The Paradox of Military Technology
This essay is adapted from War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of Modern History, 1500 to Today by Max Boot.
hile various setbacks in the war on terror underscore the limits of American power, it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture: we live in the age of American supremacy. Part of the explanation for U.S. dominance surely lies in Americaâ€™s economic strength. But Europe and Japan are similarly wealthy, yet their global sway lags far behind. What they lack is Americaâ€™s superior military capabilities. In the words of Gregg Easterbrook: â€śThe American military is now the strongest the world has ever known, both in absolute terms and relative to other nations; stronger than the Wehrmacht in 1940, stronger than the legions at the height of Roman power.â€ť Although the dominance of U.S. forces can still be challenged when they come into close contact with the enemy on his home turf, they are undisputed masters of the â€ścommonsâ€ť (sea, air, and space), which allows them to project power anywhere in the world at short notice.
Information technology is central to American military dominance. Not all of the changes wrought by the information age are obvious at first glance, because the basic military systems of the early twenty-first century look roughly similar to their predecessors of the second industrial ageâ€”tanks, planes, aircraft carriers, missiles. Military analyst Michael Oâ€™Hanlon notes that â€śbasic propulsion systems and designs for aircraft, ships, and internal-combustion vehicles are changing much more gradually than in the early twentieth-century, when two of those three technologies had only recently been invented.â€ť The average speed of a U.S. Navy destroyer has not increased in the past 100 years. The U.S. Air Force continues to rely on B-52H bombers last built in 1962. And the Marine Corps still uses helicopters that flew in the Vietnam War. But since the mid-1970s, the communications, targeting, surveillance, and ordnance technologies that make such â€ślegacyâ€ť systems considerably more potent have been changing with great rapidityâ€”and to Americaâ€™s great advantage.
Yet in this period of American hegemony, Americans continue to feel vulnerable. As we learned on September 11, and continue learning on the battlefields of Iraq, the most advanced weapons systems and most sophisticated information technology are hardly a perfect shield against other kinds of destructive power. The paradox of our age is that modern technology is both the great separator and the great equalizer in military affairs: Technological supremacy separates America from the rest of the world, and yet modern technology leaves America vulnerable to vicious groups and gangs armed with AK47s, car bombs, or portable WMDs. To understand the future of warfare, we need to understand both sides of this paradox: specifically, how information technology has increased Americaâ€™s conventional military supremacy (in land, sea, air, and space), and how this military edge may be subverted by determined radicals armed with new technologies of death.
More at: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/archive/14/boot.htm