DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY –HOLY GRAIL OR WHOLLY UNAFFORDABLE?
By Matt Minshall – Head of Defence Coordination for TenCate Advanced Armour
There have been significant events in global evolution in the past hundred years. Although there has been achievement in finding grounds of common understanding, the advancement of societies has not been equal, and the elevation in living standards of the developed world has outstripped the developing world to an extent which has caused bitter discord. The imbalance and rancour have lead to recent conflicts which have highlighted the vast and widening differences in culture and ideology, and have heralded what will probably be an enduring era of asymmetric warfare. One of the key elements to contemporary disharmony is the demographic difference between the generally dwindling populations of the West and the burgeoning ones of the developing regions, where the most significant conflicts are taking place. Harnessing technology to achieve military aims swiftly and safely is highly desirable, but there are practical and economic limits to this pursuit. If these aspects are not considered, the ability to exploit success for the long term benefit of both victor and vanquished may be limited. While drawing down the armed forces without reducing commitments, the UK government is concurrently spending significant sums on technology. This may be in part driven by a perception that science might be more efficient and cheaper than large bodies of soldiers for the conduct of military operations. Technological innovation that assists war fighting and protects lives is always worth employing. However, its value must not be assessed in purely financial terms as this will be short sighted and lead in the wrong direction. There should be an intelligent understanding of the role of technology and clear acceptance that there are significant and enduring roles which only the soldier can perform.
The aim of this article is to discuss the value of defence technology against the background practicalities and economics in likely future conflicts.
In its broadest definition technology is the application of science. In more precise terms it might be:
“Human innovation in action that involves the generation of knowledge and processes to develop systems that solve problems and extend human capabilities; the innovation, change, or modification of the natural environment to satisfy perceived human needs and wants” 1
Technology produces systems which can assist decision making, store information, enhance human senses, and its employment covers every aspect of modern life from cooking to complex commercial computer systems. The key aspect of technology is that it should be there to aid humans and not to replace them.
Military technology can be into five categories: offensive, defensive, transportation, communication and sensor. Offensive arms are needed to harm the enemy, while defensive weapons guard against attacks. Transportation technology moves soldiers and weaponry; communications coordinate the movements of armed forces, and sensors detect forces and guide weaponry.
Everything that invention gives us is technology – from the sulphur match to the Space Shuttle – but there are differences in the levels and uses of technology which cannot be differentiated simply. Some basic technology can be used in long range precision munitions while advanced technology can assist the soldier directly on the battlefield. The key argument is the balance of investment in technology that provides a strategic deterrent, against that which assists the soldier on the battlefield. For the purposes of this article this difference is defined where necessary as Strategic Technology, and Tactical Technology. There is a disturbing syndrome with all technology which has similarities to the story of the Emperors Clothes. Those who consider th