April 12, 2002
One should be skeptical about the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) hypothesis since many of its key technical underpinnings have not been well established and may indeed be invalid. For example, in its 1997 report, the National Defense Panel wrote: The rapid rate of new and improved technologies—a new cycle about every eighteen months—is a defining characteristic of this era of change and will have an indelible influence on new strategies, operational concepts, and tactics that our military employs. However, conflating progress in computers with progress in other major areas of technology is unjustified. To the extent RMA believers hinge most of their argument on advances in modern electronics and computers, they are at least proceeding from a solid foundation. When they expect comparably radical progress in land vehicles, ships, aircraft, rockets, explosives, and energy sources—as many do, either explicitly or implicitly—they are probably mistaken, at least in the early years of the 21st century. A survey that I carried out in 1998 and 1999 suggested that progress in these latter areas of technology is, and will likely remain, modest in the years ahead. As such, the case for aggressively modernizing electronics, munitions, sensors, and communications systems is much more compelling than that for replacing the main vehicles and large weaponry of the armed forces.
Michael O'Hanlon is the Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University and at Columbia University. He holds four degrees from Princeton U.: A.B. (1982); M.S.E. (1987); M.A. (1988) and a Ph.D (1991) and was a peace corps volunteer in Congo, a Research Assistant at IDA, and a Defense and Foreign Policy Budget Analyst with the Congressional Budget Office during 1989-94. He has a broad range of expertise in arms treaties, Asian security issues, civil warfare, European security issues, military technology, missile defense, peacekeeping operations and U.S. defense strategy and budget. His current projects are 2001-2002 defense budget, and national missile defense. Dr. O'Hanlon has been a prolific author and besides numerous articles and contributions to Edited Volumes, has authored nine books that include The Art of War in the Age of Peace (1992); Saving Lives with Force: Military Criteria for Humanitarian Intervention (1997); Technological Change and the Future of Warfare (2000) and Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense (2001).