced with a period of rapid technological growth, armed forces are trying to stay abreast of technology by incorporating that which is pertinent and then applying it to the current revolution in military affairs.2 The siren song of technology is that it will eliminate the fog and fiction of war. The reality is that the military's application of technology has usually created its own fog and friction. Advances in technology expand the battlefield, transform the relationship between time and space and create new demands on command and control.3 With the pace of scientific and technological innovation constantly accelerating, military institutions face a perpetual challenge of change, and the very nature of that challenge becomes more problematic as weapon systems become more complex.

Armed forces are conservative institutions, often slow to change. Sometimes the military's slowpaced change is justified since many technological advances are developed and realized over generations, not overnight. At other times, the military's reluctance to change is similar to that same reluctance found in any organization or traditional profession. Technology is tempting, but it is outside the formative experience of the senior members of the profession.4 Often budgets are tight, and generals and politicians are sometimes reluctant to invest in new, unproven technology at the expense of the tried and true. Sometimes new technology is inconvenient because it gets in the way of how things are done. Often technology is developed for one use or theater but has greater impact in another.

Maximum combat effectiveness is not the only driving force behind new technology. Transportation technology is often the determining factor. The US Army's first major combat in World War II was in North Africa-a theater in which it had not planned to fight. In 1940, the US Army found itself mobilizing to confront the German armored and airborne forces that the Wehrmacht had used so effectively in the Battle of France. The ideal US Army force structure developed after World War I was the square division. The Army leadership had trained and maneuvered with the square division, but it was too big and cumbersome to ship overseas on existing naval transport. Therefore, General Lesley J. McNair reconstituted the division as a lighter triangular division so that it could be more readily deployed on naval transport. The US Army stormed ashore in North Africa using this new force structure.5

Technology transportation issues continued throughout World War It. The US M4 Sherman tank was no technological match for German armor, but this was not because the United States could not design and build a better tank. It was because the Sherman tank fit easily into Liberty ships, and a major change in design would have meant severely reduced production while factories retooled for the new model. …

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