The Technological Fix: Weapons and the Cost of War

Author: Dr Alex Roland

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In April 1995, the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute held its annual Strategy Conference. This year’s theme was ‘Strategy During the Lean Years: Learning From the Past and the Present.’ Professor Alex Roland, Professor of History at Duke University and a Visiting Professor at the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology, presented this paper as a part of a panel examining Technology and Fiscal Constraints. He makes the point that historically, technology and war have operated together. Indirectly, any military institute operates within its technology context. The Army of today is, for instance, in a period of technological transition from an Industrial Age army to an Information Age army. Directly, armies either use technology to their advantage or seek ways of lessening the impact of the other side’s technology.

A tremendous faith in technology is an abiding American characteristic. The idea that technology can be leveraged to make up for shortfalls in numbers be those numbers of troops, weapons, or dollars is as appealing as it is traditional. Dr. Roland examines three instances in which states turned to technology to drive military strategy: chariot warfare in the second millennium B.C., Greek fire in the first millennium A.D., and submarine warfare in the early 19th century. These cases, distinct in time, provide a fresh perspective on issues facing the Army as it molds itself into Force XXI.