Skip to main content

The Pursuit of Technological Superiority

  • 196 Accesses

Abstract

Lake analyzes US security policy since the beginning of the Cold War, demonstrating the pattern of trying to leverage or develop superior technology to solve military problems. After considering the possibility that the search for technological superiority is a rational choice, Lake argues that it is really rooted in American culture. American culture has a strong pro-technology bias, and the establishment of a large peacetime military after World War II allowed the military to import the general American pro-technology orientation into American strategic culture and the service cultures.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Buying options

Chapter
USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • DOI: 10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_3
  • Chapter length: 37 pages
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
eBook
USD   59.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • ISBN: 978-1-349-78681-7
  • Instant PDF download
  • Readable on all devices
  • Own it forever
  • Exclusive offer for individuals only
  • Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout
Hardcover Book
USD   79.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)

Notes

  1. 1.

    The Air Force also deployed a variety of sensors to detect Vietnamese insurgents and infiltrators as part of the Igloo White program (Werrell 2003, pp. 37–38).

  2. 2.

    See Chap. 4 for a more extensive discussion of Air Force tactical aircraft and the F-15 and F-16 programs.

  3. 3.

    Laser-guided bombs were famously used to take out the Thanh Hoa bridge, which had previously been ineffectively attacked dozens of times. Unfortunately, taking out the bridge had little or no effect on North Vietnamese supply routes.

  4. 4.

    The bombers of Strategic Air Command and the nuclear ballistic missile submarines of the Navy were both thought to be more secure from a “first strike” than land-based missiles.

  5. 5.

    The Yom Kippur war also made clear that the battlefield environment had become much more lethal thanks to new technological developments like anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) (Hallion 1992, pp. 58–59).

  6. 6.

    The attempt to develop PGMs began at the beginning of the age of airpower, during World War I, but it was not until the Vietnam War that there was a serious effort by the US military to improve the accuracy of air-delivered munitions.

  7. 7.

    It is noteworthy that the A-X development program (which resulted in the A-10) was pushed by the civilian leadership of the Pentagon over the objections of the Air Force, who did not want a specialized close air support aircraft like it.

  8. 8.

    The Marines, and to some extent the Army, were notably skeptical about how “revolutionary” the RMA was.

  9. 9.

    However, as Eliot Cohen points out, the majority of US equipment deployed in Desert Storm represented mature technologies that had been in service for decades, not new cutting edge technologies. To the extent that superior US technology contributed to the victory in the Gulf War, it has more to do with the obsolescent Iraqi military than the use of cutting edge technologies by the United States (Cohen 1994).

  10. 10.

    The heavy use of communications technology to improve military effectiveness has also been called “Network-Centric Warfare” (Harris 2009, pp. 43–60).

  11. 11.

    During this period the search for advanced weapons seemed to be more about seeing what new technology could do than dealing with any identified threats to US national security (Dombrowski and Gholz 2006, pp. 6–7).

  12. 12.

    The difficulty of converting raw data into useful information is one of the reasons the promise of the RMA may never be achieved (Gentry 2002, p. 96).

  13. 13.

    While there has been a debate over whether air power alone led to victory, no one claims that it was not central to NATO’s success (Lake 2009; Shimko 2010, pp. 123–127; Stigler 2002).

  14. 14.

    The critical role played by the Northern Alliance forces is often ignored, but was essential to the US victory (Jackson and Long 2009, p. 145).

  15. 15.

    This view was not uncontroversial, though, and there was significant pushback against the notion that it was US superior technology rather than the poor Iraqi troops and equipment that explains the lopsided result (see Shimko 2010, pp. 159–161, 171–172).

  16. 16.

    See Chap. 4 for a more detailed discussion of both programs.

  17. 17.

    They also cooperate with each other to some extent because by working together they find it easier to get Congress to fund desired programs (Hampson 1989, pp. 27–47).

  18. 18.

    During the Cold War it is clear that Congress was not willing to provide the funds necessary to match the Soviets in quantity even if the procurement unit cost was low enough.

  19. 19.

    For a discussion of the role science fiction has played in American culture, see (Franklin 2008).

  20. 20.

    This is consistent with a larger “Western Way of War” (Freedman 1998, pp. 15–16).

  21. 21.

    Nye describes this in terms of conceptualizing America as “second creation,” built by the settlers in harmony with God’s first creation, Earth, by improving upon it (Nye 2003).

  22. 22.

    Colin S. Gray characterizes American strategic culture as including an “engineering style” of searching for a technical fix to problems and notes that military successes and abundant resources have reinforced the predisposition to military materialism (1994, pp. 591–593).

  23. 23.

    The Army, on the other hand, did not see technology as the determining factor in its victory, instead pointing to the professionalism and training of its members (Lewis 2012, pp. 332–336, 350–357; Roland 1997).

  24. 24.

    For example, none of the armed services recognized the value of cruise missiles or pursued their development until the Department of Defense forced the issue (Builder 1989, pp. 41–43).

References

  • Adams, T. K. (2001). Future warfare and the decline of human decisionmaking. Parameters, 31(4), 57–71.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adamsky, D. (2010). The culture of military innovation: The impact of cultural factors on the revolution in military affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adas, M. (2006). Dominance by design: Technological imperatives and America’s civilizing mission. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Boot, M. (2003). The new American way of war. Foreign Affairs, 82(4), 41–58.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Breslin, C. B., LTC. (2000). Organizational culture and the military. Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brigety, R. E. (2007). Ethics, technology, and the American way of war: Cruise missiles and US security policy (Contemporary security studies). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brogan, D. W. (1944). The American character. New York: A. A. Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, M. E. (1992). Flying blind: The politics of the U.S. strategic bomber program. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Builder, C. H. (1989). The masks of war: American military styles in strategy and analysis. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Buley, B. (2007). The new American way of war: Military culture and the political utility of force (LSE international studies). New York: Routledge.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Burbach, D. T., Green, B. R., & Friedman, B. H. (2009). The technology of the revolution in military affairs. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (pp. 14–42). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cameron, C. M. (2002). The U.S. military’s “two-front war,” 1963–1988. In T. Farrell & T. Terriff (Eds.), The sources of military change: Culture, politics, technology (pp. 119–138). Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chin, W. (2001). Technology, industry, and war, 1945–1991. In G. Jensen & A. A. Wiest (Eds.), War in the age of technology: Myriad faces of modern armed conflict (pp. 42–65). New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cohen, E. A. (1994). The mystique of U.S. air power. Foreign Affairs, 73(1), 109–124.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Davis, G. H. (2006). Means without end: A critical survey of the ideological genealogy of technology without limits, from Apollonian Techne to postmodern technoculture. Lanham: University Press of America.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dombrowski, P. J., & Gholz, E. (2006). Buying military transformation: Technological innovation and the defense industry. New York: Columbia University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Dupuy, R. E., & Dupuy, T. N. (1956). Military heritage of America (McGraw-Hill series in history). New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Echevarria, A. J., II. (2011). American strategic culture: Problems and prospects. In H. Strachan & S. Scheipers (Eds.), The changing character of war (pp. 431–445). Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Ee, D. V. (1986). From the new look to flexible response, 1953–1964. In K. J. Hagan & W. R. Roberts (Eds.), Against all enemies: Interpretations of American military history from colonial times to the present (Contributions in military studies, pp. 321–340). New York: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Evangelista, M. (1988). Innovation and the arms race: How the United States and the Soviet Union develop new military technologies (Cornell studies in security affairs). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fallows, J. M. (1981). National defense (1st ed.). New York: Random House.

    Google Scholar 

  • Farrell, T., & Terriff, T. (Eds.). (2002). The sources of military change: Culture, politics, technology (Making sense of global security). Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fox, J. R., & Field, J. L. (1988). The defense management challenge: Weapons acquisition. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Franklin, H. B. (2008). War stars: The superweapon and the American imagination (Rev. and expanded ed.). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freedman, L. (1998). The revolution in strategic affairs (Adelphi paper, Vol. 318). London/New York: Oxford University Press for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedman, B. H. (2009). The Navy after the Cold War: Progress without revolution. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 71–99). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gentry, J. A. (2002). Doomed to fail: America’s blind faith in military technology. Parameters, 32(4), 88–103.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gillespie, P. G. (2006). Weapons of choice: The development of precision guided munitions. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, C. S. (1989). U.S. strategic culture: Implications for defense technology. In A. A. Clark & J. F. Lilley (Eds.), Defense technology (pp. 31–48). New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, C. S. (1993). Weapons don’t make war: Policy, strategy, and military technology (Modern war studies). Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, C. S. (1994). Strategy in the nuclear age: The United States, 1945–1991. In W. Murray, M. Knox, & A. H. Bernstein (Eds.), The making of strategy: Rulers, states, and war (pp. 579–613). Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, C. S. (1999). Modern strategy. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haglund, D. G. (2009). What good is strategic culture? In J. L. Johnson, K. M. Kartchner, & J. A. Larsen (Eds.), Strategic culture and weapons of mass destruction: Culturally based insights into comparative national security policymaking (pp. 15–31). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Hallion, R. (1992). Storm over Iraq: Air power and the Gulf War (Smithsonian history of aviation series). Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hammond, G. T. (2001). The mind of war: John Boyd and American security. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hampson, F. O. (1989). Unguided missiles: How America buys its weapons. New York: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harris, B. F. (2009). America, technology and strategic culture: A Clausewitzian assessment. London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herspring, D. R. (2008). Rumsfeld’s wars: The arrogance of power. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holland, L. H. (1997). Weapons under fire. New York: Garland Pub.

    Google Scholar 

  • Howlett, D. (2006). The future of strategic culture. Fort Belvoir: Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hull, I. V. (2005). Absolute destruction: Military culture and the practices of war in Imperial Germany. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, C. (2009). From conservatism to revolutionary intoxication: The US Army and the second interwar period. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 43–70). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jackson, C., & Long, A. (2009). The fifth service: The rise of Special Operations Command. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 136–154). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, J. D. (1991). Symbol and strategy: On the cultural analysis of politics. Chicago: University of Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnston, A. I. (1995). Thinking about strategic culture. International Security, 19(4), 32.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Keegan, J. (1993). A history of warfare. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: Distributed by Random House, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kier, E. (1995). Culture and military doctrine: France between the wars. International Security, 19(4), 65.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Kier, E. (1997). Imagining war: French and British military doctrine between the Wars (Princeton studies in international history and politics). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lake, D. R. (2009). The limits of coercive airpower: NATO’s “victory” in Kosovo revisited. International Security, 34(1), 83.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Lantis, J. S. (2009). Strategic culture: From Clausewitz to constructivism. In J. L. Johnson, K. M. Kartchner, & J. A. Larsen (Eds.), Strategic culture and weapons of mass destruction: Culturally based insights into comparative national security policymaking (pp. 33–52). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Legro, J. W. (1994). Military culture and inadvertent escalation in World War II. International Security, 18(4), 108–142. https://doi.org/10.2307/2539179.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Legro, J. W. (1995). Cooperation under fire: Anglo-German restraint during World War II (Cornell studies in security affairs). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Legro, J. W. (1997). Which norms matter? Revisiting the “failure” of internationalism. International Organization, 51(1), 31–63. https://doi.org/10.2307/2703951.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, A. R. (2012). The American culture of war: The history of U.S. military force from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Linn, B. M. (2007). The echo of battle: The Army’s way of war. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Linn, B. M. (2013). The U.S. armed forces’ view of war. In D. M. Kennedy (Ed.), The modern American military (pp. 41–58). New York: Oxford University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Long, A. (2009). The Marine Corps: Sticking to its guns. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 119–135). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lupfer, T. T. (1984). The challenge of military reform. In A. A. Clark (Ed.), The defense reform debate: Issues and analysis (pp. 23–32). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maddock, S. J. (2009). Ideology and U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy since 1945. In R. B. Mariner & G. K. Piehler (Eds.), The atomic bomb and American society: New perspectives (1st ed., pp. 121–152). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mahnken, T. G. (2006). United states strategic culture. Fort Belvoir: Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mahnken, T. G. (2008). Technology and the American way of war. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mahnken, T. G. (2009). U.S. strategic and organizational subcultures. In J. L. Johnson, K. M. Kartchner, & J. A. Larsen (Eds.), Strategic culture and weapons of mass destruction: Culturally based insights into comparative national security policymaking (pp. 69–84). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Mahnken, T. G. (2013). Weapons: The growth and spread of the precision-strike regime. In D. M. Kennedy (Ed.), The modern American military (pp. 59–78). New York: Oxford University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Mahnken, T. G., & FitzSimonds, J. R. (2003). The limits of transformation: Officer attitudes toward the revolution in military affairs. Newport: Naval War College.

    Google Scholar 

  • March, J. G. (1978). Bounded rationality, ambiguity, and the engineering of choice. The Bell Journal of Economics, 9(2), 587–608. https://doi.org/10.2307/3003600.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • McNaugher, T. L. (1989). New weapons, old politics: America’s military procurement muddle. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nye, D. E. (2003). America as second creation: Technology and narratives of new beginnings. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Owens, W. A., Admiral (U.S. Navy, ret.). (2002). Creating a U.S. military revolution. In T. Farrell & T. Terriff (Eds.), The sources of military change: Culture, politics, technology (Making sense of global security, pp. 205–219). Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Paarlberg, R. L. (2004). Knowledge as power: Science, military dominance, and U.S. security. International Security, 29(1), 122–151. https://doi.org/10.1162/0162288041762959.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Peoples, C. (2010). Justifying ballistic missile defence: Technology, security and culture (Cambridge studies in international relations, Vol. 112). Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perry, W. J. (1984). Defense reform and the quantity-quality quandary. In A. A. Clark (Ed.), The defense reform debate: Issues and analysis (pp. 182–192). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pursell, C. W. (2007). Technology in postwar America: A history. New York: Columbia University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Roland, A. (1997). Technology and war. American Diplomacy (4). http://americandiplomacy.web.unc.edu/1997/04/technology-and-war/. Accessed 27 May 2016.

  • Rosen, S. P. (1991). Winning the next war: Innovation and the modern military (Cornell studies in security affairs). Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sapolsky, H. M., Gholz, E., & Talmadge, C. (2009a). US defense politics: The origins of security policy. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sapolsky, H. M., Green, B. R., & Friedman, B. H. (2009b). The missing transformation. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 1–13). London/New York: Routledge.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Sapolsky, H. M., Green, B. R., & Friedman, B. H. (2009c). The RMA and the second interwar period. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (Vol. 24, pp. 182–194). London/New York: Routledge.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational culture and leadership (1st ed., A Joint publication in the Jossey-Bass management series and the Jossey-Bass social and behavioral science series). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Segal, H. P. (1985). Technological utopianism in American culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shimko, K. L. (2010). The Iraq wars and America’s military revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Slack, J. D., & Wise, J. M. (2005). Culture + technology: A primer. New York: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  • Snyder, J. L. (1977). The Soviet strategic culture: Implications for limited nuclear operations: A Project Air Force report prepared for the United States Air Force. Santa Monica: Rand.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sondhaus, L. (2006). Strategic culture and ways of war (Cass military studies). London/New York: Routledge.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Stevenson, J. P. (1993). The Pentagon paradox: The development of the F-18 Hornet. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stigler, A. L. (2002). A clear victory for air power: NATO’s empty threat to invade Kosovo. International Security, 27(3), 124.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Stubbing, R. A., & Mendel, R. A. (1986). The defense game: An insider explores the astonishing realities of America’s defense establishment (1st ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  • Summers, H. G., Jr. (1986). The Army after Vietnam. In K. J. Hagan & W. R. Roberts (Eds.), Against all enemies: Interpretations of American military history from colonial times to the present (pp. 361–374). New York: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, W. (2010). Operations over North Vietnam, 1965–1973. In J. A. Olsen (Ed.), A history of air warfare (1st ed., pp. 107–126). Washington, DC: Potomac Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tocqueville, A. d. (1835). Democracy in America. London: Saunders and Otley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tomes, R. R. (2006). U.S. defense strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military innovation and the new American way of war, 1973–2003. New York: Routledge.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Tomes, R. R. (2009). Defense strategy in the 1990s: Old wine, new bottles. In H. M. Sapolsky, B. H. Friedman, & B. R. Green (Eds.), US military innovation since the Cold War: Creation without destruction (pp. 155–171). London/New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • United States Congress: Senate Committee on Armed Services: Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel. (1981). Impact of technology on military manpower requirements, readiness, and operations: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Manpower and Personnel of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, Ninety-sixth Congress, second session, December 4, 1980. Washington, DC: U.S. G.P.O.

    Google Scholar 

  • Van Creveld, M. (1989). Technology and war: From 2000 B.C. to the present. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weigley, R. F. (1973). The American way of war; a history of United States military strategy and policy (The Wars of the United States). New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Werrell, K. P. (2003). Chasing the silver bullet: U.S. Air Force weapons development from Vietnam to Desert Storm. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel R. Lake .

Copyright information

© 2019 The Author(s)

About this chapter

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Lake, D.R. (2019). The Pursuit of Technological Superiority. In: The Pursuit of Technological Superiority and the Shrinking American Military. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_3

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-78681-7_3

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, New York

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-137-33062-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-349-78681-7

  • eBook Packages: HistoryHistory (R0)