The Magazine

Transformation

The changing requirements for victory on the battlefield.

Jan 23, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 18 • By MACKUBIN THOMAS OWENS
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From Alfred Nobel's prediction that dynamite was such a radical change that it would lead to the end of war, to similar claims about the machine gun, the naval torpedo, the bomber, and the nuclear bomb, predictions of revolutionary change in warfare have been commonplace--and wrong. The radical restructuring of the U.S. force structure from a balanced force of air, land, naval, and space capabilities to one that relies primarily on long-range air-or ship-delivered precision strikes would be very risky. Such an unbalanced force structure might work well against an opponent that has not mastered the modern system of force employment. But against one that has such mastery it would be at a severe disadvantage.

Transformation advocates fancy themselves revolutionaries struggling against reactionary military establishments. Biddle argues that they have not made their case. Certainly, in the past, some military organizations have been too slow to adapt to changing conditions, but there are also many examples of militaries that have changed too fast or too much: the interwar Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force in the late 1940s, the French jeune école navalists of the 1880s, and the British Army in the late 1930s.

Military Power reminds us that defense policy is a topic too serious to be left to "true believers."

Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of national security at the Naval War College.