The Precision Revolution: GPS and the Future of Aerial Warfare
The Precision Revolution examines the development of the global positioning system and its integration into the latest generation of precise weapons systems. The authors, Michael Rip and James Hasik, see GPS as being central to the current revolution in military affairs. They begin with a brief history of military air and space navigation, followed by an examination of the development in the 1970s and 1980s of the Navstar Global Positioning System and its Russian Glonass equivalent. They then describe the use of GPS-guided weapons in the Persian Gulf War, and follow with a detailed technical history of the development of GPS-guided weapons and accounts of their use in smaller military actions throughout the next decade, from Libya to Serbia. They conclude with a postscript relating the terrorist attack on New York and Washington in September 2001.
This book contains a wealth of information on the latest developments in precision-guided military ordnance and related technologies. It is profusely illustrated with photographs, tables, maps, and diagrams to assist the reader in understanding these extremely complex weapon systems. Rip and Hasik have struck a nice balance, providing detailed technical descriptions of these systems while making them understandable to readers who do not have advanced degrees in electrical engineering and computer technology.
The Precision Revolution also provides a valuable history of the evolution [End Page 883] of television-, laser-, and infrared-guided missiles and bombs since the Vietnam War. Rip and Hasik explain the limitations of each of these technologies, particularly in the way that they tended to leave attacking aircraft vulnerable to defensive countermeasures. They then explain why the introduction of new fire-and-forget weaponry incorporating GPS technology has already improved, and will continue to improve, the performance of precision-guided ordinance. They further explain that GPS has a host of other uses on the battlefield. It provides precise command-and-control information, allowing distant centers to have highly accurate knowledge about the location of all elements of their command. It can be used to provide precise locations of targets indicated by new reconnaissance technologies, such as the Predator unmanned aircraft. One only wishes that the authors had expanded their coverage beyond aerial warfare, since GPS is having an equally revolutionary effect on armies and navies.
While this is an excellent technical history, Rip and Hasik walk a thin line between accepting technical determinism and understanding that military hardware, no matter how complex and sophisticated, cannot always be the determining factor in war. Because their book was written before 9/11 and published before the Iraq war began, however, they cannot be blamed for failing to see the limitations of precision-guided weapons in dealing with guerilla and terrorist organizations.
Rip and Hasik begin their book with a quote from a speech given by President George W. Bush at the U.S. Naval Academy in 2001. Bush spoke of a new era, in which technology would allow the United States to deploy "a future force that is defined less by size and more by mobility and swiftness, one that is easier to deploy and sustain" (p. ix). The authors suggest, through the medium of a science-fiction story about a United Nations peacekeeping operation circa 2010 (pp. 191-92, 418-19), that technology will allow small military forces to crush guerilla insurrections. Yet, in a chapter on intelligence information and the limits of precision, they acknowledge that relatively simple techniques make it possible to hide important mobile assets from even the most accurate GPS-guided bombs and missiles.
Rip and Hasik also suggest that ready access to GPS technology and information could potentially provide an easy and inexpensive way for smaller states to emulate the accuracy of NATO forces equipped with the latest precision-guided weapons. In a chilling premonition of 9/11, they use an illustration of the White House to show how GPS could enable an attack on civilian targets in the United States.
This is a very important book, a must-read for anyone interested in the latest developments in military technology.
Dr. Zimmerman teaches in the Department of History at the University of Victoria in British Columbia.