Revolution in Military Affairs
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 US military.
The original theorizing was done by the Soviet Armed Forces in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov.1 The U.S. 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 United States armed forces is strong within the China's People's Liberation Army and incorporated to current Chinese strategic military doctrine. Many other militaries have researched and considered RMA as an organizational concept, including Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Republic of China (Taiwan), India, Russia and Germany. However, the infrastructure and investment demands are very expensive for many countries and nations unwilling to invest substantial sums in defense.
Renewed interest was placed on RMA theory and practice after what many saw as a stunning, one-sided victory by the United States in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. American dominance through superior satellite, weapons-guiding, and communications technology emphasized the enormous relative power of the US through technological advances, even against an Iraqi military that was by no means an insignificant rival.
After the Kosovo War where the United States did not lose a single life, others suggested that war had become too sterile, creating an almost "Virtual War." Consequently, the U.S. failure to capture Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi insurgency led some to question RMA's build-up as a military nirvana. U.S. foes may increasingly resort to asymmetrical warfare to counter the advantages of RMA.
In 1997, the United States Army mounted an exercise code-named "Force 21", to test the application of digital technologies in warfare. The goal of Force 21 was to improve the communications and logistics through the application of computers and information technology generated in the private sector and adapted for military use.
The specific aims were to increase awareness of one's own position on the battlefield and to have a clear sense of the enemy's position, in pursuit of the following goals: (1) increased lethality, (2) increased control of the tempo of warfare, (3) the reduction of instances caused by friendly fire, with improvement in Identification Friend or Foe.2
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 RAND'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.
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’s argument.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.
The revolution of military affairs (RMA), put into simple terms is the inclusion and expansion of new technology within current military tactics. This includes the use of drones, satellite imaging, and remotely operated vehicles, to name a few. Within the majority of discussions pertaining to international security and peacekeeping, RMA has been praised for it’s ability to reduce mortality rates and expand the scope of intelligence.5 Opposing this positive sentiment is the opinion that RMA serves to further dissociate soldiers from the realities of war. Furthermore, it has also been suggested that the incorporation of and dependency on RMA within military tactics only serves to restrict the overall understanding of warfare and how it may be played out.5 Scholars urge to approach RMA with a critical understanding in order to gain a full scope of the issue at large.
Operation Desert Storm is considered to be the first major global conflict in which RMA was successfully implemented.5 This U.S. military action has been praised for it’s low casualty rates as well as the speed and precision at which military action took place.5 Both of these factors have been credited to the use of RMA, to the point that Desert Storm has been considered to be a model to which all future military actions should be compared.5 While this military action has been highly acclaimed to be the first significant and successful instance of a revolution within military tactics, there have been a number of examples implying that it was not new military technology that gave American forces the upper hand. Instead, it has been noted that the use of RMA technology severely inhibited the American military’s ability to respond to guerrilla tactics, in addition to the relatively unsuccessful attempts to incorporate advanced weapons such as patriot missiles.5 While the further advances in technology have significantly reduced the rate at which missiles and the like have poorly performed, a number of epistemological issues have been raised in their stead.
In the wake of RMA technology such as drones, unmanned ground vehicles, clean bombs and the like, a number of concerns have been raised relating to issues of distanciation and disassociation in relation to the realities of war. A gendered analysis of the subject of tactical strikes reveals that while the number of ones own soldiers may be preserved, as the number of long-range attacks increases, so does the amount of 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 of the issue states that while the intensions of the uses behind RMA are good, it does not make up for the amount of collateral damage that is accrued on the opposing side.5 Feminist critique urges more consideration be taken when incorporating RMA technology into the current model in the name of preserving lives the world over.
- Network-centric warfare (NCW), a modern military doctrine
- Military intelligence (MI)
- C4ISR and C4ISTAR
- Information warfare
- Electronic warfare
- Airborne Warning and Control System
- Communications satellite
- Spy satellite
- Swarming (military)
- Precision-guided munition
- Transformation of the United States Army, the future-concept of the US Army's modernization plan
- Battle Command Knowledge System
- Future Combat Systems
- Information Awareness Office (IAO), was established by DARPA
- Global Information Grid
- E-8 Joint STARS
- Joint Tactical Information Distribution System
- Tactical Data Link
- Rumsfeld Doctrine
- Steven Metz, James Kievit. "Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs: From Theory to Policy" June 27, 1995
- The United States Army 1995 Modernization Plan. Force 21
- , pages 146-163.
- , pages 164-168.
- Blanchard, Eric M. (2011). The technoscience question in feminist International Relations: Unmanning the U.S. war on terror. London: Routledge.
- Alexander, John B., Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First-Century Warfare, New York, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin, 1999 ISBN 0-312-26739-8
- Arquilla, John and David F. Ronfeldt (eds.), In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation, 1997 ISBN 0-8330-2514-7
- Barnett, Thomas P.M., The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, New York & London, Penguin, 2004 ISBN 0-399-15175-3
- Broad, William, Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2001 ISBN 0-684-87159-9
- DerDerian, James, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, Westview Press Inc. 2001 ISBN 0-8133-9794-4
- Edwards, Sean A. J., Swarming on the Battlefield: Past, Present, and Future, Palo Alto, CA, RAND Research, 2000 ISBN 0-8330-2779-4
- Gongora, Thierry and Harald von Riekhoff (eds.), Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs?: Defense and Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2000 ISBN 0-313-31037-8
- Gray, Colin S., Strategy for Chaos: Revolutions in Military Affairs and The Evidence of History, London, Frank Cass, 2004 ISBN 0-7146-8483-X
- Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Hamish Hamilton, 2005 ISBN 0-241-14240-7
- Henrotin, Joseph, La technologie militaire en question, Paris, Economica, 2008.
- Kagan, Donald and Frederick W. Kagan, While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness and the Threat to Peace Today, New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 2000 ISBN 0-312-28374-1
- Krames, Jeffrey A., The Rumsfeld Way, New York & Chicago, McGraw-Hill, 2002 ISBN 0-07-140641-7
- Landa, Manuel de, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, New York, Zone Books, 1991 ISBN 0-942299-76-0
- Rumsfeld, Donald H., Transforming the Military, in: Foreign Affairs, vol. 81, No. 3, May/June, 2002, pp. 20–32.
- Ugtoff, Victor (ed.), The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order, Cambridge & London, The MIT Press, 2000 ISBN 0-262-71005-6
- Cohen, Eliot A. 1995. Come the Revolution. National Review, July 31, 26+.
- Schwartzstein, Stuart J.D. (ed.), The Information Revolution and National Security: Dimensions and Directions, Washington, D.C., The Center for Strategic & International Studies, 1996 ISBN 0-89206-288-6
- Tomes, Robert R., US Defense Strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military Innovation and the New American Way of War, 1973-2003, 2007 ISBN 0-415-77252-4
- John Gordon, "Transforming for What? Challenges Facing Western Militaries Today", Focus stratégique, Paris, Ifri, November 2008.
- Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) Sharjeel Rizwan
- The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA): Canada's Window On The Future
- Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century Project for the New American Century