Society, Technology, and Future Warfare

November 07, 2019
Society, Technology, and Future Warfare
Society, Technology, and Future Warfare
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Key Points

  • Warfare is being transformed by the information revolution. However, history has demonstrated that it is exceptionally difficult to know how new technology will redefine warfighting before the audit of battle.
  • It is dangerous to assume that the U.S. will dominate the future battlefield simply because it is leading the information revolution.
  • It is equally dangerous to assume that future warfighting will conform to American military cultural preferences, even though those are likely to drive how the United States adopts new technology.
  • The key to understanding the future battlefield is that best practices, or the inherent optimum of new technologies, is just one variable among a range of societal factors.

Executive Summary

Today, military analysts are struggling to understand how the new technology of the information age will transform warfare. There is a persistent, dangerous tendency to assume that all actors will simply employ new technology according to a theoretical set of best practices—and an even more dangerous expectation that the United States will define those best practices and dominate the information-age battlefield because the U.S. is leading the information revolution.

Historical evidence from the early industrial era, when a similar transformation occurred, offers warnings on both counts.

Great Britain led the industrial revolution. It was the leading economy of the era and the primary source of civilian innovations that brought about the Industrial Revolution and the military innovations that redefined warfare. Yet its military forces were not the most effective practitioners of industrial-age warfare. Similarly, the experience of the Germans and French from World War I to World War II warns that it is extremely difficult to know beforehand which army has learned to use new technologies most effectively before the audit of battle.

Finally, the experiences of all these armies and that of the Israel Defense Force in the Second Lebanon War of 2006 demonstrate that, especially in the early decades of such a monumental transformation, the key determinant of how militaries will perform is less about the new technology’s capabilities and much more about how societal factors will shape militaries and their approaches to that technology.

View the Full Report at AEI.

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