War in the 21st century, 4/5
What if software matters more than hardware?
people need vehicles to get heavy weapons and supplies around the battlefield quickly, and if these vehicles are very easy to destroy with cheap shoulder-mounted infantry weapons (and cheap low-flying drones), it might simply no longer be possible to execute blitzkriegs against a reasonably well-equipped foe without suffering unacceptable losses. Armored vehicles may no longer be a cost-effective tool for fighting wars.
Since World War II, we have thought in terms of expensive capital assets. If you read Churchill’s history of the second World War, you will find occasional tables where he tallies losses in terms of numbers of aircraft or tonnage of ships. After the war, most of our military spending went for fancy airplanes, ships, and armored vehicles. But if they can be neutralized or destroyed relatively inexpensively, then they become liabilities, not assets.
In the 21st century, intangible assets have risen in significance, in the economy in general and in the military in particular. Increased capability at the margin comes from software, not hardware.
I speculate that war is evolving into a game of hide-and-seek. The weapons that survive are ones that can hide. The weapons that win are those that can locate their targets.
Perhaps the most important arena to watch will be the oceans. Since the second World War, the U.S. navy has dominated the seas. Aircraft carriers have given America the ability to project force anywhere in the world. But aircraft carriers are not adept at playing hide-and-seek in today’s world.
Even in World War II, hide-and-seek was a big deal in ocean warfare. Consider the Battle of the Atlantic (submarine warfare) and the Battle of Midway. Software also mattered, at least in terms of code-breaking.
What will the ocean battlefield look like if software matters more than hardware? What if smart weapons can do to ships what anti-tank weapons have been doing to Russian tanks? Do our ships become obsolete? Does control of the sea require an entirely new strategic concept?