The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Auslin has an interesting post about technology and paradigm shifts. It is quite pessimistic:
“There is much discussion of asymmetric weapons systems, disruptive technologies, and new warfighting frontiers. Concerns over anti-ship ballistic missiles, hypersonic cruise missiles, cyber warfare, and electro-magnetic pulse are getting increasing attention by military thinkers. Yet, it is hard to avoid the sense that technology is outstripping our ability to conceptualize not merely tactical response but even strategic calculations. Our network-linked force is more lethal than ever before, but that in turn now makes it possibly among the most vulnerable. Are our warfighters, and their supporting circles, truly prepared for a conflict that might obviate the vast and crucial advantages the U.S. military now possesses over any other force on earth? “
Perhaps the biggest barrier to conceptualizing technological and tactical shifts is the lack of experience against a comparable conventional combatant. The first and second Gulf Wars, while no picnics, did not feature a truly comparable adversary. Since Auslin makes a metaphor to the technological and tactical changes that prefigured World War I, it is important to point out that with the important exception of the Franco-Prussian War, most of the European powers that fought in the conflict spent the decades beforehand in colonial warfare. While some colonial conflicts (most notably the Boer war) prefigured changes in world conflict, beating down the Sudanese mahdi did not necessarily provide the British with proper preparation for engaging the Germans. While the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have provided plenty of valuable lessons, there is a reason why the Pentagon is focusing so intently on a war that it didn’t fight–the 2006 Lebanon war. However, even this might not be much of a guide to how a future opponent might fight a positional war. There is a danger of tactics being drawn up as an “ideal type” that does not correspond to the direction of future conflict.