Review: The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Change & Innovation, Information Operations, Information Technology, Military & Pentagon Power

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5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of Asymmetric Advantage is NOT Technology,

October 28, 2001
MacGregor Knox
This is the only serious book I have been able to find that addresses revolutions in military affairs with useful case studies, a specific focus on whether asymmetric advantages do or do not result, and a very satisfactory executive conclusion. This book is strongly recommended for both military professionals, and the executive and congressional authorities who persist in sharing the fiction that technology is of itself an asymmetric advantage.

It merits emphasis that the author’s first conclusion, spanning a diversity of case studies, is that technology may be a catalyst but it rarely drives a revolution in military affairs–concepts are revolutionary, it is ideas that break out of the box.
Their second conclusion is both counter-intuitive (but based on case studies) and in perfect alignment with Peter Drucker’s conclusions on successful entrepreneurship: the best revolutions are incremental (evolutionary) and based on solutions to actual opponents and actual conditions, rather than hypothetical and delusional scenarios of what we think the future will bring us. In this the authors mesh well with Andrew Gordon’s masterpiece on the rules of the game and Jutland: we may be best drawing down on our investments in peacetime, emphasizing the education of our future warfighters, and then be prepared for massive rapid agile investments in scaling up experimental initiatives as they prove successful in actual battle.
The book is noteworthy for its assault on fictional scenarios and its emphasis on realism in planning–especially valuable is the authors’ staunch insistence that only honesty, open discussion among all ranks, and the wide dissemination of lessons learned, will lead to improvements.
Finally, the authors are in whole-hearted agreement with Colin Gray, author of Modern Strategy, in stating out-right that revolutions in military affairs are not a substitute for strategy as so often assumed by utopian planners, but merely an operational or tactical means.
This is a brilliant, carefully documented work that should scare the daylights out of every taxpayer–it is nothing short of an indictment of our entire current approach to military spending and organization. As the author’s quaintly note in their understated way, in the last paragraph of the book, “the present trend is far from promising, as the American government and armed forces procure enormous arsenals only distantly related to specific strategic needs and operational and tactical employment concepts, while continu[ing], in the immortal words of Kiffin Rockwell, a pilot in the legendary First World War Lafayette Escadrille, to ‘fly along, blissfully ignorant, hoping for the best.'”

Lest the above be greeted with some skepticism, let us note the 26 October 2001 award of $200 billion to Lockheed for the new Joint Strike Fighter calls into serious question whether the leadership in the Pentagon understands the real world–the real world conflicts of today–all 282 of them (counting 178 internal conflicts) will require the Joint Strike Fighter only 10% of the time–the other 90% of our challenges demand capabilities and insights the Pentagon is not only not capable of fielding, it simply refuses to consider them to be “real war.” Omar Bin Laden beat the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, and he (and others who follow in his footsteps) will continue to do so until we find a military leadership that can lead a real-world revolution in military affairs…. rather than a continuing fantasy in which the military-industrial complex lives on regardless of how many homeland attacks we suffer.
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