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Material posted: Publication date: 31-03-2016
Despite a ballyhoo around "revolutionary" impact of new technologies on military operations, we didn't manage to avoid submission to internal logic of war about which Clausewitz wrote 200 years ago.

The concept, significance and legacy of the so-called revolution in military Affairs (RMA) are questionable, even a quarter century after the US-led coalition of States, due to the wide use of information technology, precision-guided weapons and joint military doctrines defeated the army of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in "operation desert Storm". In the scientific literature and strategic studies of the 1990s – beginning of 2000s the issue of the impact of modern technologies on the methods and means of warfare were at the center of the broader debate, however, on the background of the military challenges in recent years, the efficiency of the concept is not persuasive. The invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Mali, Libya, the recent developments in Ukraine, fight against the group known as ISIS (banned in Russia. – Approx. ed.) are typologically different challenges facing a modern armed forces. As a result as the concept of traditional, conventional warfare has been replaced by a theory of asymmetric conflict, and more complex scenarios the use of force, the concept of the WFD began to disappear from the agenda of academic and political debate. However, based on her strategies continue to influence the military planning and preparation for future conflicts. Many military authorities still rake the consequences of decisions taken in the 1990s under the influence of the concept of the WFD, and/or continue at least partially to use these ideas in military planning.

What is the WFD?

Despite the popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s, the term "revolution in military Affairs", its origin and specificity are still controversial. In essence, the idea is not new: the history of mankind gives many examples of the modernization of the military technology or changes in military doctrine, it seemed, had led to a huge breakthrough. The current controversy regarding the WFD arose in the 1970s, when the United States began to make the transition to "all-volunteer" armed forces, has shifted the focus from Southeast Asia to Europe and have adopted the concept of "air-ground operations" (1982). With the beginning of détente in relations between the nuclear superpowers at the Pentagon came to the conclusion that success in a hypothetical war with the Soviet Union will depend more on the quality of military equipment and training of personnel, than of numerical superiority. This was called the "counterbalance strategy" (offset strategy). It is no coincidence that this was conceived as time in the field of information technologies and development of controlled high-precision weapons ("smart bombs", first used at the final stage of the Vietnam war) has undergone a significant transformation. However, the trigger for the WFD Dali and Soviet developments of the 1980s, which refers to the accelerated modernization of U.S. military equipment. Soviet military theorists started talking about "military-technical revolution" (TUE), during which "computers, space exploration and rockets of distant radius of action" can create an imbalance of power in favour of NATO. In the mid-1980s, a strong supporter of BTP was made by the chief of the General staff of the USSR armed forces, Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, who set out to transform Soviet armed forces on the basis of introduction of information technologies. Thus, Dima says Adamski, "...although the technical basis of the WFD was founded in the US, its long-term effects were first conceived it was the Soviet, not American military theorists".

However, many of these reforms and innovative transformations remained unfulfilled: in 1989 the cold war ended, and two years later, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Understanding of what in the ways of warfare occur truly revolutionary changes, crystallized in the West as a result of the victory won by the coalition of Nations led by the United States in 1991 in the Persian Gulf. William Perry wrote at the time: "during the operation "desert Storm" the USA first used the latest weapons systems that provided U.S. forces a decisive advantage in military power. The basis of this power are its weapon systems support a new generation intelligence sensors, active defenses and the precision guidance subsystem, which served as a factor in increasing the combat readiness of the troops. The effectiveness of U.S. weapons systems has increased due to this".

It was also noted that the results of high-tech military action during the Gulf war warned the public and politicians of Western countries, the idea that now the war can be won without any casualties. In addition, the operation has completely changed the views of specialists in military planning about the ways of warfare. The role of satellites, precision guided weapons and aviation in military planning continued to increase as the end of the cold war have decreased defense spending and increased operational requirements for dealing with major security threats in Somalia, the Balkans and in other regions of the world. The combination of these factors prompted the planners in determining the configuration of forces and means to resort to an innovative approach.

Under the influence occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s, changes intelligence of the Pentagon Andrew Marshall and Andrew Krepinevich, whose job was to track Soviet publications on TUE, concluded that the military world has entered the era of the "revolution in military Affairs". Unlike the authors of the concept Wed they viewed the RMA as a phenomenon that goes beyond the purely technological sphere. According to them, this concept includes not only advances in technology but also changes the properties of the doctrinal, and the latter are influenced by the first. Therefore, the Pentagon determined the WFD as "the biggest change in the nature of armed combat, caused by innovative use of new technologies, which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine andoperational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and methods of warfare".

Since then, scientists have continued to develop the concept of the WFD and argue about its application in practice. Andrew Richter believes that the WFD is characterized by "the ability to collect, analyze and disseminate information and to act upon the information" that allows the military to receive, process, and summarize data in real-time. The results of high-speed processing are handled by the respective military units, which are "fast, accurate, extremely effectively and at a great distance".

Elinor Sloan in a less strong form claims that the WFD includes five aspects.

  1. The structure of the units depends on the objective of making them more mobile and combat-ready expeditionary force.
  2. Providing "mobility on the battlefield" (i.e. giving the troops landing helicopters medium and high capacity and light tanks).
  3. Military doctrines focused on the use of air forces and precision weapons with the forces out of range of enemy firepower.
  4. "Interconnectedness", i.e. the integrated use and conjugation of all three branches of the armed forces (army, Navy and air force) to achieve the objectives.
  5. Reorientation of the fleet actions in open sea to support military operations by land and air forces from coastal waters.

Unlike the aforementioned authors, Lawrence Friedman challenges the belief that the military really is the revolution. If it does, it is only in the strategic field. In his view, scientific and technological progress contributed to the fact that Western countries now achieve political goals are more diverse strategic ways. Nevertheless, he agrees with Richter that the WFD (or RSD) depends "on the interaction between systems that collect, process and synthesize information, and bring it to those who use military force". Such a "system of systems" (the term proposed in the 1990s, Admiral U.S. Navy William Owens) supposedly gives military planners the ability in war to control a multi-dimensional perspective, or "battle space". It is argued that such control will help eliminate notorious "fog of war" in his treatise "On war" wrote the Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz (in this regard, Michael O'hanlon calls the supporters of the WFD "anticlassical").

The WFD is subjected to critical analysis

On 1990s – early 2000s was the peak of the discussion of the WFD. This period was marked by numerous military operations, the results of which led researchers to look at the concept of the WFD more critical. Some analysts have stated about the fallacy of using the Gulf war as a textbook example in the analysis of the characteristics of the WFD. Daryl Press argues that the technique of attributing a decisive role in the victory of the allied forces, we are deceiving ourselves, because the level of combat readiness of the land forces of the United States, Britain and France, formed the backbone of the coalition, was so high that in fact, the technique became unnecessary. It was manifested with special clarity during the battle in the area of the oil field of al-Burkan, when under the cover of smoke from burning oil and morning fog (literally "fog of war") two brigades of the Iraqi army suddenly counterattacked the positions of the American Marines. Due to high combat skills lightly armed Marines repelled the tank attack, before the smoke cleared and has the opportunity to request the support of artillery and aviation. Without losing any of their comrades, the Marines knocked out at least 100 Iraqi armored vehicles. In short, your success of the allied forces to a much greater extent owe "of bad marksmanship, low rate of fire and weak firepower interaction" of the Iraqis than their technical backwardness.

Thomas Mankin and Barry watts similarly refute the thesis about the war in the Persian Gulf as the incarnation of the WFD, noting that the failure of Iraqi forces from tactics of causing losses to the enemy with fortified positions because of the overwhelming superiority of the allied air force, in essence, meant that the Iraqis began to fight on the Western coalition. In this sense, they argue, the war in the Gulf was unlikely to be so disruptive and revolutionary. The WFD is a symbiosis "technology, operational concepts, doctrinal and organizational changes" and "desert Storm" in this symbiosis did not. Stephen Biddle believes that the rapture, the Gulf war inspires the supporters of the WFD, is largely dictated by the fact of extremely small losses of the coalition forces – orders of magnitude below the numbers reported in the pre-war forecasts. Some of these distortions strengthened the belief that the technical equipment and the strength of the U.S. armed forces represent something truly revolutionary, whereas, in fact, they had achieved only a one-sided win similar to the Israeli victory in the six day war.

As noted above, many advanced weapons used in 1991, date back to the days of the war in Vietnam: precision guided bombs were first used in 1972 (operation "monster linebacker"), and the first use of aircraft built using the technology of "stealth" (Y0-3A), refers to the beginning of 1970-ies. They say that the WFD is a rather evolutionary than a revolutionary development of technology and military doctrine during the two previous decades.

Critics attacked americanocentrism the WFD. Martin van Creveld, for example, connects the beginning of the WFD after the cold war with the desire of the American political and military elites to overcome the Vietnam syndrome and win a short and decisive conventional war waged on the terms of the Pentagon. At the same time, Jeremy black considers that the development of the concept of RMA in the 1990s was a direct consequence of the prevailing view in the United States installation on unilateral action as the sole superpower. In his words, "the phenomenon of the WFD indicated the existence of a number of cultural and political hypotheses that reveal aspirations that prevailed in the 1990s and early 2000s than the existence of some objective assessment of military capabilities". In short, the WFD reflected the American belief in the omnipotence of technology and the ability to "overcome the decline". Don't approve of the WFD and due to its intrinsic supporters "anticlaudianus" the conviction that the technique is able to cope with the "fog of war" and "the uncertainty of the situation" on the battlefield. Eliot Cohen poignantly observes in this regard: to Express the view that "fog of war" can and disperse, often are the representatives of high-tech branches of the armed forces like air force and Navy. And representatives of the ground forces, by contrast, wonder about how technology or military doctrine can give them, "when the enemy tries to conceal their forces or attack on information systems, leading a tail on them". Therefore, Cohen sees the WFD as a hope rather than reality, as something "based on the inability of other countries to systematically hide from US the information necessary for U.S. weapons systems". Williamson Murray argues that "the fundamental nature of war" not to cancel neither new tools nor new concepts: "In the fields of future battles, as before, characterized by lack of coordination, uncertainty of environment uncertainty, randomness and uncertainty".

There are many vivid examples of how before the "fog of war" turned out to be powerless and GPS satellites, precision weapons, and communications network "system of systems". So, the special forces of allied troops were unable to prevent the threat of launching tactical ballistic missiles of the Soviet production during the war in the Gulf. No system of surveillance has not detected the beginning of a counterattack by Iraqi tank brigade of the 3rd infantry division during the battle for Baghdad in 2003. No one expected that in the South of Iraq coalition convoy of vehicles attacked guerrillas of fidains Saddam, or that in 2002, al-Qaida will be able to conceal the whereabouts of half of its positions and at least 350 fighters during the "operation Anaconda" in Afghanistan. Based on these examples, Tim Benbow argues that the biggest drawback of the concepts of the WFD is that they ignore the political and military changes taking place in the field of international security; instead, military theorists continue to fixate on the technology and modeling structure of military forces to fight conventional armed forces of nation States. In this regard, H. R. McMaster calls RVD a "fantastic theory" detached from military reality.

By the beginning of the 2000s in the defense planning authorities of the USA of the WFD has already been characterized as "military transformation". While retaining the concept of the WFD its content (high technology, speed, accuracy, control information, the smaller the number of ground forces, etc.), the term "military transformation" brought into it a number of additional parameters. They adapted it to the views of those who ten years after the Gulf war tended to view this phenomenon not as an (accomplished) revolution in military Affairs, but rather as an ongoing attempt to develop new technologies, doctrines, and structures.

The author of this terminological shift (in the absence of differences between the concepts of "RVD" and "military conversion") was made by the then Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. In 2002 he published in Foreign Affairs magazine article, which said that "transformation" involves the use of controlled precision-guided weapons, special forces, reconnaissance systems and space vehicles, as well as the cohesion in the use of military force. However, this does not eliminate noticed criticism of the contradictions of the WFD. Yes, and "conversion" suffered from the same disadvantages as the WFD, as the creators of the concept continued to assert that the wars of the future "can be defeated quickly, efficiently, at low cost and smaller forces".

However, beginning in 2003, the Iraqi insurgency has become clear that high-mobility, a powerful technique designed within the concept of the WFD, not only not suitable for the conduct of counterinsurgency operations, but in other cases is just a hindrance. In 2004 battles in the Iraqi city of Fallujah the US-led coalition forces have used punitive aviation, artillery and tanks. However, their actions only angered the civilian population and contributed to the recruiting of rebels. Israel was faced with a similar situation in 2006 in Lebanon: the use of aircraft and artillery against entrenched among civilians Hezbollah fighters have led to civilian casualties and to the defeat of Israel in the international propaganda campaign. Vaunted RMA operations with its demoralizing effects (effects-based operations), the organization of system of systems and to achieve superiority on the battlefield showed an increasing impotence in the face of non-traditional conflicts. As a result, the concept began to lose popularity first in the United States, and then among the allies, and by the mid-2000s about it, few people remembered in both academic and military circles.

Looking back at RVD

In the last decade, the concept of "revolution in military Affairs" for the most part disappeared from academic and political debates and the relevant literature. Now this is not the "rich" idea what it was at the peak of his popularity after the Gulf war and during the 1990-ies.

At least partly this is explained by the experience of military conflicts, most of which was characterized by unconventional and asymmetric tactics of the fighting and was not like a traditional high-tech battle, who were drawn to the creators of the WFD, battle, finder of the same embodied in "operation desert Storm". However, the concept of the WFD, in particular its main provisions and the main driving forces, continues to influence the leaders of many States when thinking about their military strategy and military doctrine. And many of these individuals and to this day are fighting the consequences of their or others ' decisions on the implementation of the WFD.

America is not the only country with experience in the practical implementation of the WFD, as the effects and results of the relevant activities of the naturally spread throughout the world and was seen by many other actors. Moreover, although the WFD and appropriate the colossal power and high technical level of the American armed forces, her experience was of great importance to other global players, including U.S. allies, their rivals, the so-called rising powers, as well as state and non-state entities that can be classified as opponents. However, its impact has been uneven in its consequences. Despite the continuation of a decade of non-traditional conflict in the middle East, issues of the WFD – especially the use of high-tech weapons – remain the Central point of military planning in the United States. The most important U.S. allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia tried to implement the correct techniques and doctrine, at least in part to ensure continued interoperability with U.S. forces. Many of these actors still have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. Russia, for which, in the opinion of its management, modernization of the conventional armed forces of the United States and NATO presents a potential threat, focused on maintaining a nuclear balance with the West (primarily through nuclear deterrence). She has developed a new strategy, in particular, the concept of "hybrid war" – in case of conflict and unrest in countries with which it has long land borders. Israel, faced over the past two decades with various non-traditional enemies and threats, varies in the choice between different concepts of the WFD, trying to understand what they meant for him in the future. India, given the needs safety, security, and the need to maintain fragile balance of nuclear forces with Pakistan, has consciously chosen a different path. In addition, it should be assumed that the use of unconventional and guerrilla tactics by non-state actors and other illegitimate players partially motivated by notions of superiority based on the WFD Western concepts of warfare conventional weapons. All these actors have reacted differently to the dynamics of the WFD, in different ways it has understood its lessons. The fact they had different reasons that have led to different consequences and, accordingly, has had a different influence on the formulation of military policy.

The second main question is: should we consider the events of the late 1980s – early 1990s in the development of military strategy "revolution" or something less transformative and permanent. After all, "revolution" implied a certain fundamental and possibly irreversible change, transforming the nature of some phenomena (in this case martial arts). Although improving precision weapons systems, battle management and the use of a huge number of achievements in the field of information technology has really changed the attitude of States towards war and how it is doing, these events, perhaps, would be described as evolution or the changing context of war, not as a revolution in military Affairs as such. Similarly, after the cold war and particularly the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changes in military doctrine and tactics, as well as the newly-minted concept of "connectivity", network-centric operations (network-centric warfare), and operations demoralizing effects which accompanied technological progress, trying to adapt to new realities.

The result is that although military thought really moved forward, turned out to be not so easy to correlate it with military requirements and experience of the real world. As such, the past two decades were not so much the age of revolutions as the period of the routine: the military tried to balance "proposal" in the form of a range of new opportunities and "demand" in the form of emerging and changing needs. Thus, despite the disappearance from the pages of popular scientific literature and political ideas and directions of thought, embodied in the WFD, they still prevail in modern military thinking.

Quite possibly the main reason that the concept of the WFD prevailed in the 1990s and faded in recent times is the importance of internal political factors. This applies in particular to the impact on strategy formation of the remarkable personality. Thinking in the spirit of the WFD is still correlated with an idealized notion of a "Western way of warfare" – the maximum use of high technology with minimal losses among civilians and armed forces personal staff.

In this sense – at least for the U.S. – WFD means a disengagement from the war of attrition in Vietnam models and the use of comparative superiority in military equipment and technology. So, President George Bush summed up the results of the Gulf war as follows: "by God, we once and for all killed the Vietnam syndrome".

The pressure of such factors was highly sensitive and for the allies of the United States, in particular for the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Israel, in an effort to increase efficiency in the use of technology in warfare, at the same time had to maintain interoperability with the U.S. army. But so as not to annoy the voters at home.

The second important factor is the degree to which the military strategy in each country is influenced by internal variables and personality. In all countries affected by the WFD, a key figure whose name is closely connected with this concept. In the USSR, where she was born, this is Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov. In the United States – Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich and management of the common assessments of the Pentagon. In the United Kingdom – sir Nigel Bagnall, in Canada, General Rick Hillier, in Israel – Brigadier General Shlomo Brom. In the 1990s, these and other figures played a major role in the development of a national strategy, but their legacy and influence remain key components of military thinking in both countries. Domestic politics and bureaucratic games, especially budgetary constraints and the rivalry between the leadership of the armed forces, influenced the perception by States of the idea of the WFD, and assimilation of the appropriate way of thinking at least no less than any external factors or types of wars in which they had to participate. As wisely said Eliot Cohen on the Israeli discussions on the WFD theme, "the enemy is not too elaborate on the meaning of the debate on the RMA, and this was probably his biggest mistake." Available evidence suggests that this is true for other players. Apparently, idealized representations of the ways of fighting drove from their minds the reality of that type of war in which they could be involved, and an understanding of what the troops will face on the battlefield and what they really need.

Reflections and projections

Today many of the events in the military field take roll call with the ideas of the early 1990-ies. The emergence of "cybersect" and new methods of information war – in particular Chinese design known as "the termination/blocking zone" (A2AD), and strategies "Informatization" – is clearly inspired by the concepts type of the WFD and can be a direct response to the expected further development of American military doctrine of 1991. In the same vein, there are ongoing efforts to saturate the battlefield with digital technologies, and the development and universalization of the production of unmanned aerial vehicles and the simultaneous development of the theory of "remote control war". This applies to what is happening at the strategic level. There is continuing improvement of systems of air and missile defense, appear more effective ballistic and cruise missiles, designed for the application of global shocks conventional munitions, is being modernized systems battle management systems, operational command and control, has taken steps to establish control over outer space. And it is unlikely that the desire is increasingly to rely on high technologies to achieve military objectives, and to ensure that security will decline.

The planning of future military operations is extremely difficult. Of course, the strategists will try to insure against losses and to think of every detail. It is important not to take the experience of the last two decades as a sample. May be trite to blame the military in that they are preparing to fight "the last war", but we have no reason to think that there can be a return to traditional interstate rivalry will mean a return to traditional symmetric types of conflict. In this sense, it would be foolish to believe that, if the last two decades have been marked by primarily partisan and non-conventional methods of warfare, war will remain the same and in the longer term. Given the unpredictability of the current situation in the world, it is possible that one day we will witness still to the popularity of technology and thinking in the spirit of the WFD.

Before the military today in the West is a double challenge. Formed under the influence of the EU WFD the structure of the armed forces have undergone some changes after nearly a decade of counter-insurgency and stabilization operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza and Mali. In the army, for example, has increased the number of personnel, increased purchases of specialized equipment like armoured personnel carriers, tear-resistant improvised explosive devices. At the same time, in many States, particularly in the USA, Russia and China, is the creation of modern high-tech conventional forces and support structure in accordance with the developments of the 1990-ies. In a situation of financial instability and still tangible effects of the crisis of 2008-2009 Western governments are extremely sensitive to any additional stress on the budget. One of the biggest obstacles for the military in the West began budget constraints, curtailments and financial optimization. However, paradoxically, the need to participate in loss the stabilization missions will mean that for the foreseeable future threats to international security will be eliminated with the help of aircraft, precision guided missiles, special forces and cyber warfare means.

On the background of the current civil war in Syria and the emergence of ISIL in the middle East clearly portrays both strengths and weaknesses of high-tech approach to waging war. The use of aircraft, precision guided munitions and electronic surveillance for the transmission of information in real time allowed the coalition led by the United States to hamper the movement of troops and ISIL in coordination with local ground forces to liberate occupied before the organization of the territory. However, a natural consequence of the use of this tactic was the fact that ISIS is adapting to the action of superior is technically the enemy, reducing movement in the daytime and how to place the control points in urban areas (raqqa). The fighters even began to attack the city (such as Ramadi) under the cover of sand storms, which prevent the coalition opportunities to make full use of the aircraft and to receive intelligence information from satellites.

Despite the marketing hype around "revolutionary" impact of new technologies, we did not manage to avoid subordination to the logic of internal war about 200 years ago, wrote Clausewitz.

But this does not mean that there have been no changes. Of course, they were. Only here it is not necessary, perhaps, to assign the changes that occurred over the past twenty years, a loud name "revolution". And here's why. The concept of the WFD facing inward and ethnocentricy. In essence, it is based on the idealized idea of the type of warfare that would lead the military, and few take into account the peculiarities of the enemy and his possible answer. In this sense, the Gulf war was the exception that proves the rule. As illustrated by the experience of conflicts in Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Caucasus, Lebanon, Libya, Ukraine, Syria and other places, the enemy is everywhere adapted to the main features of thinking in the spirit of the WFD and tried to resist. The presence of all-conquering desire to minimize loss, to use high-tech systems and weapons to wage war on an idealized "Western-style" means that the Central concept of the WFD never will be forgotten. As a result, we essentially returned to the initial stage of thinking about military strategy that might not be so bad in a situation where military theorists have already began to consider the needs and circumstances of the conflict uncertain future.

Jeffrey Collins, Andrew Father



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