Science and Modern Warfare

The military funding of science has had a powerful transformative effect on the practice and products of scientific research in the field of warfare since the advent the practice of modern warfare. Advanced science- based technologies have been viewed as essential elements of a successful military. World War I is often called “the chemists’ war”, both for the extensive use of poison gas and the importance of nitrates and advanced high explosives.

Physicists also contributed by developing wireless communication technologies and sound-based methods of detecting U-boats, resulting in the first tenuous long-term connections between academic science and the military. World War II saw a lot of work on radar and was widespread and ultimately highly influential in the course of the war; radar enabled detection of enemy ships and aircraft, as well as the radar-based proximity fuse.

And one of the most recent advances is seen by the Afghan model of warfare uses indigenous allies to replace American conventional ground troops by exploiting U.S. airpower and small numbers of American special operations forces. Some argue that this model is widely applicable, enabling a major restructuring of the U.S. military and considerable freedom for American military intervention.

An assessment of such claims in light of recent combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, finds the model’s applicability to be more limited. Where U.S. allies have had skills and motivation comparable to their enemies’, the Afghan model has proven extremely lethal even without U.S. conventional ground forces. But where U.S. allies have lacked these skills, they have proven unable to exploit the potential of American airpower. The model can thus be a powerful tool, but one with important preconditions for its use and these preconditions limit its potential to transform U S. force structure or defense policy.

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