Monday, January 26, 2015

Bringing Down the Knights

As much as we produce excellent weapons, our real strength is the quality of the troops who use them. Is technology going to make our forces suffer the same fate as highly trained knights when they faced peasants with firearms?

Precision weapons are making the old expression, "if you can see it you can hit it" more intense by making it easier to see it and cheaper and easier to hit it. This is a dangerous trend for our forces.

We have the computerized rifle sight that creates marksman with little training:

An Austin-based company, TrackingPoint, has developed a high-powered, long-range computerized rifle that can turn anyone into an expert marksman. But some wonder whether putting that technology in the hands of everyday people is a wise idea.

The weapon calculates the ideal aim point and doesn't let you pull the trigger until you are pointing the rifle at the proper aim point.

Knights relied on years of training and constant practice to make themselves deadly against any peasant who picked up a blade and tried to defend himself.

But with a firearm and mere hours of practice, a peasant could strike down a knight. That's why Japan banned firearms way back when.

That's unlikely to happen now, so is our training advantage at risk?

Looking beyond that, how long before the weapon can aim itself?And be part of a persistent surveillance network (of drones and mast-mounted cameras and sensors) over a battlefield?

Mind you, shooting is just one skill that a well-trained soldier must have. A trigger puller whose only advantage is he can shoot with this weapon will still panic and run in adversity.

Or just sicken and die in the field from lack of sanitation discipline.

So this weapon isn't a silver bullet solution to mass producing skilled soldiers. But it is a potentially disruptive trend.

And there is more in this trend.

In the air, our stealth technology for the F-35 is vulnerable, too, for a plane that must last three decades or more in service, just as the F-117 eventually lost its stealth advantage to counter-measures.

We also have what was the last bastion of hiding--the depths of the ocean--seemingly collapsing:

Today's submarines are in danger of becoming increasingly vulnerable as “game changers” in undersea warfare make it easier to detect them, a new report says.

Does this mean we are getting closer to the point when every shooter can see (and kill) every target on the battlefield (which could be increasingly large?)

If so, we may face Lanchester's Square Law in the real world, where all things being equal, a larger force will prevail over a smaller force because the smaller force will die at a faster rate than the larger force every time.

So our focus on quality and training may succumb to a wave of cheaper forces who can kill as well as we can.

Our tech advantage was all fun and games as long as we had the near monopoly added to our training. But when our advantage is narrow or gone, what will we do?

Again, this trend won't eliminate the advantage of training since the full logic of Lanchester's Square requires each side to stand in place and shoot until all are dead.

In the real world, the less-well trained force will break first and their rate of fire will decline and plummet.

Yet our casualties will be higher if we face an enemy with such weapons while we do not have them. In the short run, the enemy will kill more of our troops until their shakier training  leads them to falter and break.

Although how this applies to an enemy of fanatics willing to die in place is another matter altogether. That type of enemy will fight until they are all dead or nearly so--at least at the tactical level. In the bigger picture, fanatics can break, too.

Our training advantage over poorer quality fighters will be reduced in the short run in a battle at least, even if we also have the self-aiming rifles. And if we face an army of equal quality, quantity will matter.

We don't like to spend manpower in this manner. So making those smart rifles--and other platforms--fire on their own (killer robots!) will be the only way for us to provide the quantity to be the side of the equation that doesn't fall to zero.

(I could have sworn I had a blog post on this concept. Quite old, I thought, but still around. But I can't find it. So I may be mistaken. I may just be thinking of an article I've had lying around for a while that I've worked on.)