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  • Weapons of Choice: The Development of Precision Guided Munitions
  • Stephen L. McFarland
Weapons of Choice: The Development of Precision Guided Munitions. By Paul G. Gillespie. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8173-1532-2. Photographs. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xii, 218. $35.00.

Paul Gillespie is a technophile and air power partisan who has analyzed U.S. Air Force precision guided munitions (PGMs): their history, their effect on policy, and how they achieved a revolution in military affairs, or RMA, as the author prefers it. The thesis of Weapons of Choice is that computers, knowledge management systems, stealth, and PGMs add up to an RMA, transforming the American way of war. PGMs are the sine qua non of this new way of war that dominate the battlefield "like no other" (p. 2)—an "antidote" (p. 4) to the bloodshed of America's traditional strategy of attrition. Gillespie argues that PGMs were not the products of technological change or individual genius, but responses to the "purposes, ethics, and values of American society" (p. 9). Grant Gillespie this—he is not shy about proclaiming his biases. Precise air power has "led policymakers to a national security paradigm" of greater military interventions typified by "quick, decisive victories with minimum casualties" (p. 162). In following his RMA thesis, Gillespie excludes weapons such as precision cruise missiles because they have higher costs, lower accuracy, and less flexibility, yet he devotes a chapter to the development of the aerial torpedo of the World War I–1920s era and guided bombs of the World War II period despite their costs, inaccuracy, and inflexibility. His focus is on laser guidance and his research indicates PGMs can hit nearly any target. This work does not deal with the perpetual problem of identifying the targets to be hit.

There are weaknesses in his treatment. Navy advocates might forgive Gillespie for misidentifying Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr.'s, U.S. Navy PB4Y bomber as a B-24 Liberator, but not for the short shrift he gives the United States Navy in developing the Bullpup, Shrike, and Walleye. Similarly the book lacks coverage of the U.S. Army's role in launching laser-guidance technology in 1962 and in developing the TOW and Hellfire. He barely touches GPS, optical, infrared, or terrain-tracking guidance. Weapons of Choice is also under-researched. The author seems unaware of Kenneth Werrell's excellent chapter on the development of PGMs in his 2003 Chasing the Silver Bullet, James Digby's groundbreaking 1975 Adelphi Paper Precision-Guided Weapons, Peter DeLeon's 1974 RAND history of the laser-guided bomb, and Phillip Meilinger's 2001 essay on "Precision Aerospace Power" in the Aerospace Power Journal. Authors such as Werrell question while Gillespie accepts. He raises questions about the role of PGMs in the war on terrorism, but does not answer them.

A cynic could be forgiven for believing plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. War-winning weapons follow a checkered path through history; a route littered with Greek fire, longbows, rifled muskets, battleships, tanks, aerial bombers, and nuclear weapons—all proclaimed RMAs in their lifetimes. In the twilight of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the weapons of choice seem to be unguided improvised explosive devices, which are as old as gunpowder, and vehicle and body armor, which are as old as war itself. Nevertheless, [End Page 601] Weapons of Choice is the place to start any examination of the effects these munitions have had on national security strategy and policy.

Stephen L. McFarland
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama


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pp. 601-602
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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