Revolution in Military Affairs

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The military concept of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is a theory about the future of warfare, often connected to technological and organizational recommendations for change in the United States military and others.

Especially tied to modern information, communications, and space technology, RMA is often linked to current discussions under the label of Transformation and total systems integration in the U.S. military.

History

The original theorizing was done by the Soviet Armed Forces in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov.1 The United States initially became interested in it through Andrew Marshall, the head of the Office of Net Assessment, a Department of Defense think tank. It slowly gained credence within official military circles, and other nations began exploring similar shifts in organization and technology.

Interest in RMA and the structure of future U.S. armed forces is strong within the China's People's Liberation Army and incorporated to China's strategic military doctrine. Many other militaries have also researched and considered RMA as an organizational concept—e.g., those of Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Republic of China (Taiwan), India, Russia, and Germany—but not all militaries due to the significant infrastructure and investment involved.

Renewed interest

The United States' victory in the 1991 Gulf War renewed interest in RMA theory. American dominance through superior technology emphasized how the United States' technological advances reduced the relative power of the Iraqi military, by no means an insignificant rival, to insignificance.

After the Kosovo War, in which the United States did not lose a single life, others suggested that war had become too sterile, creating a "virtual war". Furthermore, the United States' inability to capture Osama bin Laden or effectively combat the Iraqi insurgency led some to question RMA in the face of asymmetrical warfare, which the United States' foes may increasingly engage in to counter RMA's advantages.

In 1997, the U.S. Army mounted an exercise codenamed "Force 21", to test the application of digital technologies in warfare in order to improve communications and logistics by applying private-sector technologies adapted for military use. Specifically, it sought to increase awareness of one's position on the battlefield as well as the enemy's, in order to achieve increased lethality for enemies, greater control of the tempo of warfare, and fewer instances of friendly fire via improved identification friend or foe.2

Areas of focus

One of the central problems in understanding the current debate over RMA is due to many theorists' use of the term as referring to the revolutionary technology itself, which is the driving force of change. Concurrently, other theorists tend to use the term as referring to revolutionary adaptations by military organisations that may be necessary to deal with the changes in technology. Other theorists place RMA more closely inside the specific political and economic context of globalization and the end of the Cold War.

When reviewing the gamut of theories, three fundamental versions of RMA come to the forefront. The first perspective focuses primarily upon changes in the nation-state and the role of an organised military in using force. This approach highlights the political, social, and economic factors worldwide, which might require a completely different type of military and organisational structure to apply force in the future.

Authors such as the RAND Corporation's Sean J. A. Edwards (advocate of BattleSwarm tactics), Carl H. Builder and Lt. Col. Ralph Peters emphasized the decline of the nation-state, the nature of the emerging international order, and the different types of forces needed in the near future.

The second perspective—most commonly assigned the term RMA—highlights the evolution of weapons technology, information technology, military organization, and military doctrine among advanced powers. This "System of Systems" perspective on RMA has been ardently supported by Admiral William Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who identified three overlapping areas for force assets. These are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command, control, communications and intelligence processing, and precision force.

Advanced versions of RMA incorporate other sophisticated technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), nanotechnology, robotics, and biotechnology. Recently, the RMA debate focussed on "network-centric warfare" which is a doctrine that aims to connect all troops on the battlefield.

Finally, the third concept is that a "true" revolution in military affairs has not yet occurred or is unlikely to. Authors such as Michael O'Hanlon and Frederick Kagan, point to the fact much of the technology and weapons systems ascribed to the contemporary RMA were in development long before 1991 and the Internet and information technology boom.

Several critics point out that a "revolution" within the military ranks might carry detrimental consequences, produce severe economic strain, and ultimately prove counterproductive. Such authors tend to profess a much more gradual "evolution" in military affairs, as opposed to a rapid revolution.

Scholarly work

International relations

An influential vein of the social sciences argues that despite frequent claims to the contrary, engagements with science and technology are deeply rooted in social convention. In the eyes of many in the international relations field, the same can be said of the revolution in military affairs. However, the "revolution" has its own heavy implications for social conventions.

Feminist international relations scholar Eric Blanchard illuminated many underlying social assumption regarding the revolution in military technology and its relation to conceptions and ideals of gender in his piece “The Technoscience Question in Feminist International Relations”. In particular, he argues that the “unmanning” of military combat, largely a result of the Revolution in Military Affairs, complicates the already controversial issue of women’s participation.3

Traditionally, narratives of a male protector and female protected have been central do discourses of war and militarized masculinity. These roles established a clear boundary between a masculinist war front and a feminine and domestic home front. However, the introduction of depersonalized and unmanned combat complicates ideas not just about women’s role and participation in military affairs, but the relation between masculine identity and militarization as well.

If risking one’s life is no longer a requirement for military service, it can hardly be argued that women simply do not have the physical skills needed for participation. However, this also skews the idea of the "herosim" aspect of military service, redefining a major aspect of militarization-related masculinities. Blanchard invokes Peter Singer’s concerns over whether the use of unmanned combat is a positive image for the United States abroad, citing a Lebanese editor who referred to Americans as “cowards” because of their reliance on unmanned machines in warfare.3

Naturally tele-operated combat and unmanned warfare will need to be re-appropriated into a masculinist heroism narrative if the state is to retain popular support for its military efforts. Historically, and up into the present day, this has been done by emphasizing the superiority of the technology asserted by the “civilized” western man in contrast with the “savage” or “primitive” tactics of his opponents. The advancement of security technology and technological dominance over one’s opponents can be framed as a heroic masculine feat in itself, as Steve Niva demonstrates in “Tough and Tender: New World Order and Masculinity in the Gulf War”, also cited in Blanchard.3

In an engagement with Blanchard’s account of the role of technoscience in feminist international relations, Sandra Harding responds to and expands upon his argument. In particular, she broadens his claim that technological advances and particularly the onset of computer science have been militarized from the start – efforts to dominate militarily have more often than not been the motor for new discovery in computer sciences. While she agrees with this particular concept, she argues that it goes both ways: science and technology have been motors for the advancement of militarism equally as often. Western sciences and militarism have “co-produced” each other. Scientific advancement has long been used to justify militaristic endeavors, most notably the 16th-century “voyages of discovery” and the subsequent colonial project. Rather than being isolated from social and political factors as is often imagined, scientific study is in fact deeply embedded in them.4

This also plays into the idea of hegemonic ideals of masculinity that Blanchard so frequently addresses in his piece. Harding reminds us that women have historically been excluded from participation in intellectual life, and institutions of all kinds – military, scientific, political – have avoided and opposed any invocation of femininity.

Both Blanchard and Harding’s pieces are explorations into the ways in which ideals of masculinity have permeated technology and security. They, among many other critical scholars in the international relations discipline, bring important work to the table in consideration of the revolution in military affairs.

Criticism

The revolution of military affairs (RMA) is the inclusion and expansion of new technology—e.g., drones, satellite imaging, and remotely operated vehicles—within current military tactics. RMA has generally been praised for its ability to reduce casualty rates and facilitate intelligence gathering. On the other hand, critics argue that RMA serves to further dissociate soldiers from the horrific realities of warfare, while other maintain that RMA restricts the overall understanding of warfare and its dynamics.5 Scholars recommend a gaining a critical understanding of RMA before implementing it.

Operation Desert Storm is considered the first major global conflict successfully implementing RMA and is considered a paragon of future military operations due to the low casualty rate and the U.S. military's speed and precision. On the other hand, others claim that RMA technology severely inhibited the U.S. military’s ability to respond to guerrilla tactics and that efforts to incorporate advanced weapons like patriot missiles were unsuccessful.5 Indeed, a number of epistemological issues have cropped up.

In the wake of RMA technology such as drones, unmanned ground vehicles, and clean bombs, there are several concerns about the distanciation and disassociation that eclipse the realities of war. A gendered analysis of tactical strikes reveals that while the number of one's own soldiers may be preserved, as the number of long-range attacks increases, so does collateral damage.5 Furthermore, by removing the soldier-on-soldier element to warfare, the natural reactions and consequences of wartime actions is impacted, which has been frequently referred to as the removal of humanity from war. RMA technological advances have resulted in a dehumanizing of warfare, which negatively effects the decisions made by officers, as well as individuals in the field.5 A feminist critique argues that RMA's good intentions notwithstanding, the resulting collateral damage is unacceptable and thus urges more careful consideration in incorporating RMA technology.5

See also

US military-specific:

References

  1. ^ Steven Metz, James Kievit. "Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs: From Theory to Policy" June 27, 1995
  2. ^ The United States Army 1995 Modernization Plan. Force 21
  3. ^ a b c , pages 146-163.
  4. ^ , pages 164-168.
  5. ^ a b c d e Blanchard, Eric M. (2011). The technoscience question in feminist International Relations: Unmanning the U.S. war on terror. London: Routledge. 

Further reading

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