First, the study of this topic helps us think about future war and expose flaws in unrealistic silver-bullet solutions to complex problems. In the 1990s, proponents of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), Military Transformation, and a New American Way of War argued that technology would lift the fog of war. Near-certainty in war, combined with precision strike capabilities would make wars fast, cheap, efficient, and decisive. Lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed flaws in concepts like Dominant Battlespace Knowledge, Rapid Decisive Operations and Shock and Awe. These concepts neglected the interaction with enemies and adversaries who adopted traditional counter-measures like dispersion, concealment, and decentralized command and control[ii], still requiring us to fight in close combat with our enemies for periods that might outlast popular perceptions. And future enemies and adversaries will observe US combat developments carefully and develop both tactical and technological countermeasures. It is this interaction with enemies in wartime and adversaries between wars that ensures that no one capability or one service or one arm is decisive. The machine gun led to the tank. The tank led to the antitank missile. The bomber led to the radar. The submarine led to the sonar.
Second, understanding the role technology plays in the conduct of war allows us to anticipate opportunities and challenges that present themselves both in battle and during periods of peace. Think about the opportunities and challenges associated with current technologies like Discussion Forums. It can connect families during deployment, offer opportunities for collaboration and discussion, and mobilize popular support for armed forces, but it can also catalyze protests in days that popular movements once took months or years to build.[iii] Blogs, tweets, pictures and videos, have had strategic and tactical consequences. Discussion Forums, and other developing technologies, follow in the footsteps of earlier technologies like the telegraph, the steam engine, and the rifle; they had immediate impact on the conduct of war, and were combat multipliers for those militaries who understood their capabilities and limitations, and incorporated them into their combined arms teams.
"By the 20th century, military organizations confronted the problem of not only adapting to technological changes in peacetime…but also to the fact that war itself has inevitably turned up the speed of technological change."[i]
Technology influences the conduct of war. Since the Industrial Revolution, technological advances have greatly increased the lethality and complexity of the battlefield, shaping and reshaping all levels of war from tactics (repeating rifles) to strategy (nuclear weapons). For example, today, with the diffusion of advanced technologies, non-state actors have the ability to fight using weapons that were once only available to nation states. These capabilities include advanced anti-tank weapon systems, air defense systems, long range rockets and missiles, and armed unmanned aerial vehicles. In recent years, advances in communications and information technologies combined with new surveillance and targeting systems and very capable unmanned aerial vehicles have allowed us to remove key insurgent leaders from the battlefield with minimum collateral damage. But technology is only one of several aspects of developing future force capabilities; and it is potentially critical that technological changes are integrated into new doctrine and organization changes to ensure effective application to fight and win.
The Army develops future force capabilities through the process of combat developments. Combat development should be based on the Army's vision of future which is informed by the analysis of current threat capabilities and trends, strategic policy, and military budgets. It determines doctrine (How we will fight), organization (How we are organized to fight), training (How we train to fight), and material (What we fight with).
First, read The Evolution of U.S. Army Tactical Doctrine to gain an understanding of the role technology plays in the development of our doctrine. Second, read Chapter 3 (Force Design and Weapons Development) of Victory Starts Here to see how the Army has transformed since the 1980s and incorporated technological changes into force structure and weapon development. Then,select a book or article to see further examples of how changes in technology directly affected the conduct of war. Pay special attention to the armies that were able to capitalize on these changes, and those that were slow to adopt them. Finally, examine the combat developments that arose from false assumptions and resulted in failure or lost lives on the battlefield.
To understand what capabilities we should develop to ensure the combat effectiveness of the future force, it is important that maneuver leaders consider the problems we are trying to solve. The following are the first order questions the Maneuver Center uses to guide combat development efforts and integrate solutions across doctrine, organization, training, material (technological) solutions, leader development, personnel policies, and facility (infrastructure) improvements.
[i] Military Adaptation in War with Fear of Change by Williamson Murray
[ii] Hard Fighting by David Johnson
[iii] Capstone for JOINT FORCE 2020