Puts RMA In Its Place, Smartly–Essential Reading,
October 11, 2000
Michael E. O’Hanlon
Graciously, and with wicked clarity, the author knocks the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs flat on its back, and then helps it to one knee. His introductory review of the RMA schools of thought (system of systems, dominant battlespace knowledge, global reach, and vulnerability or anti-access or asymmetric), with appropriate notes, is helpful to any adult student. The heart of his book can be distilled down to one chart showing the expected rates of advance in the various technical domains relevant to military operations. Of 29 distinct technical groups across sensors, computers and communications; projectiles, propulsion, and platforms; and other weapons, he finds only two technology areas-computer hardware and computer software-capable of revolutionary change in the foreseeable future. Eight others-chemical sensors, biological sensors, radio communications, laser communications, radio-frequency weapons, nonlethal weapons, and biological weapons-are judged capable of high but not revolutionary advances. All other technical areas, namely those associated with mobility platforms and weaponry itself, are unlikely to develop at anything above a moderate pace. In the course of his discussion of each of these he brings forth the basics of physics and real-world constraints and points out that even the best of our sensors are frustrated by heavy rain and other man-made countermeasures. He correctly evaluates the inability of our existing and planned Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) to keep up with targeting needs, particularly in urban and heavy canopy terrain. He also notes in passing that human intelligence may well prove to be the sustaining element in finding individual people, and that there has been no significant change since World War II in the numbers of troops needed per 1,000 inhabitants-infantry is still the core force. He systematically dismisses a variety of RMA claims, among the most dangerous being that we can afford to stand down many of our forward bases, by pointing out that combat aircraft continue to have short ranges, ground forces continue to require heavy logistics sustainment, ships remain slow to cross oceans, and it continues to be extremely difficult to seize ports and other fixed infrastructure. He concludes the book with a number of budgeting recommendations, both for the USA and for its allies. For the USA he would emphasize communications and computing, the one area truly open to an RMA in the near term. Other areas meriting immediate investments include strategic sea and air lift, the rapid development of a lighter tank and a mine-resistant infantry vehicle, and improvements in naval mine warfare. He supports the National Missile Defense and would sustain more robust RDT&E experimentation. For a major US ally, with a fraction of our funding, he recommends a $15 billion total investment over several years to acquire a thoughtful mix of advanced C4I enhancements including ground stations, a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), 1000 cruise missiles, 5000 short-range munitions, 500 advanced air to air missiles, a squadron of stealth aircraft, and several batteries of theater missile defense radars and missiles. A very nice listing of major Pentagon acquisition programs supports his recommendation that we economize on major weapons platforms and pursue a high-low mixed strategy, limiting, for example, our procurement of the F-22 and joint strike fighters so as to afford more F-15s and F-16s. Overall this book fulfills its mission of reviewing technologies in relation to the future of warfare, and it provides the reader with a very strong stepping stone for venturing into the literature of defense transformation. Those who would criticize this work for failing to consider the competition or the metrics of evaluation have a point, but only a point-the book does what it set out to do. It evaluates specific technologies in relation to the inflated and often delusional claims of the proponents of the RMA. One book cannot solve all our problems, but it can, as this book does, blow away some of the foggy thinking emanating from the Pentagon and other places where a number of flag officers and their staffs have lost sight of ground truth.