We previously discussed the quantity versus quality issue and recognized the truism, “Quantity has a Quality all its own.”. Recently, however, there has been a great deal of emphasis by various commentators across the Internet on the need to maintain the qualitative edge over our enemies even if it means accepting insanely large expenditures. For example, the F-35 is cited as necessary to maintain our technological edge despite the break-the-bank cost levels associated with it. It’s claimed that the LCS with its futuristic, unmanned, networked, remotely operated vehicles is the only way we can wage war in the littorals with even a hope of success. We absolutely must have a highly advanced aircraft carrier with EMALS catapults, advanced arresting gear, dual band radar, and many other technological wonders. There is no way we can maintain the naval leg of our nuclear triad without a new design SSBN that is bigger than the
class (even though it has several fewer missiles!). And so on … Ohio
The problem with all of those arguments is that the result is fewer and fewer platforms. The Navy has stated that carrier squadrons, already numerically smaller than in the days of the Tomcat and Phantom, will be further reduced by 2-3 aircraft. The LCS is replacing all the Perrys, all the mine countermeasure ships, and all the patrol craft with only 50 ships and it’s highly unlikely that all 50 will be built. The Ford class costs have already resulted in a lengthening of the carrier acquisition cycle and the downward trend in carrier numbers from 15 to the current 10 will likely continue to around 6-8. The 18 original
are being replaced by only 12 new SSBNs. Ohios
Internet commentators seem to have a fascination, bordering on obsession, with technology for its own sake. The question that needs to be asked is not whether the next gee-whiz weapon system will be a technological improvement but, rather, will it help us win wars. Huh?!? What an odd question. Of course more advanced technology will win wars over inferior technology.
Hmm … I wonder …
Consider the B-2 bomber. It’s a technological wonder but is so expensive that we only have around 20. In a war, assuming we’re even willing to risk them, they would quickly become unavailable due to combat attrition and simple mechanical breakdown. Thus, the B-2 is a huge leap of technology that won’t help us win a war. After a couple of weeks of combat we’ll be using B-52s, as we always do. In hindsight, should we have built 20 B-2s or 100 new B-52s?
Is technological superiority even mandatory in a war? Let’s look to history for the answer. The inferior F4F Wildcat held its own or outperformed the Japanese Zero. For that matter, even the P-40 more than held its own against the Zero. Turning to land warfare, the technically inferior WWII Soviet tanks beat the German war machine with its amazing tanks. Even the lowly
carried the tide against German tanks. Sherman
How did these technologically inferior weapons achieve success? Two reasons: one, numbers and, two, training.
|Sherman Tank - Quantity Over Quality|
The F4F Wildcat outperformed the Zero due to superior training and tactics. Similarly, the P-40, famously used by the Flying Tigers, used superior training and tactics to overcome the Zero.
In summation, at the start of WWII who had the most technologically advance platforms? That would be
and Germany . At the end of WWII who won? That would be the Allies. Why? Because the US and Japan , in particular, were able to produce platforms in numbers sufficient to overcome the technological deficits that they faced. In WWII, numbers beat technology. Russia
History repeatedly tells us that technological superiority is not an absolute requirement for victory. History further tells us that weight of numbers is ultimately more telling than technology. You can enjoy a 50:1 kill advantage over your opponent but if he has 51 platforms, you lose.
Am I arguing for intentional technological inferiority? Of course not, so half of you can stop typing out your replies. Am I suggesting that numbers and training can overcome any technology gap? Of course not. No quantity of Sopwith Camels will be sufficient to beat F-16s and no amount of training can overcome that technology gap.
I’m suggesting that we have become so enamored with technology that we’ve forgotten that what we’re trying to accomplish is winning wars and that there is more than one way to do that. We can win with technology that’s several generations more advanced than our enemies but that will ultimately break the bank (ask the Soviet Union how the pursuit of technology worked out) and result in armed forces that are numerically extremely small which has decided disadvantages during peacetime operations. Alternatively, we can accept smaller technology gaps, or even technology deficits (gasp!!!), if it allows us to produce sufficient quantities of weapons and if we train to get the maximum performance out of those platforms.
In fact, this discussion suggests an alternative to our present obsession with ever newer and more complex construction at ever increasing costs. Perhaps we ought to be devoting a significant (not all) portion of our construction budget to good, solid, capable designs and robust, realistic training. Maybe 200 new A-10s flown by superbly trained pilots would be more useful than 20 F-35s? Depending on final costs, we can buy 2-3 Super Hornets for the cost of a single F-35. Which would you rather have?
It’s been so long since we fought a two-sided war, we’ve forgotten that attrition is a fact of combat and the only answer to attrition is numbers. We’ve also gotten so used to being able to dictate the location and timing of battles that we’ve forgotten that in a two-sided war the enemy will get to pick his share of the battles and if we don’t have sufficient numbers of platforms we’ll be facing defeats due to inadequate presence across all the possible battle locations.
There’s a lesson to be learned, here. The Navy is repeatedly trading dwindling numbers for marginal technology improvements. That trend has got to stop.