Friday, June 23, 2006

Living Long Enough to Get Good

Mass armies have faded away with volunteers proving their worth. Still, British volunteers proved their worth in 1914 yet lost out to conscripted mass armies when the excellent volunteers died faster than they could possibly be replaced. So this trend has been facilitated by the lack of casualties in our recent wars that make pursuing quality an achievable goal.

And the other part of mass armies that went along with massed manpower--massed firepower--is dying as well. Strategypage writes:

For some nations, the age of massive firepower has come to an end. One of the less noticed revolutions in warfare has been the American development of small scale, precision firepower, which has replaced the large scale, massive firepower tactics that dominated the 20th century. For most people, American smart bombs, like JDAM and laser guided bombs, represent "precision firepower." But the concept goes much farther than that. American infantry carry automatic weapons, but most of the time they fire one precise shot at a time. In Afghanistan and Iraq, the locals quickly get to know when American troops are fighting in the area. They are the ones firing single shots. The other guys, be they Taliban or Sunni Arabs, fire their AK-47s on full auto.

This article shows the trend goes farther than I had mentioned when I noted the development of precision rockets and other artillery and fire support. Aimed fire from grunts to GPS bombs.

Of course, the West had small professional armies in the 18th century before technology and nationalism made it possible to conscript and equip millions. When Napoleon created a nation-in-arms, the small professional armies could not cope. Small professional armies made sense only when fighting each other or small enemies, losing high quality troops at a low enough rate to be replaced or fighting only briefly so replacements could be trained.

Could our few troops rely on precision alone if faced with masses of ideologically/religiously motivated soldiers trying to swarm our troops in conventional battle and heedless of their own casualties?

Or will robots on the battlefield revive mass? Of course, then it will be robots killing robots as we each try to get at the others valuable human troops controlling it all.

The trend toward quality over quantity is real, no doubt. I just wonder when it will end and whether we will be defeated in the transition back.