When the land forces of the Soviets defeated those of Germany during World War II, their T-34 was one of the best tanks in the world. But it also helped that they had only two basic types of tank, whereas the Germans fought with a hodgepodge. That made it easier for the Soviets to deal with spare parts and maintenance. In looking past the year 2000, the Pentagon is showing a similar concern for the basics of the military art.
In purchasing new aircraft, for instance, the Air Force has in the past had a system under which hordes of blue-uniformed officers would specify design requirements in excruciating detail. As these requirements proliferated and changed, costs would soar to the stratosphere. The Air Force’s latest fighter, the Lockheed F-22, breaks with this arrangement.
The F-22 has emerged from a competition in which the Air Force first laid down basic performance criteria for the new aircraft and then invited two contractors, Lockheed and Northrop, to try to meet these criteria as each firm thought best, free to make their own choices in balancing the various features of an aircraft’s design. The result was that Northrop went for more stealth, or radar invisibility, while Lockheed’s design offered greater maneuverability. With such flexibility and options the Air Force seems certain to get a better fighter.
The Navy, similarly, is seeking a better fighting ship. It currently operates a total of fifteen different classes of frigates, destroyers, and cruisers; under a study approved by the chief of naval operations in 1988, all these may give way to a single new type, the Battle Force Capable Combatant. It would feature new versions of the standard Aegis fighting system. Aegis includes powerful radars that can track hundreds of aircraft and ships, large banks of missile launchers, and sensitive sonars to listen for submarines. After 2025 the Navy would like the last cruisers and destroyers to retire, leaving the BFCC to rule the seas.
In the Army, tomorrow’s tanks will continue to mount the multilayered armor that offers good protection against missiles, and they will have laser range-finders to improve their aim. But in an environmentally protected world, it will be increasingly difficult for tank divisions to conduct war games by tearing through the countryside. How will their crews gain the experience necessary for battle?
The answer may well lie in computer-based simulators. A linked network, Simnet, already offers a complete simulated tank battlefield, in which opposing battalions can maneuver and fight at will. Using color graphics, Simnet presents a coordinated world with a separate vantage point for each tank crew. If one crew scores a hit on an enemy, the enemy’s simulator will reduce its capabilities, while everyone else will see the smoke rise.
In all these initiatives computers and electronics will be front and center. The modern fighting aircraft is virtually a computer peripheral, while systems with supercomputer power lie at the heart of the Navy’s Aegis system. But of course this high technology is hardly simply there for people to admire. The F-22 is an exercise in effective procurement; the BFCC means efficient standardization; and Simnet supports thorough training. In the Pentagon those issues are fundamentals of the military art.