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New Ways o f War Understanding Military Innovation I w h e n and why do military organizations undergo major innovations in the way that they operate ? Can they innovate in peacetime or must they wait for wars to provide the information and motivation necessary for a change in familiar concepts of operations? Are they doomed to "fight the last war"? What roles have civilians played in the process of military innovation? These questions are central to the debate concerning the ways in which the armed forces of the United States, or any other nation, can or should prepare for war. This article will focus on successful cases of military innovation, asking how military organizations in peacetime have been able to make major innovations . A "major innovation," as I use the term here, is a change that forces one of the primary combat arms of a service to change its concepts of operation and its relation to other combat arms, and to abandon or downgrade traditional missions. Such innovations involve a new way of war, with new ideas of how the components of the organization relate to each other and to the enemy, and new operational procedures conforming to those ideas. They involve changes in the critical military tasks, the tasks around which warplans revolve.' This article will not propose a theory that explains military innovation everywhere and always.2 It will confine itself to the modern military orgaThe author would like to thank the following people for their advice and criticism of earlier drafts of this article: Andrew Marshall, James Q. Wilson, Eliot Cohen, Aaron Friedberg, Chip Pickett, Barry Posen, and Barry Watts. Stephen Peter Rosen is a Secretary of the Navy Senior Research Fellow at the Naval War College. This article draws from a book he is currently writing on military innovation in peacetime and war. 1. This definition has the slightly paradoxical effect of excluding some dramatic changes in military technology from the term "major military innovation." This point is illustrated by Vincent Davis' study of innovation of post-World War I1 U.S. Navy operations. Davis makes it quite clear that, in the cases he defines as innovations (the introduction of atomic bombs into the U.S. naval aviation strike force and the introduction of nuclear propulsion systems into the U.S. submarine forces), new technologies were used to help perform existing missions better, and not to change them radically. See The Politics of Innovation: Patterns in Navy Cases (Denver: University of Denver Press, 1967), pp. 7, 15. 2. It is doubtful that a single theory could explain military innovation in both the United States and Japan in the 1930s, for example, since military innovation in Japan in that period, unlike International Security, Summer 1988(Vol. 13, No. 1) 01988by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and of the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. 134 Militay Innovation 1 135 nizations in the United States and Great Britain, and, within those organizations , to innovations that were successfully carried through in peacetime and that were the basis for successfulwartime operations. These case studies will leave several major questions unanswered, and these gaps will be noted explicitlyat the end of the paper. Two negative and two positive propositions about military innovation do, however, emerge from the cases I study. First, defeat in wartime is not necessary to produce innovation in a military organization. The proposition that military organizations innovate only after defeat is one advanced by both civilians and military men. However, the cases of successfulinnovation I discuss in detail took place in organizations that won their last war. I do not discuss whether defeat is a sufficient condition for innovation, but a brief inspection of the literature about defeated military organizations strongly suggests that it is Second, civilian intervention to assist military "mavericks" was not the means that produced innovation in any of the cases studied. This conclusion is perhaps the most controversial, since it appears to conflict with one of the best known cases of innovation, the development of air defenses in the Royal Air Force (RAF)before World War 11. A detailed review of this case suggests that the key innovator in the RAF cannot be meaningfully...


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