Why the comparison of AirLand Battle with Blitzkrieg is flawed.

By Z.C. Vince @zcvince on Twitter

AirLand Battle was a doctrinal concept developed as part of the US army’s FM 100-5 Operations 1982in response to the Cold War and the challenges of the anticipated Central European clash between the large-scale mechanised conventional armies of the USA and her allies and the USSR and Warsaw Pact

The 1982 Field Manual was centred on Cold War operations

countries.  As such, this doctrine was relatively short lived, having replaced the post-Vietnam War ‘Active Defense’ policy in 1982 but being swiftly superseded in 1993 by a post-Cold War field manual aimed more specifically at non-conventional and low-intensity conflicts.  In contrast, Blitzkrieg was not doctrinal at least in any official sense, being a “German phenomenon based on the traditions and heritage of German military history”(Citino, 2004).  Although AirLand Battle shares common characteristics with Blitzkrieg, it must be stressed that the Blitzkrieg campaigns for example in Poland, France and the Soviet Union were essentially pre-emptive strikes against poorly prepared opponents.  In 1982 the US army was seeking an alternative to the positional and therefore highly attritional style of warfare they had prepared for in previous field manuals, a situation similar to that of the Red Army facing the Wehrmacht after the Battle of Stalingrad.  Because of this, AirLand Battle instead owes more, ironically, to the Soviet doctrinal concept of Deep Battle/Operations, with both focusing on the importance of manoeuvre, attacking in depth and immobilising the enemy.

The rapid outflanking manoeuvre style of warfare which has become

An example of Frederick the Great’s manoeuvring at Leuthen.

known as Blitzkrieg is rooted in Prusso-German military history, going as far back as Frederick the Great’s victories at Rossbach and Leuthen (Citino, 2005), through von Moltke the Elder’s demonstrations of the battle of encirclement or Kesselschlacht in 1866 and 1870, and on to von Schlieffen’s theories of strategic envelopment, culminating in the ‘Schlieffen Plan’, prior to the First World War.  Citino argues that while Blitzkrieg itself was not a formalised doctrine, it was based on three “classical doctrinal traditions”.  These were as follows: flexible doctrine of command, or Auftragstaktik (the ‘mission command’ of today); a focus on operational-level warfare, either campaigns of position or of movement; and an avoidance of Einseitigkeit or one-sidedness, resulting in a broader reliance on combined arms rather than the supremacy of one arm over the others.

AirLand Battle did share these characteristics with Blitzkrieg.  FM 100-5 Operations 1982 stated that, “electronic warfare, vulnerability of command and control facilities and mobile combat will demand initiative in subordinate commanders”.  This move away from a static, attritional style of warfare to a focus on manoeuvre and high tempo operations required a higher standard of training and leadership (Lock-Pullan, 2005) similar to von Moltke’s nineteenth century expansion of the Prussian General Staff in part to deal with independent convergent manoeuvres such as his use of concentric exterior lines before the battle of Sadowa.  In the case of AirLand Battle and modern communications technology, ‘mission-type’ orders required “unambiguous political aims to be outlined prior to engagement”, so that subordinate commanders could react with initiative whilst remaining in accordance with the standard ‘intent’ toward the enemy.  It is clear that lower-level resourcefulness was a key point to AirLand Battle, with the doctrine stating that “decentralization converts initiative into agility, allowing rapid reaction to capture fleeting opportunities”.

This more fluid style of command owed partly to the shift in focus to the operational level of war from the tactically-oriented attritional ‘Active Defense’ doctrine.  FM 100-5/1982shows great divergence from its 1976 counterpart in that instead of advocating frontal assaults aimed at the enemy’s leading formations, it favours operational manoeuvre and attacks on critical enemy units from “unexpected directions”.  The rejection of tactically focused doctrine is shown by the great emphasis on the simultaneous and rapid use of firepower and manoeuvre.  Finally, parallels with Blitzkrieg may be made with

Close air support with Stuka dive bombers was the key to Nazi combined operations.

regard to the use of combined arms.  Just as in the inter-war period Germany emphasised the role of armoured and mechanised forces to be used in conjunction with air power, AirLand Battle doctrine emphasises the role of ‘integrated battle’, comprising joint operations, combined arms and the potential usage of chemical and tactical nuclear weapons.  Acknowledging that in modern war elements of the armed forces can rarely act truly independently, AirLand Battle requires manoeuvre, synchronisation and firepower to all be integrated in pursuit of the ‘political’ aim.

The most widely known example of AirLand Battle doctrine in practice was Operation Desert Storm in 1991.  Although the Iraqis possessed conventional, mechanised forces, they were a fraction of the scale of the Soviet forces against which AirLand Battle doctrine was fundamentally aimed.  The annexation of Kuwait by Iraq presented a singular opportunity to “test […] how well the forces created and trained to fight the Third World War would have performed”.

The ‘Highway of Death’ is a popular depiction of US air superiority during Gulf War I

Badsey goes so far as to suggest that in the Gulf War, the US forces were “disregarding the small point that the enemy was actually Iraq [and not the USSR, for example]”, showing just how crucial victory was to an America ‘haunted’ by Vietnam.  The keys to victory in the Gulf War were combined and co-ordinated assaults in depth, operational manoeuvre and deception.  A large contributor to the coalition victory in the Gulf War was the air superiority enjoyed by America and her allies, Cordesman and Wagner give the ratio of 3.6:1 in aircraft in favour of the coalition.  This clear air superiority allowed a level of deception of the enemy that was invaluable to the overall campaign, as the coalition was able to move 255,000 soldiers plus vehicles up to 300 miles to the west, “one of the most complicated force deployments in history”.  What followed on ‘G-Day’ was the beginning of a double envelopment of Iraqi forces by VII and XVIII corps with close air support and attack helicopters, meeting sporadic and relatively easily overwhelmed opposition.  Air power played an important role in Desert Storm, with 1,997 air strikes carried out in direct support of the ground troops, reducing casualties and depriving any Iraqi attempts at counterattacking and representing the superiority of allied combined arms operations.

Desert Storm may be compared with Case White, the Nazi invasion of Poland, as an example of operational manoeuvre aimed at an inferior opponent.  The Wehrmacht deployed in two widely separate army groups advancing respectively from Pomerania and Silesia, and East Prussia and Slovakia, thus trapping most of the Polish army in a textbook Kesselschlacht or ‘cauldron’ battle.  Similarly to with Desert Storm, air power played a large role, the German ‘Close Battle Division’ of 160 Stuka dive-bombers facilitating the destruction of the Modlin fortification outside Warsaw and speeding up the ground advance.  The superior operational mobility of the Wehrmacht, coupled with lower-level initiative and swift, brief orders enabled the Germans to exploit advantages as well as wheeling 180 degrees “effortlessly” twice in one week and change direction as necessary.  In this direct comparison with an example of successfully applied Blitzkrieg ‘principles’, it is clear that there are similarities between Blitzkrieg and AirLand Battle, not least the use of combined arms, mission-style command systems, the supremacy of operational manoeuvre and use of technology.  In this sense, AirLand Battle was a ‘hi-tech’ version of Blitzkrieg.

Despite this, it must be remembered that AirLand Battle doctrine was created during the Cold War for the main purpose of directing the US army in large-scale conventional warfare against the Soviet Union.  Assessing whether Operation Desert Storm was an example of Blitzkrieg does not necessarily correspond to Blitzkrieg’s relationship to AirLand Battle as a doctrine.  FM 100-5/1982stated that “the US army will face an enemy who expects to sustain rapid movement during the offense and who will probably use every weapon at his disposal”.

The mighty Soviet Union was the US’ assumed opponent for AirLand Battle

Having outlined the characteristics of the Gulf War, it is clear that the Iraqi force did not fit this description, and this is why it is the US army’s attitude toward Soviet Russia that is of most importance when assessing AirLand Battle as a doctrine.

The Soviet field regulation of 1936 summarises ‘Deep Battle’ theory as follows: “tanks, artillery, aviation, and mechanized units in large scale use provide the option of simultaneously attacking the entire depth of the enemy battle formation with the objective isolating, encircling, and destroying the enemy”.  As a direct comparison, FM 100-5/1982 states that, “the AirLand Battle will be dominated by the force that retains the initiative and, with deep attack and decisive maneuver, destroys its opponent’s abilities to fight and to organize in depth”.  The similarities between the two are clearly evident, both focusing on the role of operational art, the use of combined, mechanised arms and perhaps most importantly the ‘deep’ attack.  The Soviet emphasis on the operational level of war emerged in response to the failures during the First World War and focused on the need for consecutive series of operations in order to prevent losing the initiative and provoking an enemy counterattack.  In addition, the realisation that echeloned attacks were required in order to exploit any breakthroughs in the enemy line resulted in the formation of operational-manoeuvre groups whose task was to carry out such exploitation and carry the attack throughout the operational depth of the opposition (Kagan, 1997).  Eventual Soviet application of these theories to operations on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 earned the USSR successes and a reputation for operational excellence which the Americans sought to emulate in the 1980s.

The four key tenets of AirLand Battle were Initiative, Depth, Agility and Synchronisation.  Depth, of course, is central to Deep Battle theory; agility and initiative too were pivotal to the fourth stage of Deep Battle: Exploitation.  Synchronisation, the use of combined arms and the planning of consecutive staggered operations, is characteristic of both the Red Army in 1944 and the coalition forces in the Gulf War.  One particular area in which AirLand Battle built upon its Soviet counterpart was in the area of mission-style command.  Although initiative was encouraged in the Red Army, it was made clear in PU-36 that superior officers had to be consulted before action.  In this respect at least, the Prusso-German tradition of Auftragstaktik triumphed over Soviet methodology.

To conclude, AirLand Battle was a product of its time, a direct response to the Soviet threat of conventional warfare on a hitherto unseen scale.  The doctrine which was developed in 1982 “owed a huge debt to the Soviets” and there are clear parallels to be seen with regard to the use of combined arms, operational manoeuvre, attacking in depth, and exploiting breakthroughs.  Blitzkrieg in contrast was an opportunistically applied operational method which saw success in Poland, France and the early stages of Barbarossa, but which ultimately failed to comprehensively destroy Germany’s opponents in depth, something which Deep Battle, and subsequently AirLand Battle, focused heavily on.


An interview about robotic snake arms

An interview with Bristol based OC Robotics who produce robotic snake arms. Conducted at Farnborough Air Show.

Hi Tim, would you mind telling our readers about who your company is and what you do?

OC Robotics small company Bristol and we make snake arm robots, that is our core business. Robots for confined spaces, spaces where it’s difficult or dangerous for a human to get in to. You can use a snake arm robot, which is a very flexible robot to get inside, and take tools to do whatever process you need doing.

You have been around for ten years now, so you are still relatively new.  What do you think have been the biggest challenges your company has faced in that time?

The biggest challenge is money as ever.

Our first 5 years were R&D, working out how to best make and control these snake arms. Whilst in the last 5 years we have been taking these snake arms and working out how other sectors would use them and their best uses.

And the challenge is money, it is getting money to do projects with the big companies, it is challenging for a small company to get in with big companies and do some useful work.

What industries have shown the most interest in Snake Arms?

It was the aerospace industry but then the recession hit and the industry locked down its R&D budgets.

Since then, it has been in the nuclear industry, not the UK abroad, but actually it has been from abroad. Abroad they seem to take more risks in buying this equipment!

Companies have bought them and they are being used at the moment during power outages in nuclear power plants

What do you find particularly interesting/exciting about the program?

It is a unique technology, we are only company in world, and no one else does this.

We are still a small company and its fun to work in a small company with very clever people who are making this work.

What developments do you think will happen to the program over the next 10-20 years?

We see there being more nuclear applications and working closer with aerospace as well. We want to get the Snake Arm used on assembly floors on the legacy aircraft and the new design and build aircraft.

Are there any military applications for the Snake Arm?

Absolutely! We have worked with MOD and DOD on large and small Snake Arms, which is on-going

The main application is surveillance; you can use the Snake Arm to look inside suspect things.  For the MOD we made quite a large snake arm that went on to long cress vehicle sort of a small tank. The tank was used to drive up to vehicles and the snake was used to snake in through windows and under the car to search it.

What has the feedback been like?

It has been very good; we are still in contact and still talking to them on different projects

Could you provide some statistics on what the Snake Arm is capable of doing?

The Snake Arms you see here are for aerospace and have capacity of 5 kg they can carry.  The ones made for the mod were designed to pull a car! Once it suspected the car if it found it didn’t like it could hook onto the car and pull it away!

Other arms we are making are 4 half meters long with a capacity of 20 kg. But it is important to remember that the design depends on where you are using the arms, such as if using them under water or in the air.

What is the biggest arm you have made?

The largest is 4 and half meters long, 150 ml diameter, with a 20 kilo payload; it is a bit of a monster!

How can you control the arm?

There are 3 ways using it. The first is manually. You control the tip and direction, which draws a path 3D space. The rest of the arm will follow where the snake has been. So if you avoid an obstacle with a tip the rest will follow.

The middle method is teach and repeat. So you teach it manually and it will repeat that manoeuvre.

The third way is completely script driven. So you write a script in your virtual environment upload it into the snake arm program and it can move based on that.

Which way would you say is the best?

Certainly for the military it is definitely manual; as every environment is different. There is no way you could script for all eventualities.

Like the design for controlling UAV’s you use a Games controller to work the arm, why is this?

We use an Xbox controller if I am allowed to talk about brands! The reason is they cost £20 from Argos! If we were to develop our own controller it would cost us tens of thousands of pounds for something Microsoft have already done for us, they have done the ergonomics they’ve stress tested these things. Gamers throw these things around their rooms when they get frustrated! So they are very good pieces of kit and they work.

For more information please check their website out.





An interview with someone in the know on Apache Attack Helicopters

Afraid I’m not permitted to reveal my source (which is  quite cool for a novice writer!). This is an interview I had whilst working at DefenceIQ.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

What makes the Apache unique?

Although the Apache was designed in the 1970s as a tank killer, when that threat vanished, Apache operators learned it was capable to perform more missions than originally visioned. So the Apache is able to perform missions along all spectrums of conflict.

Iit runs the gamut of reconnaissance and surveillance to attack modes. It is a very successful design and over the past 25-30 years the aircraft has continued to be upgraded with current technologies. And new technologies as they are available are put in block form.

A very efficient development process was established early, which is really amazing when you think about its development over more than 30 years. The A model has evolved into the D model.  The Cobra has had a long life but it has gone through the alphabet and now is up to Z – Zulu.

The Apache started at A and went directly to D — no B or C designation, which is interesting.

The fully integrated capability, the ability to use its radar to scan the battlefield, to be able to communicate and eliminate the need for voice chats – all these things give the Apache unique advantages on the battlefield. Its performance, the ability to be maintained in the field and the ability to survive attacks are its key attributes.

If you go back and look at some of the stories from the Desert Storm through current Operations you can learn a lot about the Apache and how it has been deployed.

There is one story of a battalion of Apaches, more than 20 helicopters, which flew across Iraq in the middle of the night. Local residents were on their cell phones telling soldiers that the helicopters were coming. When the helicopters arrived, the situation was not as they expected and the aircraft turned around and headed back.But they flew through a gauntlet of enemy fire that damaged the aircraft but did not bring them down. Every one of the helicopters made it back safely even though they had been shot up.

The aircraft is capable of taking hits, and it’s capable of surviving.

All of these factors make the Apache unrivalled in combat.  Its ability to perform is what makes it unique.

What are its specific strengths?

Well its lethality is the main thing.  And survivability it critically important too.

The ability to shoot targets without being seen.

The ability to fire missiles from extended ranges so that the enemy doesn’t even know its coming.

It’s the kind of thing that the enemy is afraid of – it makes them not want to go out to work that day! They don’t know if they’ll come back.

That’s how bad Apache is!

When you look at the videos that have leaked out over the years, you understand that when you are a target you are in trouble.

Does the Apache have an advantage over other attack helicopters?

The Apache has the ability to see further and can effectively deploy weapons at greater ranges than other attack helicopters   These and other technolgies make the Apache stand out as unique.

The prevailing message seems to be that the Apache has many competitors, but no competition.

The bottom line is that the Apache has proven it can perform and that it can be efficiently maintained.

One documented fact that is valuable is looking at the number of flight hours the Apache has logged – more than 3.5 million. It has been in constant use in very dangerous and unfriendly environments.

Until another helicopter has matching data, it’s hard to compare Apache to anything.

One other thing that Apache does better than anyone else is modernization through what is called the “technology roadmap.”

‘A’ models were still being produced when testing was begun to incorporate digital capabilities.

As the US Army was fielding thethe first ‘D’ models, designers and engineers were already looking at the next generationApache.  Though its evolution the aircraft has transformed from black and white monotone screens to full colour moving map displays, eliminating the need for radio conversation to collect data and communicate with forces on the ground.

As Apache has added capabilities, the helicopter has become more effective and setting itself apart from the competition.

What are the key upgrades?

Today’s AH-64D Apache Block III, first delivered in October 2012,features increased flight performace with  an improved drive system which provides the ability to use more power from its  engines, and composit rotor blades.

It has increased the situational awareness with cognitive decision-aiding and fused sensor information resulting in improved survivability and targeting

System-level diagnostics,  upgrade to the fuselage –  strengthening it – is part of the aircraft’s improved sustainability.

The upgrades to the computer processing – the Apache has a modular structure – open archtecture design —  enables new software to be uploaded  without having to requalify the whole aircraft.

These are the more significant aircraft enhancements.

Could you explain the UAV Synergy?

The new Block III Apache features Level 4 UAV control.  That means being able to direct a UAV’s flight path and the control it’s sensors.  It extends the crewmember’s vision, allowing them to seemiles ahead and seeing whether or not that’s the route they want to take or that’s the target they must go after.

Considering the targeting capabilities of the Apache, if the crew can see several miles ahead then they will be able to address the threat without even getting close enough to put themselves in danger.

Where can it be used?

The missions of the helicopter are the choice and decision of the battlefield commanderss.

The Apache has capabilities to be used in day/night operations, used in search and rescue, command and control.

If you put these capabilities in to the equation and a defence force can apply it to a wide range of threats.

Where is the Apache going to be in 10 years?

The question really comes down to technology. If a new technology or capability is coming online then you can speculate.

There are a few articles published that talk about potential upgrades and capabilities.

Winning the Battle of the Atlantic: 1943

By Zoë C. Vince

This article aims to explore the various contributing factors to Allied successes in March to May of 1943.  Although the Atlantic continued to be a major theatre of operations until the end of the Second World War, it may be argued that the threat posed by German U-Boats had been greatly diminished by Allied efforts in the spring of 1943.

This author will argue that despite a variety of elements of the anti U-boat war, from intelligence to technology, combining to facilitate the withdrawal of U-boats from the North Atlantic in May 1943, it was in particular the developments in training and organisation of the Allied convoy system which can be most directly linked to German failures in this period.


The successful application of Allied tactical and technological advancements to anti-submarine warfare, culminating in the spring of 1943, lead to a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Combating the U-boat threat required close co-operation between the Allies, integrated inter-service training and command, and co-ordination of tactics, procedures and technologies.  Although there are a number of factors which contributed to Dönitz’s withdrawal of the U-boats in May 1943, it was the organisation of the convoys, support and escort groups by Admiral Sir Max Horton, and the training of crews specifically in anti-submarine warfare which provided the cohesion and professionalism required to both prevent U-boats sinking ships in convoy and simultaneously destroy a comparatively high number of submarines.  The superior standard of efficiency achieved by the Allies, in all aspects of the anti-submarine battle, ensured that the German U-boats ceased to pose a serious threat in the Atlantic.  It is clear, therefore, that training and organisation was an extremely important factor.

While addressing this subject, it would be impossible to list and discuss Allied training and organisational developments in isolation without acknowledging closely related elements of the anti-submarine campaign such as technology, signals intelligence and air power.  This article will seek to argue that while these complementary factors contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic to varying degrees, it was the improvements in training and organisation of the convoy system which enabled the effective co-ordination and optimum usage of all related developments.

The Atlantic theatre of naval operations remained important throughout the war, indeed a contemporary naval officer stated that without Allied success in this theatre “the grand conception for the liberation of Europe might never have materialised”.  Among historians there is a consensus that May 1943 marked a turning point in the Battle of the Atlantic.  Earlier historiography including the British and US naval histories described a crisis occurring in March 1943, with communications from the old world to the new coming under severe threat, followed by the sudden and unexpected collapse in May of the U-boat campaign.  Revisionist research into this subject, while acknowledging the importance of May 1943 as a pivotal month in the Battle of the Atlantic, has generally disputed the traditional view of crisis, stressing that while certain Allied convoys suffered great losses in March and April many others suffered none.  Referring to Admiralty reports, Duncan Redford states that only thirty one per cent of all ocean convoys were attacked in March, furthermore between August 1942 and May 1943 there were eight months in which the Allies suffered higher percentage losses than March.  This indicates, rather than the ‘sudden collapse’ of the U-boat war in May, a more gradual development with successful practical application of improved Allied anti-submarine tactics and technologies.  Similar revisionist research also focuses on the absence of German optimism in this period of supposed Allied crisis, consulting statistics which clearly show an increase in non-productive U-boat patrols between January and April 1943, and stating that as early as February Dönitz had reported to Hitler that the North Atlantic run campaign was not succeeding.

This reversal in fortunes can be attributed to a number of different developments which ran parallel with the progression of training and organisation. Improvements in technology in particular played an essential role in both Allied and Axis naval operations, with both sides seeking to improve on the other’s advancements.  One example of this was the German capture in 1942 of a long range Vickers Wellington bomber fitted with Air to Surface Vessel (ASV) Mark II airborne radar, and the subsequent German invention of a listening receiver as a countermeasure to ASV.  There were also improvements made to the means of engaging U-boats i.e. weapons such as the ‘hedgehog’ mortar or the improved Air Ministry and Admiralty depth charges.  It may be argued, however, that the more influential development was that of radar and direction finder technology, aimed at locating U-boats.

An example of ‘Huff-Duff’ equipment.

By its nature, the submarine was “a weapon of position and surprise”, and so the ability to locate U-boats through the use of High Frequency Definition Finders (HF/DF) and 10cm airborne radar (ASV Mark III), both fitted in the first few months of 1943, effectively removed the element of surprise and severely hindered U-boat operations.  Burns supports this by citing Dönitz in a report to Hitler, writing in May 1943 that “the enemy, by means of location devices, makes fighting impossible”.

‘Bombes’ like these were used to simulate the action of the German Enigma rotors.

In addition to technology, any discussion of the training and organisation of anti-submarine warfare in the Battle of the Atlantic also requires acknowledgement of the work carried out by British signals intelligence at Bletchley Park in breaking the German Enigma cipher.  Post-war historians had claimed that the cryptographers at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) had shortened the war and that breaking the Enigma had been a huge success.  More recently however, Ferris has denounced the tendency for historians to over-emphasise the role of signals intelligence, stressing that while its contribution was ‘notable’, the correlation between GC&CS’ successes and the overall Allied seizure of initiative in late 1942 was complementary rather than causal.  With this in mind, although on the thirteenth of December 1942 GC&CS had broken the ‘Shark’ Enigma through the use of a four-rotor electronic ‘Bombe’, complete understanding and rapid deciphering of German signals was not fully achieved until August 1943, after the U-boats had been withdrawn.  In addition by February 1943 B-Dienst, German signals intelligence, had broken the British Naval Cypher No. 3 used for convoys, providing Dönitz with a “presen[ce] in British operations rooms”.  With both combatants therefore by 1943 possessing intelligence on the other’s routes and positions, and with direction-finding technology allowing clearer location of enemy vessels, it may be argued that signals intelligence in comparison played an important, but not crucial role in May 1943.

Training and organisation in contrast was integral to the growing successes of the escort and support groups, with several different elements combining to optimise anti-U-boat operations.  Operational Research scientists under Professor Blackett contributed to the Battle of the Atlantic by engendering a “revolution in organization”; their findings contributing to Horton’s re-organisation of the anti-submarine effort through scientific calculation and research.  From 1941 onward, Blackett and his staff applied scientific findings to naval operations, helping to devise theatre-level stratagems and also solve problems such as the optimum allocation of resources to the production of merchant shipping vis-á-vis anti-submarine escorts.  Arguably Operational Research’s most influential breakthrough, however, was the analysis of shipping losses in relation to convoy size.  This investigation, carried out during 1941 and 1942, concluded that the number of losses was independent of the size of the convoys, with larger convoys being attacked by ‘wolfpacks’ no more often than smaller ones.  It was calculated that by increasing the size of individual convoys and thereby reducing the number of convoys open to attack at any one time, there could be a reduction in losses of up to 56 per cent.  As well as achieving reduced losses, the decision taken to increase convoy size had the secondary effect of freeing up escorts for more proactive work as part of the new support groups, greatly aiding the offensive campaign.

As a result Operational Research contributed greatly to Horton’s organisational reforms of Western Approaches Command and to the way the anti-submarine campaign was conducted.  Operational Research’s findings have been dubbed “quantitative common sense”, however their collation and analysis lead to measurable successes.  The incorporation of civilian scientists so closely into high level naval command structures, reporting directly to the Vice-Chief of the Naval Staff at the Admiralty, demonstrated flexibility and innovation at the highest levels, features notably absent in the German counterpart.

The establishment of support groups marked the progression of the Allied anti-U-boat campaign from defensive to offensive actions.  The average support group comprised destroyers, sloops and frigates, which were faster and had greater range than the corvettes widely used earlier in the war.  The United States’ naval operations historian Samuel Morison recognised Horton’s reorganisation of available resources as a “tactical innovation”, highlighting the ability of the support groups to aid ‘harassed’ convoys at short notice and thus alter the outcome of many such engagements.    Availability of escort destroyers and aircraft carriers and allocation of resources to the North Atlantic had previously been a large problem, delaying the formation of support groups until March 1943 and preventing adequate defence of convoys passing through the mid-Atlantic ‘Black Gap’.  During mid to late April, in contrast, an example of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre’s reports stated that “support groups have been invaluable this week and skilful handling has produced them in the right place at the moment when they are needed”.

Inter-service co-operation was crucial to success in the Atlantic

Airpower too was to play a vital role in convoy defence, and therefore availability was crucial.  The United States’ Navy was undergoing changes in organisation itself with regard to inter-service co-operation with the Army Air Force, but by the end of 1942 it was able to send two squadrons of very-long-range (VLR) B-24 Liberator heavy bombers to aid RAF Coastal Command.

One of the first Allied aircraft carriers used in escort groups: HMS Biter.

The development of different types of aircraft carriers had also been delayed by production problems and their allocation to the North Atlantic postponed due to the prioritisation of other operations, namely ‘Husky’ and ‘Torch’, but the first escort carriers HMS Biter and USS Bogue joined support groups between March and May 1943.  Redford emphasises the reluctance of both the US and British command to divert bombers away from the strategic bombing offensive, however the eventual allocation of air power to Coastal Command support groups especially alongside the newly arrived aircraft carriers was hugely successful.  A study carried out in the summer of 1943, centred on the successes of support groups in May 1943, found that their use in operations raised the number of U-boat ‘kills’ by 45 per cent, with most U-boats being sunk in close proximity to convoys.  In summary it may be argued that rather than as an isolated arm, the contribution of air power to anti-submarine operations was most successful when employed as part of support groups, coordinating with surface vessels.

It is clear that superior organisation of shipping and available aircraft was the key to effectively combating the U-boat threat through the co-ordination of available technology, intelligence and resources, but it was the intensive training and valuable experience of the anti-submarine escort and support groups which optimised efficiency and contributed to improved success rates.  Chalmers claimed “whatever the weapon and whatever the counter, training was the keystone of Horton’s regime”.

The Western Approaches Tactical Unit, Liverpool.

Horton ‘inherited’ the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU) in November 1942 which gave synthetic training to escort captains and group commanders in the tactics of convoy battles.  In January 1943 Horton added practical ship-based training on HMS Philante, based at Larne in Northern Ireland, complete with training submarines.  Horton’s emphasis on training was also shown by his decision to increase time in harbour for individual crews for the purpose of intensive training.  By the end of the war, over 5,000 officers had completed a 6-day course in anti-U-boat tactics at WATU.  The diaries of A.F.C. Layard, although not directly applicable to the pre-May 1943 period, provide a favourable first-hand account of Horton’s training programme, Whitby commenting that “one of the great lessons of the Battle of the Atlantic was the importance of continual group training”.  This focus on training was not restricted to escort groups, with improved co-operation between the Royal Navy and RAF at Derby House allowing combined training exercises leading in turn to the adoption of the same signal codes and synchronised navigation, thus optimising the support groups’ effectiveness.  Improved defence of ships in convoy was the key to overcoming the U-boat threat.  The establishment and training of support groups therefore clearly aided the anti-submarine effort far more than any single technological invention or intelligence breakthrough.

To conclude, the organisation of convoy size and structure, the introduction of support groups and Horton’s insistence on widespread, practical training had resulted in a greatly improved and efficient convoy defence system.  By April 1943, Syrett claims, the Allies were fighting and beginning to defeat the Germans with the tools of “aircraft and electronic warfare”.  The word ‘tools’ here is significant.  It is clear that HF/DF, 10cm radar and the ‘hedgehog’, as well as the signals intelligence breakthroughs and aircraft support facilitated greater successes in the location of and engagement with U-boats.  Despite this, it is unlikely that these tools could have been used to optimum effect without the proper experience, training and synchronisation of all elements of the anti-submarine battle.  The development of the support groups represented the transformation of operations from broadly defensive to offensive, and therefore it could also be suggested that Horton’s support groups personified, so to speak, the turning point of the Battle of the Atlantic.  The training and organisation of the convoy system was the key to optimising all other advances made, and therefore was hugely important to Allied success in the Atlantic.

The author may be contacted on Twitter @zcvince

Army cuts cast shadow over future of QEC carriers?

The Army cuts announced by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, which will see personnel fall from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020, have “increased uncertainty where clarity was needed” according to Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy.

According to Robert Fox, Defence Correspondent at the London Evening Standard, these cuts are entirely “political… [the Army is] living on a wish and a prayer of the most doctrinaire Tory policy that private industry will succeed.”

Jim Murphy, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence took a more muted tone, suggesting that decisions should not be made in purely military or business terms, but should also “make societal sense.”

Whilst a lot remains open to speculation one big question is whether the future of the two Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) aircraft carriers that are being built are safe in either Tory or Labour hands?

The announcement today has led to fears that not only the Army but also a major programme will be cut, with some fearing it will be the two QEC carriers that are sacrificed.

At a conference today Mr Fox warned, “One or two major equipment programmes will go” and recommended people “take their shares out of aircraft carriers.”

Cancelling the contract of the carriers would be a massive decision, one that should not be made lightly. The consequences would go far beyond “throwing good money after bad money,” Mr Murphy said.

As Rees Ward, CEO of defence industry association ADS noted, “When we lose capabilities, regenerating them takes more than just building and buying – it will take a generation to rebuild.”

This is certainly true; history has taught us that strategic culture can not simply be bought. This is technological determinism at its ugliest. When a capability is lost, the knowledge and experience of the previous generation goes with it.

Mr Fox strongly criticized how “doctrine [has been] ossified into dogma.” He continued, contesting that the general education of our leaders is “impoverished” because it focuses “too much on instruction rather than wisdom.”

So to lose any ‘wisdom’ would be a major blow to the capabilities of the British Forces. It could lead to a dearth of wisdom that could be vital in the next 10-20 years.

To paraphrase Mr Murphy, “the coalition of cuts will prevent bringing together the coalition of the capable.”

It would be foolish to throw away generations worth of experience, especially in the case of the UK’s carrier strike capability.

Professor Trevor Taylor of RUSI gives another angle, believing that the “carriers are rock solid safe”. He reasoned that it is necessary “to take in the wider factors” aside from cost savings alone. One of the key factors preventing the cancelation is the damage it would cause to Anglo-American industrial and political relations.

Cancelling the aircraft carriers will mean the cancelling the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract, Taylor argued. Apart from the obvious strategic implications this would have, the move would as also suggest the UK had lost significant faith in US industry to provide world-beating capabilities.

The rhetoric coming from the Labour camp shows no sign of lacking faith in the F-35B. Labour MP Alison Seabeck stated “the F-35B is an incredibly capable piece of kit … it is the right one put forward.”

A view unsurprisingly supported by Mr Ward: “The F-35B is likely to offer the best capability.” For Ward, ensuring a sense of confidence in the market for industries to come to the UK and invest seemed to be a priority.

The UK is currently the second largest defence exporter in the world, providing over 300,000 jobs and contributing billions to the economy. To lose the confidence of the market would be a disaster; as one of the panellists at today’s conference said “R&D and S&T are vital to this country. We can not turn it off like a tap – it would be death for this nation.”

Whilst Mr Fox’s prophesy is yet to be proved or dispelled, the belief of this writer is that at least one carrier will be flying the Union flag in a few years time. The question is then: Which major programme will be cut?

Revolutionary Thinking: the ‘Military Revolution’, ‘Military-Technical Revolution’ and ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’.

By Louis E.H. Reynolds and Zoë C. Vince

A note on historiographical bias

The historiography currently available to us regarding these topics has traditionally been written from a Western, particularly Anglo-US, perspective.  Because of this inherent bias, we would like to emphasise the predisposition of the historians we have used to highlight Anglo-US sources contributions over other arguably more influential sources, in this case particularly from the USSR.  This is due mostly to cultural and linguistic factors.

While it is unreasonable to expect historians to be fluent in all relevant languages to their subject area, and to have full cultural and social awareness or experience of these countries, it would be equally unreasonable to ignore the influence of these factors in the Anglicisation and Americanisation of the defence and military history books and articles we as students use most often, and thus the effect of this bias on our understanding of War Studies as a whole. Understanding the origins of the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ (RMA) as part of Soviet Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov’s ‘Military Technical Revolution’ (MTR), for example, is critical to any review of the modern misunderstandings and misapplications of the RMA concept.


All three theories have a range of often nebulous and irregular definitions. For the purpose of this article we have chosen to define the concepts as follows:

Military Revolution: A term to describe a period in history which has witnessed widespread and irreversible development in the areas of doctrine, technology, organisation and society, leading to decisive victories on the part of the army or country employing these new methods.  The adoption of such influential new techniques and technology is then emulated by all rivals and neighbours where practicable.

Military Technical Revolution: The precursor to the RMA, focusing specifically on the relationship between advancements in technology and success on the ‘battlefield’.  The RMA slightly expanded this concept to encapsulate the broader doctrinal and organisational changes occurring in the US army of the late twentieth century.

Revolution in Military Affairs: A current and ongoing ‘revolution’ in doctrine and organisation beginning in the 1970s and focusing on the role of technology, in particular information systems and air power.  Please note, however, that some historians have applied the RMA concept to ‘revolutions’ earlier in history.

Origins and development of the Military Revolution debate

The Military Revolution as a concept was originally defined by historian Michael Roberts in his 1955 inaugural lecture at Queen’s University of Belfast, entitled ‘Military Revolution 1560-1660’.  The term Military Revolution was used to explain the victories of Gustavus Adolphusof Sweden over the

Gustavus Adolphus

Imperial and Spanish armies during the Thirty Years War.  Roberts believed that Swedish military success in the early 17th century was due to organisational, tactical and doctrinal changes within the Swedish army.  Developments in this period included the introduction of superior drill (the counter-march) and the professionalisation of the troops and linear tactics rather than the widely used tercio, coupled with the necessary high proportion of NCOs and junior officers.  Reaching further back, the roots of these changes can be found with Maurice of Nassau and his late 16thcentury reforms of the Dutch armies. Maurice’s deep understanding of Roman military theory, particularly of the author

Maurice of Nassau

Aelian, and his application of drill, entrenchments, and other classically-inspired improvements led, Roberts argued, to a more proficient military machine.  The work of Gustavus Adolphus was therefore closely related to this, with the broader structural reforms of the army and formations complemented by technological advancements such as the use of three-pounder infantry support guns attached to modular infantry units, and tactical improvements like the employment of offensive shock action by his cavalry.

It is clear that the comprehensive and successfully applied changes to the existing military system were certainly impactive, one might say to the point of being revolutionary.  The developments introduced by Gustavus Adolphus were organisational, technological and doctrinal.  Gustavus Adolphus’ effective use of supply magazines, linear tactics and use of lighter artillery and firearms were steadily adopted by all the European powers.  The organisation of the Swedish army with its smaller unit sizes and higher numbers of NCOs and junior officers also became the standard model for Europe.  One area which is perhaps lacking from a ‘revolutionary’ perspective is the effect on society.  The widely accepted revolutions of history, the French and the Industrial Revolutions, had huge effects on the demographic, social reform and people as individuals.  Because we must avoid the study of war as a phenomenon in isolation, the social factor must not be ignored.  With the exception of the high casualty and mortality rate which was true of all combatants in the Thirty Years’ War, Gustavus Adolphus’ reforms had a negligible impact on the Swedish people.

Geoffrey Parker responded to Roberts’ argument by emphasising earlier developments which Roberts had neglected, such as the 15th century improvement of gunpowder artillery, and the critical subsequent development in the early 1500s of the trace italienne, in what was later characterised by

Clifford J. Rogers as an ‘artillery fortress revolution’. This development reversed the superiority of the offensive that had existed since the 1430s, and strategically the emphasis returned to the defensive, focusing on entrenchment on the battlefield and the use of the new fortifications which partially negated the effectiveness of early artillery. Certainly, this alternative earlier Military Revolution is also worthy of further study, as the social, economic and military changes it wrought on early modern Europe was similarly significant.   It must be stressed however, that as David Parrott pointed out, Parker was merely moving the revolution into his own specialism, namely 16th century warfare with particular respect to siege warfare.  Nevertheless, the Military Revolution debate was enhanced, with Roberts’ narrow view of European warfare added to by Parker’s acknowledgement of the importance of siege warfare and the primacy of the defence.

Clifford J. Rogers also redefined the Military Revolution, again with solid justification, and again by moving it further into the past into his own area of speciality, in this case the Hundred Years’ War.  For Rogers there were two ‘revolutions’, which he defined as the ‘Infantry Revolution’ and the ‘Artillery Revolution.’ According to him the ‘Infantry Revolution’ began with the adoption by the English under Edward III of a combined formation consisting of longbowmen and dismounted men-at-arms fighting in tactically defensive positions.  Other contributing developments included the Flemish, Swiss and Scottish use of pike in the 14th and 15th centuries, which reduced the previous dominance of the mounted feudal aristocracy on the battlefield.  Through these developments, Rogers argued that this Military Revolution began the process of transforming medieval, feudal military structures in Europe into more recognisably modern professional armies.

The second part of Rogers’ contribution to the debate begins in the 15thcentury, when technological developments in gunpowder weaponry between 1420 and 1430 led to the ‘Artillery Revolution’.  The result of this ‘revolution’ was the increased redundancy of traditional high walled towns and castles, as powerful artillery quickly became proficient at creating assailable breaches.  To give a comparative example, Henry V’s siege of Harfleur in 1415 lasted

Henry V at Harfleur

many months, whereas in 1449 when the French recaptured it, the sieges lasted a mere 17 days.  Understandably this effective use of artillery led to great social and economic changes as populations came under attack in their towns.  A further related development, Rogers argues, was the expansion and consolidation of the larger European states as they alone could afford the high price of siege warfare and the logistics involved.   Quickly the futility of static, castle based defence, due to the potency of artillery, became clear and the emphasis shifted to the offensive use of large armies on the battlefield.  Again, the financial burden of campaigning increased as only the large states with more sophisticated and centralised taxation systems could finance the large armies required.  A consequence of increased state centralisation was the absorption of weaker states by their larger neighbours, for example in this manner the Spanish drove the Moors from Spain, and the French re-conquered Normandy and the semi-independent region of Brittany.

Rogers’ argument is detailed and sensible, the consequences and importance of the early developments of infantry and artillery cannot be understated, and his description of the two parallel developments as ‘revolutions’ is understandable.  This earlier period witnessed broad changes in military conduct, as well as economic, social and political developments which had wide-reaching consequences.

But still the debate continued, with Jeremy Black further adding to the debate by highlighting the importance of the years 1660 to 1710 and overall expanding Roberts’ original period to 1550-1800.  Black argued that rather than in the early 17th century, the real structural and tactical changes in European armies occurred in the following hundred years, one of his examples being the military advancements made by Louis XIV alongside his political and structural centralisation.

The development of the Military Revolution debate has therefore resulted in a potential ‘revolutionary’ period of up to 500 years, from Rogers’ 14th century developments to those cited by Black, going right up to 1800.  Each historian has largely agreed with Roberts’ main principles of ‘revolution’, but rejected their narrow geographical and chronological application.  For the purpose of promoting their own areas of interest, each newcomer to the debate has loosely applied the arguments to alternative periods in history.  As a result, there remains a confused and divisive account of what actually constitutes a Military Revolution.

Origins and development of the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’

In the late 1970s, low ranking Soviet officers began to argue that computers, space surveillance (satellites), long range missiles, communications systems

A typical 1970s US satellite

and information technology, as well as their integration into conventional forces, was changing the balance of power.  In other words the Soviet armies, and their doctrine and technology, were becoming obsolete when viewed in direct comparison with the US coordinated multi-arm forces with their superior communication and information systems.

This new understanding led to Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov (1917-1994) outlining in a series of papers and lectures what he described as a ‘Military Technical Revolution’ (MTR).  This MTR involved the ‘revolutionary’ synthesis of new technology, military systems and organisational and operational adaptation to create a new ‘way’ of waging war.  Due to the constraints of the declining Soviet economy and lack of political will to engage in another military-technological arms race with the West, the Soviet armed forces only implemented limited reforms in response to Ogarkov’s research.

The reaction to the MTR in the West was minimal, being largely dismissed as propaganda; however Andrew W. Marshall, Head of the US Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment and Strategic Planning, saw its merits and referred to the MTR in his analysis of the military balance between the US and the USSR.  He too, like Ogarkov, believed that change lay in sensors and information systems.

Due to the primarily technological nature of the MTR, it may be possible to apply it to previous examples of military-technological change, which range from the invention of the stirrup to that of the tank. The central idea of the MTR, being that technological innovation can drive military change, is a concept which has been familiar throughout history and because of this can be closely compared to the Military Revolution theory.

Marshall rebranded the MTR concept as the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’, and developed its details. The development of the RMA concept by Marshall was followed closely by modern military organisations across the globe, not least the People’s Liberation Army of China, who “translated every word that Marshall wrote.”

This change in terminology was accompanied by little actual change in the concept, except for the expansion of the idea to incorporate more up-to-date technological innovations contemporary to Marshall, and to slightly change the direction of the concept specifically towards the future planning of the US military. Many academics use the terms MTR and RMA interchangeably, while others refer to an MTR as a generalised military-technological advance applicable to other periods in history, and in comparison view the RMA concept as being more focused on military-technological development from 1985 to the present day.

The historiography of the RMA debate has expanded greatly in recent years.  Having established and largely accepted the current information-technology RMA, historians are now attempting to project the concept back in time, and by doing so explain other instances of technological change leading organisational and doctrinal reform.  One such example is the applicationof the RMA idea to ‘Blitzkrieg’, particularly the Fall of France in 1940.  Unfortunately there are numerous problems with this.  Firstly it has been comprehensively proven that Germany did not possess vastly superior technology, despite isolated technological strengths.  In addition, ‘Blitzkrieg’ was not a formal doctrine, and as a result the direct effects of technological advancement cannot be proven.  The Fall of France was to a large extent aided

The Fall of France 1940

by French incompetence and mistakes, and additionally any analysis of Blitzkrieg is incomplete without reference to the Eastern Front, where it ultimately failed due to a variety of logistical, tactical and strategic reasons.  It is clear that this approach is flawed.

Taking examples from history and by doing so applying the lessons of past wars to modern conflicts is a core part of contemporary academic analysis.  However, projecting modern concepts and metaphysical structures onto past events risks both historical ‘cherry picking’ in the style of Mahan, as well as often cripplingly subjective analysis, which distorts historical truth.

Can these terms really be applied? 

Due to the historian’s penchant for applying theories and definitions to alternative periods in history, it is possible to find terms like the ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ or the Military Revolution appearing in studies ranging throughout the whole spectrum of military history, often interchangeably.  To a certain extent, although the debate surrounding the Military Revolution is by no means over, this term has been worn-out, over used and over applied.  The RMA however is only just being properly explored, and applied to other periods of great military change.  Historians have projected the Revolution in Military Affairs back to German ‘Blitzkrieg’ and the First World War, for example.  These studies promote analysis and evaluation of the RMA when applied to other areas, but take the original concept completely out of context.

The Military Revolution debate is centred on which period of history it may or may not be applied to.  As a result of numerous historians’ studies and debates, academics in the field of warfare are presented with many different sides of the same argument; an argument which is inherently flawed.  By extending and editing the original framework to fit their own areas of interest, the key historians engaged in this debate have negated any plausibility attached to the ‘revolutionary’ label, not least through the advocacy of a revolution lasting more than one hundred years, a concept proposed by more than one academic.  The RMA, being ‘younger’, has yet to be fully understood and applied in this way.

The boundaries between the different terms are largely indistinct and by removing the original limitations of time and space, the RMA being specifically aimed at the 1980s onward, the resulting ‘revolution’, encapsulating technology, doctrine and organisation would overlap heavily with the Military Revolution.

It is also important to remember provenance when assessing any of these terms.  The Military Revolution was conceived by an early modern historian 400 years after the events, while the MTR and RMA concepts were created by contemporaneous military thinkers to explain developments in the modern world.  Understanding the geneses of these concepts therefore helps to differentiate between the two.

Consequently, the question is not necessarily can these terms be applied, but is perhaps ‘should they be applied?’.  The Military Revolution concept lends itself to a range of periods in history, but has as a result been over applied, stretched and warped.  The RMA was developed from the original MTR idea to address advancements in technology, and their effects on the military, specifically in the US in the 70s, 80s and later decades.  It is thus by definition a concept that can only be applied to the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and because of this it is clearly inappropriate to superimpose the RMA onto any other period in time.

Punctuated Equilibrium Evolution Theory

Clifford J. Rogers, perhaps aware that his paper on the multiple military revolutions of the Hundred Years’ War was stretching Roberts’ already crumbling conceptual framework to breaking point, proposed the adoption in military history of a biological term first used in the 1970s in reference to evolutionary biology, ‘Punctuated Equilibrium Evolution’. Rogers saw this idea as a series of small, periodic bursts of change in military history, punctuated by relative stability.  This translates as, for example, an important new technological development, followed by relative inaction while the technology delivers an impact and then the widespread adoption of the technology and acceptance of the social, economic and political consequences related to it.

This theory goes further than the Military Revolution debate to explain why Europe experienced continuous ‘revolutions’ throughout a period of over 500 years.  By viewing the developments as short bursts of activity in an otherwise stagnant and reactionary military environment, it is possible to identify important technological, doctrinal, organisational and social changes without having to impose the ‘revolution’ label on them.  This idea therefore has much to offer, but for it to be any more relevant, and in order to emerge from beneath the Military Revolution theory it requires tighter definition and further study.

Summary and Conclusion

An MTR is an RMA is not quite a Military Revolution.  A Military Revolution implies that the military-technical development (MTR/RMA) is accompanied by broader social, economic, political or cultural change.  This is as close to a qualitative definition as one can expose without breaking the concepts at their core.

Indeed, there is clearly no quantitative measurement.  For example, while Clifford J. Rogers speculated that perhaps a revolution “lasts for no more than one lifespan”, Jeremy Black’s revolution lasts for over 200 years, and Roberts a full 100 years.  The Military Revolutions of Rogers, Black, Roberts and Parker (to name but a few examples) are all well argued, and all fit the general definition of a Military Revolution.  Yet they extend from 1302 with the genesis of Rogers’ ‘Infantry Revolution’ to around 1430 with the ‘Artillery Revolution’, then 1500 and the beginning of trace italienne, followed by the 1630s and Gustavus Adolphus’ application of linear tactics, to the late 17th century and the inception of the bayonet, being drawn by Black all the way to 1800 in his work ‘A Military Revolution? Military Change and European Society 1550-1800’.  Developments such as these, with similar characteristics and occurring over long periods of time, appeared with such frequency during the last millennium that surely they cannot be regarded as revolutionary at all.

A lack of capacity for any real quantitative measurement is not on its own a fatal blow to the Military Revolution concept, but in combination with the lack of consistency in its application by various academics and the sheer volume of time periods referred to as military revolutions, it must be concluded that the term clearly has no value.

The main problem with the RMA in comparison is not that it has been over-applied, although restraint must now be used to prevent this happening, but that it has not been properly defined.  The Revolution in Military Affairs is a modern concept for the modern military, and as such must not be projected back in time to historical periods more suited to alternative explanations.  In addition to this, an ‘end’ to the current RMA must be found.  This RMA began in the 1970s with the increasing military use of information systems and smart technology, continuing through the development and increasingly widespread use of the internet, up to the present day.  Without clear definition this RMA could therefore continue infinitely, if one considers the rate of technological development we are now experiencing.  The RMA concept as a result of this runs the risk of becoming, like the Military Revolution, too broad to succeed as a workable term.

We would argue that while ‘military affairs’ have been irreversibly transformed by post-1970 technological developments, this transformation cannot be

New technology has changed the conduct and organisation of modern armed forces

viewed as a revolution.  Without knowing the conclusion to the current RMA, it is impossible to know whether the US and the West are experiencing a revolutionary or evolutionary process.  Because of this, we would direct interested parties to the Punctuated Equilibrium Evolution Theory, which has many merits and may be applied successfully to much of history due to having a more sensible and all-encompassing approach.  Punctuated Equilibrium Evolution however does require more study and application to historical subjects before it may be totally adopted by historians.

The military historian Cyril Falls once noted that people throughout history have had a tendency to view their own period of time as revolutionary in a way that separates them conceptually from the past, a subjective flaw we perhaps still suffer from. We would argue that this is the same for military historians and analysts, with a tendency for each to see their own period of study as the most significant. It is not coincidental that each of the historians discussed in this article have found their own specialism the most noteworthy period in military history.

It is perhaps both the linear academic view of history, a product of the Enlightenment, and our own psychological requirements as pattern seeking mammals that motivate us to attempt to draw a straight line through history, and to view the entire subcategory of military history on the sliding scale of a single concept, be it ‘Punctuated Equilibrium Evolution’, ‘RMA’, ‘MTR’ or ‘Military Revolution’. Similarly, perhaps none of these approaches is appropriate. What is clear is that the Military Revolution, RMA and MTR concepts are so loosely defined, subjective, over applied and misunderstood that if they originally provided analytical value, they no longer do so.

The authors of this article can be contacted via Twitter at: @L_EH_Reynolds and @zcvince

How Physics and the Scientific Method have influenced the development of weaponry and warfare.

This is an essay provided by one of my friends who studies physics at the University of Birmingham.

Robots like this are already on battlefields

In 2010, the United States spent $80bn of its $600bn defence budget on “Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation”, eclipsing the amount of money spent on NASA, public transportation, energy or even education. The research and testing that goes into new weapons has been incredibly important ever since humanity moved on from sharpened sticks and metal in around the 1300-1600’s, which also happens to be around the time when the scientific method really began to take off and become a discipline on its own, separate from philosophy and other more ancient disciplines. In this essay I will be examining how the scientific method and in particular how developments in physics have contributed to the advancement of warfare and the weaponry we use. I will also be looking at the future, at where Physics will take us and how new technologies will take us beyond M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) to conflicts where human beings may not even be fighting.

Weapons have been around ever since humans have, and the common sword is thought to date back to the Bronze Age, around 3300BC. Although the crafting of swords was a rigorous and arguably scientific process with the use of different metals and alloys, it wasn’t until the use of gunpowder in China that science and physics began to meddle with the ways of warfare. Use of incendiaries has been recorded since the first civilisations warred, flaming rocks spewed by catapults for example, but the rapid combustion of gunpowder and its dominance over hand to hand combat in the centuries following its discovery make it perfect to herald as a landmark, a starting point where science became important in terms of weaponry. Gunpowder, a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate (saltpetre as it was known then) was first mentioned in Chinese records in around 800AD, and was thought to be weaponised in the few centuries following. Records then suggest that gunpowder spread from China through the Middle East, eventually arriving in Europe in the late 13th century where it was refined and worked upon. It was employed in Europe as a weapon from the 14th century onwards and by the 17th century came to dominate early modern warfare. During the centuries following this, Europe experienced the Scientific and Industrial Revolution, and the discoveries made during this period would change the face of warfare for years to come.

Beginning with Galileo and Copernicus’ work in the 1500’s, the Scientific Revolution began and would continue over the next few centuries. New ideas and theories in all fields led to an emergence from the middle ages and major advancements in technology. In terms of warfare, the state of play was largely the same up until the 19th century with gunpowder still being the weapon of choice, its basic principles unchanged but the technology behind it improving. It is important to note sciences indirect impact on the field of warfare: despite no revolutionary new weapons being made or invented during this era, advances in science made it possible to cast metal better leading to more accurate and powerful guns, advances in maths and physics led to better panoramic sights allowing cannons and heavy artillery to be better utilised. Discoveries made by scientists in these times were quickly adapted to suit the battlefield. Towards the end of the scientific revolution came a period of time called “The Age of Enlightenment”. Originally a cultural movement or intellectuals where reason was valued more over faith it also marked the beginning of the industrial revolution and ushered a new age of electricity, automation and machines. By the end of the 1800s weapon manufacturers had a few new toys to play with; perhaps one of the most significant was the mass assembly production line. This not only allowed mass production of weaponry but also of machines, cars and armoured trucks that could be used in war. The invention of the airplane by the wright brothers in 1903 was another huge breakthrough, and it didn’t take long before guns and weapons were being attached to these new manners of machines, adding a whole new element to war. Advances in science made these creations possible, and soon tanks, fighter planes and bombers were standard affair in the wars of the early 1900s.

In the first few decades of the 1900’s, major developments in the understanding of atoms led to a new revolution in physics. The French physicist Pierre Curie discovered that contained in uranium ore a substance called radium emitted large amounts of radiation. This fuelled speculation that elements accessible to us could contain incredible amounts of energy which we could harness. In 1933, the idea of a chain reaction via neutrons, whereby one nuclear reaction causes on average one or more new nuclear reactions to occur was proposed by Leo Szilard. Achieved by either the fusion of light isotopes (e.g. H2 or H3) or the fission of much heavier elements such as Uranium-235, these nuclear reactions would release millions of times more energy than chemical reactions such as those used in gunpowder and artillery. More research was poured into the possibility of nuclear energy and weaponry but abruptly stopped being published on the eve of World War II; this was an act of censorship to stop any breakthroughs from reaching the opposing side of the war.

This all led to arguably the next landmark in terms of the relationship between science and warfare. A research and development program headed in the United States named “The Manhattan Project” begun in 1939 and the end result was a weapon of mass destruction which changed the way wars were fought. First utilised in combat in August 1945 with the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, the A-bomb was a weapon of the nuclear age, with far more destructive capabilities than anything that had come before it. Over coming decades, the very existence of these terrifying devices led to a Cold War, a huge arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in which over 60,000 nuclear warheads were built. This rivalry between two superpowers had a profound effect on science as by now both countries leaders had begun to recognise how science could give them the upper hand when it came to conflict. Billions of dollars and roubles were poured into technological advancement, the most prominent being that of space travel. The advancements made by these huge investments had the effect of driving forward military technology; NASA for example pioneered many technologies: Intelligent Flight Control Systems, Composite Material Structures and Vertical Take off & Landing being just a few of them. All three are now widely used in the military, having first been designed and invented as a means to fly through space. As we move onto future warfare, we will see how important pushing the boundaries of our technology still really is.

In 2008, the US military accelerated a 3.2kg object to 2415ms-1 in a device called a Railgun (so called because of the two conductive rails it uses to fire the projectile). The idea for a gun that uses a magnetic field to propel bullets had been around since the early 1900’s. However up until recently the theory was practically unfeasible due to power requirements, with reports showing that each gun would “need the same amount of power needed to illuminate half of Chicago.” A railgun is made up of two parallel rails, usually between 1-10 meters, that are connected to a power supply. When a conductive projectile is placed between the rails, it allows current to flow from one rail to another. Current flowing through the rails induces a magnetic field, circular around the rails, the projectile then experiences a Lorentz force, pushing the projectile in a direction parallel to the rails and out of the barrel. Once the projectile has left

Basic diagram of how a railgun works

the barrel, there is no conductor between the rails and current stops flowing. There are a few advantages to a railgun, the first that it doesn’t involve any explosive materials that could be hazardous when stored; the second is that it can fire projectiles much faster than conventional gunpowder can. Projectiles propelled by gunpowder are usually limited to around 1219ms-1, half that of the experimental navy railgun test. There are problems with the railgun though, first it needs a colossal amount of energy to propel slugs to a high speed, we can use the Biot-Savart Law and the Lorentz Force to determine the power needed to propel projectiles at a high speed, the recent navy experiments used thousands of mega joules for their tests.[10] The other problems involved with railguns include the melting of the rails, when projectiles are forced down the rails with such speed the rails experience frictional heating, and the flow of current through the rails, especially at such high currents provides a resistive heating effect. The next major problem that railguns face is the face that the current in each rail flows in opposite directions, this means that the railguns are repelled from each other and at such high powers this repulsive force can cause wear and tear. A similar type of device is called a Coilgun or Gauss Cannon. This works by firing a projectile up a barrel which is surrounded by conducting coils. These coils provide a propulsive force on the projectile and speeds it up faster than conventional projectiles.

The Mosquito is a device used all around shops and malls in England, a loudspeaker that produces a high pitch noise (around 17.4 kHz at 108dB). The idea is that this screeching sound can only be heard by people under the age of 25, in tests it has proved successful and while there are many ethical issues surrounding its usage, it is an excellent example of how sound can be used as a weapon or deterrent. Ultra Sonic Weapons are currently in limited use in military and law enforcement agencies, while they would generally be classified as non-lethal, these weapons are still capable of killing under certain conditions. It is possible for high power sound waves to vibrate and destroy eardrums, causing severe pain to a target; this has been demonstrated in both counter-terrorist exercises and crowd control. More experimentation has also been done on the resonant frequencies of other body parts. Research has shown that at some frequencies around 0-20Hz, a human’s eyeball would vibrate at resonance, causing distortions to vision.  Click link to see Use of sonic cannon.

Unmanned vehicles have been in use for decades, and they range from aerial vehicles used to scout and spy to remote controlled cars

A potential future?

that can be used to investigate and disarm unexploded bombs. The future of robots in the military though goes way beyond scouting and exploring however, plans have been made to introduce more and more autonomous infantry and support into war situations. These initiatives range from autonomous sniper systems, where a computer is hooked up to rifles on a moving helicopter, to TAC, Tactical Autonomous Combatant, robot infantry straight out of a terminator film that could be used in place of human foot soldiers. There are many moral and ethical dilemmas involving the use of robots on the battlefield, but the advantages are great. Conflicts in the future could have literally no loss of human life, and robots unlike humans are not prone to getting tired or feeling fear. What is important is that as robots become more and more complex, greater interest must be put into investigating the implications of their ability to make autonomous decisions.

Technological advances in physics and science has been the catalyst for hundreds of new techniques and tools in weaponry. It is important to remember that these scientific discoveries were not made becausewe could the convert them into weapons, but rather that weaponry was just one way of applying our new found knowledge. All of the technologies I have talked about in this essay exist in real life, but there are many others that while for the moment exist only in science fiction, could one day be used in the military. You only have to look as far as popular films and TV series, the ICARUS cannon seen in James Bond: Die Another Day, focusing the sun’s rays to a point meters in diameter, or the lightsabres and droids used in Star Wars to see that when it comes to weaponry human imagination has few limits, and as long as scientific advancements lead to more power, new materials, new theories, that weapons development won’t be too far behind.