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Technology and the Evolutiono f Naval Warfiue I T h e perennial concern of military planners is that technological surprise will give an opponent a decisive advantage in event of war. Technological developments combined with tactical innovation can bring about fundamental change in fighting capabilities. The concern is over how to anticipate such change, particularly if it comes suddenly. This paper suggests revising some current assessments of naval developments on the basis of recent historical trends. It reconsiders the evolution of warfare at sea since 1851, when technology produced fundamental changes in capabilities and tactics every ten to fifteen years. In an age of systems analysis it may seem a florid diversion to review a century of history before assessing the present and speculating about the future. Yet, debate over naval policy is encumbered by fanciful history that is more popular than useful. Therefore, reconsideration of the long term could bring needed perspective to the problem. The results are two: the historical review provides case studies in how technologycan affectwarfare, and the analysis highlights basic trends that could be useful in predicting future developments. Together , these form a conceptual approach that breaks with the prevailing method of projecting current naval trends into the future. That prevailing method stresses overt physical features and the prospect of a revolutionary breakthrough in naval technology.Changes in the external appearance of ships, aircraft, and hardware dominate our perception of past and present technical developments in the naval sphere. If new systems look exotic, it is assumed that they must have important new capabilities. If the Soviets are building larger warships, then their naval capability is said to be expanding dramatically. The cruiser Kirov and the Typhoon-type submarine are cases in point. They are very large compared to their predecessors, but they have been a long time coming and they represent evolutionary rather Karl Lautenschlager is a Staff Defense Analyst at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has been an Advanced Research Scholar at the Naval War College and a Visiting Faculty Member at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and was a Naval Oficer for five years with two combat deployments to the Tonkin Gulf. Graphic artzuork is by Dennis Olive. International Security, Fall 1983 (Vol. 8, No. 2) 0162-2889/83/020003-49$02.50/1 8 1983by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. International Security 14 than revolutionary change in capability.’ We have also misinterpreted the nature and significance of technological change in contriving a single spectacular breakthrough at each stage. This bias is also persistent. Today, respected professionals worry openly about a single breakthrough in antisubmarine warfare technology that will seeminglymake the oceans transparent.2 The thesis of this paper, by contrast, is that the idea of a single technological breakthrough in the military sphere is popular mythology. Important advances in naval weaponry have not come with the introduction of spectacular new technology, but with the integration of several known, often rather mundane, inventions. Developments in warship and aircraft design have tended to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But there have been several instances when combinations of technology were brought together to produce rapid change so significant that all existing combat fleets had to meet the new standard in fighting capabilities or remain hopelessly ineffective. The extent of these new capabilities was seldom reflected in obvious physical changes. In sum, the key to identifymg important developments for the future is to concentrate on the synthesis of different technologies and how that synthesis can produce fundamental change in mission capabilities. Another area of confusion in today’s assessment of technological developments is in the use of benchmarks of change. The many familiar measures range from conception of a scientific principle and validating experiments to practical civilian applications or operational military capability. These measures are poorly defined and often mixed indiscriminately in making comparisons . The case studies of this historical survey use only three bench1 . The Kirov is a very large guided missile cruiser with a hybrid nuclear/oil-burning propulsion plant. She carries twenty anti-ship missiles with an estimated range of 300 nautical miles (nm) and an impressive array of defensive...


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