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19th November 2007

It was with great interested that I was reading in the New Yorker about the rise and fall Donald Rumsfeld. This might seem far of the subject but the article talked about the transformation of the US military.

The US military is bound to the superiority of technology and after the cold war it was necessary to examine how warfare should change according to the new world circumstances.

A small recap:

During the Cold War, DARPA launched a project called Assault Breaker. It was aimed at providing a counter to the 20,000 heavy tanks that the WARSAW Pact had stationed at the borders to Western Europe. NATO had only around 7,000 heavy tanks to oppose any attack by the Soviet Union. Assault Breaker was designed to strike far behind enemy lines disrupting and destroying Soviet reinforcements and support for all that hardware.

“Assault Breaker was meant to compress the process of locating a target and launching a strike into a synchronised target-and-fire action taking just minutes. DARPA equipped an Air Force Plane with an advanced radar system and onboard computers that worked out the target coordinates and transmitted them to an army missile base, which fired rockets towards the target area. In a test of Assault Breaker at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, the system hit five out of five targets.”
(The New Yorker, 20 November 2006, page 58.)

The system was never deployed but US intelligence officers started to read in Soviet military literature that Russian analyst were writing with alarm about this new development. The analyst thought that the deployment was imminent and believed that Assault Breaker was the dawn of a new epoch of warfare. This was referred to as “military-technical revolution”.

The Red Army’s Chief of Staff, Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov recognised that such advances by the Americans would provide conventional weapons many of the characteristics of nuclear weapons without the mass destructive effect. In this way technological change and appropriation could bring about sudden changes to the way in which warfare is conducted.

“Implicit in Ogarkov’s insight was the idea that a key breakthrough in technology (for example, microprocessing) could suddenly reconfigure the battlefield – in this case, with accuracy so precise that Ogarkov wrote, conventional warfare took on ‘qualitatively new and incomparably more destructive forms than before.’”
(The New Yorker, 20 November 2006, page 59.)

American analysts, and one in particular; Andrew Marshall the head of the Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon, started to realise that the Russians had got it right. During the 1980s Andrew Marshall designated several people to research historical instances where these sudden reconfigurations changed the structure of warfare. It was soon realised that this was not a singular occurrence but that history was littered with instances where appropriation of technology brought about sudden changes to the way in which warfare was conducted. This can be understood as a singularity in the flow of military technological development.

The most telling example was the Second World War. During the interim between the two world wars the French had build up one of the finest armies in the world. And in order to keep out the Germans the French had build the Maginot Line - an impressive array of bunker complexes and tunnel along the border with Germany. The Germans limited by the Treaty of Versailles still managed to destroy the French army within six weeks.

The innovation was Blitzkrieg - the combination of radio and the internal combustion engine. Both the English and the French used these technologies but the Germans appropriated these technologies into a sudden reconfiguration of warfare. The combination of technologies enabled rapid deployment and movement, which won the battle for the Germans. The appropriation of several technologies is emergence.

The pressures of the environment in which the German army came up with Blitzkrieg can be analysed according to the principles outlined earlier.

Technological components in the environment come under pressures. The dynamics of these pressures does not have to be technological but are non-linear. Once the technological components start to emerge into new structures an evolutionary space might be open for the new structures to unfold into.

In the case of Blitzkrieg the environmental pressures were related to the political, economic and cultural environment in the inter-wars period in Europe. These pressures on the military technological components formed into appropriation of the radio and the internal combustion engine into a coherent technology. The cultural use of the technology in the German military enabled the emergence of Blitzkrieg.


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