Home / Robert Farley / Revolution in Military Affairs and Network Centric Warfare

Revolution in Military Affairs and Network Centric Warfare


I’m getting to this debate late, but my understanding of the situation (informed by Dima Adamsky’s book, among others) is that revolution in military affairs (RMA) theory developed in the Soviet Union as a reaction to two trends.  First, the Soviets determined (following the Yom Kippur War) that precision guided weapons launched from stand off ranges threatened to upend the traditional distinction between offense and defense, opening up the battlespace to operations along the full tail of military organizations.  This is to say that both attacker and defender would be able to attack targets deep within the enemy rear with considerable confidence of destruction, undermining the traditional distinction between “front” and supporting forces.  Second, the Soviets believed that nuclear weapons were increasingly unlikely to be used on the battlefield in the context of a general NATO-Warsaw Pact war.  The Soviet response was twofold. First, they attempted to restructure their doctrine along lines similar to those developed in the 1930s by Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, which was called “deep battle” and foresaw attacks along the entire depth of an enemy position (aircraft, paratroopers, exploiting armor) which would cause organizational collapse.  If they could destroy key command, information, transportation, and logistics nodes, the the entire enemy army might suffer paralysis, and be easily defeated.  Second, they tried to develop the material and technological foundation for making such warfare possible.  On this second point they failed.

The Americans succeeded in developing the weapons before they got the doctrine, but during the 1980s and 1990s doctrinal thinking moved forward along Soviet lines.  The problem was that the sorts of organizations that RMA was supposed to kill (the Red Army) effectively ceased to exist in 1991.  Notably, the conventional assault on Iraq in 1991 failed to incur organizational collapse on the part of the Iraqi Army, which continued to maneuver and fight in spite of attacks along its entire deployed length and depth.  The story gets a bit hazy, but my understanding was that RMA then became associated with air power theory, which had been looking for a way to win wars cheaply and decisively since 1917.  This would come mainly in the figures of John Boyd and John Warden, especially the latter.  More or less, Warden suggested that the same dynamics that might cause organizational collapse in an enemy army could also be applied to and enemy state.  If you hit the right targets in Iraq or Serbia, the entire state might fall into paralysis and collapse.  This argument was eerily similar, of course, to the cases made by airpower theorists in the 1920s and 1930s.

Now, for my money I’m quite skeptical about the ability to induce organizational collapse in either an enemy army or in an enemy state.  The former is more likely, however, and there is some legitimately sound theory encapsulated by Deep Battle and its RMA-driven renaissance.  In terms of the ability to induce state collapse, however, I think it gets batty, deeply underestimating the ability of states under stress to repair themselves and to take advantage of redundant capacities.  Simply put, the application of RMA that envisions the ability to crush unfriendly states through careful destruction of critical enemy nodes of power suffers from the same delusions that airpower theorists have struggled with since the Smuts Report.

But then that simply reveals my own biased understanding of airpower. I invite Adam et al to correct any of my misunderstandings…

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