Marching toward the 21st Century: Military Manpower and Recruiting

By Mark J. Eitelberg; Stephen L. Mehay | Go to book overview

10
Military Technology and Army
Manpower: Do Smart Weapons Require
Smart Soldiers?

Martin Binkin

Advances in technology have had a dramatic influence on all sectors of American society. Through developments in such diverse fields as materials and processing, biomedicine, energy conversion, and especially information and communications, technology has been the linchpin of contemporary U.S. commercial and industrial activity and has enabled the nation to maintain its preeminent position as a world military power. Indeed, many of the dramatic advances in military weapons development over the last four decades have been forerunners of U.S. commercial and industrial applications, at times serving to accelerate the overall pace of technological substitution.

Despite these significant advances, however, their implications for the nature of work in general and, more specifically, for the skill requirements of affected occupations remain a subject of debate. The relationship between technology and work, which has been a subject of debate since the Industrial Revolution, has been a subject of increased attention, especially with the growing interest in the global economy. In recent years, too, the armed forces have devoted considerable resources to the prediction of the skill impacts of new technologies; and while some progress is evident, important questions regarding the desirable attributes of jobholders in a high-tech environment remain unresolved, with obvious ramifications for military manpower policy makers responsible for establishing recruitment standards and for devising training curricula.

At the heart of the debate is the issue of whether changes in technology foster a need for a broader or a narrower variety of skills or for a higher or a lower average skill. Many high-tech enthusiasts have pledged that the introduction of "smart" systems would lead to the efficient substitution of capital for labor, enabling a given task to be performed with fewer and less-skilled workers. The historical evidence, however, indicates a variety of chronic problems with the reliability and maintainability of new weapon systems and suggests that the armed forces have allowed the sophistication of many of these systems to outstrip the capabilities of their personnel.

If the nation is to realize a full return on its substantial investment in military technology, a better match between humans and machines will have to be

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