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The Price of Change
Techno-skeptics like Chuck Spinney doubt the kind of hi-tech investment
proposed can yield dividends on the battlefield. "How's he gonna
operate this in the mud?" questions Spinney. "By the way,
where is he going to get the power to operate it, he's going to be carrying
around all these batteries, and what is going to happen when someone
starts shooting at him?"
Spinney is a Pentagon analyst, and a long-time critic of the military's
weapon procurement system. "The first thing you have to remember
is that machines don't fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.
Any combat veteran will tell you he doesn't want to focus inward on
his weapons while he's in a firefight. The Revolution in Military Affairs
and the so-called Transformation requires very explicit integration
of technology and that causes you to focus inward, which is exactly
what your adversary wants you to do."
Spinney says another problem is cost. The U.S. will spend $328 billion
this year on defense, more than the next 15 largest defense budgets
in the world combined. But with an unwillingness to cut obsolete or
redundant weapons, these hi-priced, hi-tech systems come at the expense
of more basic needs: such as better training, more sea-lift and air
transport and updating aging equipment. Chuck Spinney says that we are
spending more defense dollars now per unit of combat power than ever
before. "Maybe the problem isn't so much how much we spend on defense,
it's what we're buying. And this is killing us," he says.
and War - Boston University World of Ideas: Guest Eugenia
|Kiesling (Photo by K. Zabarsky)
If the promise of hi-technology could mean remote controlled warfare
and reduce, even eliminate, risks to American soldiers, wouldn't that
be worth the investment? Eugenia Kiesling, a military historian at the
U.S. Military Academy doesn't think so. "I think it's generally
a myth to say that technology has made war less blunt or more effective,"
She says that after WWI, many theorists argued that the tank was going
to make war cleaner. "In fact if you look at WWII, you see enormous
armored battles and huge casualties," she says.
Kiesling argues war is at best a blunt instrument to resolve human
conflict. Removing the human element, she says, raises troubling moral
issues. "If we find ways to kill other people without suffering
harm ourselves, we prove that we are the sort of people they are not
going to want to make peace with. Right now we recruit soldiers on the
assumption that they will be putting themselves in harm's way, and if
we are looking to recruit people who will not do that, but will simply
kill by playing video games, I don't think we'll be putting the right
sort of people in uniform." says Kiesling.
But Harvard's Stephen Rosen says the technological revolution has been
making war less blunt, even more humane. "When we wanted to bomb
targets in Europe or Japan in WWII, we killed millions of civilians.
When we went to war in Serbia and Kosovo in a very densely populated
urban environment using air power, we killed maybe four or five hundred
civilians, because war had become less blunt," he says. "It's
still blunt, just not as bad as it used to be, and that's good, from
a moral point of view."
If technology represents the decisive factor for RMA advocates, its
promise is less clear for Charlie Company at Fort Lewis. In the mock
raid on the town of Jezabar, teams move from building to building, firing
blanks at hooded rebels hiding in the shadows.
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The exercise bogs down and one team is pinned down and picked apart
by rebel gunmen. Tensions mount, and First Sergeant Kemp shakes his
head in dismay and declares seven America soldiers wounded or killed.
"I think it could have been accomplished it they had paid a little
more attention to what they had been doing," says Kemp. "There
were a lot of simple mistakes that got people hurt. It's very complicated,
going through a maze and making decisions on the fly. It's not easy."
Charlie Company commander Captain John Kiriazis says this kind of exercise
shows both the promise and the limitations of technology.
"Great tool, before a fight, fantastic tool after the fight,"
he says. "During the fight, I think that heads have got to be in
the game and break away from using digital and concentrate on the mission
at hand. Technology is a great help for us, but when it comes to pulling
triggers, people going down, soldiers stepping up to take initiative,
it's always going to come down to that individual soldier and his training."
Next: Missile Defense: Imperative