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Since modern warfare is continuously changing, Air Force leaders must be constantly alert for
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TECHNOLOGY has been one of the greatest forces for change in human affairs. This is especially true in war. Since prehistoric times, men have sought the advantage offered by a superior weapon that allows a soldier to kill or wound his enemy while he himself remains invulnerable to the effects of his enemy's weapons. In our own century, the quest for superior weaponry continues, now sustained by a technology both enhanced and made more costly by its coupling to science in the research and development process. As we move toward modern times in military history, we find that the increasing importance and growing number of weapons generated an expanding requirement for technically qualified people who could construct, maintain, and/or operate the weapons and fortifications that were becoming commonplace in warfare. By the late Middle Ages, it became possible to identify a group of men who were responsible for the technical details of war. A member of this group was an ingeniator, a Latin word designating one who “built the ingenious fortresses and engines of war” during the era of feudalism. This is, of course, the origin of our word engineer, which is not found in the civilian context until the eighteenth century when John Smeaton began to use the term civil engineer to describe himself and others interested primarily in civilian enterprises. Between 1500 and 1900, the need for officers
with technical knowledge and skills continued to grow as gunpowder weapons came to dominate European battlefields and logistics was revolutionized through the application of steam and steel to transportation. During this era, technical knowledge and skills became an important entrée to the officer corps for the middle class of Europe and were thus instrumental in breaking the nobility's monopolization of officer ranks. What this meant can be seen by looking at changes in the Prussian officer corps. Before the Napoleonic wars, Prussian officers were almost exclusively from the nobility; by World War I, two out of three German officers were of middle-class background. In our own country also, technology has had a profound effect on the profession of arms. This impact has been described by Morris Janowitz in his classic work The Professional Soldier. According to Janowitz, technology has produced a convergence between civilian and military activities. During the American Civil War, 93 percent of the Army's enlisted personnel were doing uniquely military things, such as firing rifles, manning artillery batteries, or serving in the cavalry. By the time of the Korean War, this number had dropped to 29 percent and, Janowitz notes, would probably have been lower for the Air Force had the statistical data been available. In 1980, statistics published on the Department of Defense show that only 15 percent of all DOD personnel (13 percent for the Air Force) are doing uniquely military things, while 46 percent are engaged in scientific and technical enterprises. Statistics such as these have combined with other perceptions of technology's effects to create a climate in which some observers now wonder where the modern quest for superior weapons is taking us. Among this group are some of the most vocal critics of the defense establishment, including Edward Luttwak, Steven Canby, William Lind, and Jeffrey Record, who believe that American officers tend to overemphasize technology to the detriment of other key aspects of war, such as strategy and generalship. Another area where the military response to science and technology has been criticized is officer accession programs. Since such programs determine the makeup of the officer corps, decisions affecting them could have grave consequences for the American military profession and the security of the nation. In 1976, the U.S. Navy embarked on a program designed to increase the number of technically educated naval officers by requiring 80 percent of entering officers to have technical degrees. As this program began, Captain Edward N. Bouffard raised questions about its wisdom and what it would mean for the quality of the Navy's officer corps.
By becoming an organization of “technocrats," how does the Navy obtain the line officers it surely needs with backgrounds in such disciplines as business, history, political science, sociology, and education? “NROTC: Quo Vadis?" U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, July 1977, p. 40
An article in the Spring 1984 Armed Forces and Society by Professor William P. Snyder indicates that the Air Force is embarked on a program similar to that of the Navy. According to Snyder, the Air Force has moved toward the Navy's model for ROTC since the Vietnam War. Snyder sees the Air Force as “vocationalizing” its ROTC and OTS programs, a process that involves “scientific-technical preparation and the matching of academic programs with specific service career fields.” (pp. 40809) Snyder, himself a West Point graduate and retired Army colonel, sounds this alarm at the end of his article:
The emphasis on scientific-technical education in officer commissioning programs may have more serious implications. New and complex technology dictates that officers at all levels have relevant intellectual skills. But the senior ranks also require officers with broad backgrounds and at least some awareness of social, economic, and political developments. The scientific-technical emphasis addresses problems faced by many officers during their initial service. At the same time, it ignores an important long-term objective: a cadre of well-educated generalists for senior staff and command positions. (p. 422)
More recently, a September 1984 CADRE research report titled Preserving the Lambent Flame, by Lieutenant Colonel Richard R. Stokes, Jr., also raises questions about the direction of the USAF officer accessions program. Stokes notes that FY85 plans call for 75 percent of incoming officers to hold technical degrees. And yet, as Stokes points out, there are signs that this emphasis on technical education may be misplaced, for three out of four officers in the class of 1983 at the Air War College held nontechnical degrees. (p. 5) Since selection for the resident AWC course is at least some measure of success in an Air Force career, a nontechnical degree does not seem to have been a hindrance to successful service in the Air Force. Could it be that there is actually a positive correlation between nontechnical degrees and a mind-set that leads to a generalist's ability to lead a large, diverse organization like the Air Force?
With regard to where Air Force accession plans might be taking the officer corps, Stokes expressed concerns that are very similar to those pronounced by Bouffard and Snyder. While noting that we need scientists and engineers, Stokes tells us that “we also need abstract thinkers schooled in the art and history of warfare, the social sciences, and the humanities” to develop the policies that guide the application of weapons produced by our scientists and engineers. (p. 73)
If the concerns expressed by Bouffard, Snyder, and Stokes are justified, what qualities will the future Air Force officer corps possess? Might we possibly wind up with the best qualified company-grade officers in the world and a group of senior leaders without the generalist perspective required to integrate the myriad components of air power into a coherent, effective whole? At some time in the future, could we find ourselves in a situation like that ascribed to the British army by Napoleon? Will we be an Air Force of “lions led by donkeys”? (Basil H. Liddell Hart, Foch, The Man of Orleans, p. 453).