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A short history of the relationship between armies and new technologies

Brennus 4.0
Science & technology
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A simple study of the tools, machines and processes that human beings have created to satisfy their needs for some, a true science for others, technology contributes, along with the human and organizational aspects, to the efficiency of a modern army. Moreover, the "technological race" dates back to the dawn of humanity. The link between technology and the army is undoubtedly the result of man's desire to gain the upper hand over his adversary.

However, it has been observed throughout history that while he was the first to recognize that a new technology leads to a more efficient deicing tool, he was also the first to recognize that a new technology leads to a more efficient deicing tool.It is difficult for the military to abandon the "comfort" of a technology it masters perfectly and embrace a new one, the limits of which it does not know.

"The belief that nothing changes comes from either bad eyesight or bad faith. The former is corrected, the latter is fought" (Friedrich Nietzsche).
This view of things on the part of the military is very old. In history, there has been a reluctance to accept new technological innovation which, however, ends up becoming a "new technology". in common use.

This "technological conservatism" leads to a whole series of arguments intended to justify it. There is talk of a loss of virtue for the soldier. Thus, when he saw a catapult in Sicily for the first time, Archidamas, king of Sparta would have exclaimed: "Oh Heracles, this is the end of the value of man! ».

Moreover, the ancient Greeks disdained the throwing weapon. According to them, the essential virtue of courage can only be deployed in hand-to-hand combat with the weapons of the hand: the sword and the spear. Similarly, medieval knights hated the crossbowmen who appeared in the early 11th century. They considered this weapon, which kills from a distance, to be "no game". A Lateran Council in 1139 forbade the use of crossbowmen. formally the use of this weapon, except against infidels 1 !

A few centuries later (15th century), these same knights displayed a total disregard for the nascent artillery; a new way of killing from a distance. This notion of virtue persists over time. This is how, at the very beginning of the 20th century, still within the school Napoleonic, the beginnings of new opposing currents of thought appear: that of fire and that of morale. The supporters of the latter, like General Langlois 2They reject the "triumph of machinism" which undermines habits of thought and methodology.

This school clings to the principle of previous centuries which gives a predominant place to the moral effect. It even goes so far as to claim that the development of firepower has no notorious impact on the battle. 3. "Superiority is completely independent of the state of armament and depends solely on the moral state of the troop," according to Langlois.

"Technology alone is not enough" (Steve Jobs)

Today, opposing technological innovation makes no sense. It is agreed that the increased range of weapons, the development of communication tools and the multiplicity of drones and robots, make it possible to distance the fighter from his adversary, in order to preserve him as well as possible. However, the debate is about
on the "level" of technology pertaining to a soldier and the clever alchemy between protection and effectiveness.

Thus, it is argued that, paradoxically, technology can weaken an army. We denounce the weight constraints to which the modern infantryman is subjected and which hinder his agility. The problems of autonomy linked to energy sources, but also the danger of the crushing of the hierarchical echelons and the risk of taking away the responsibility of these same actors through the visualisation of the battlefield. The "spectator" is then encouraged to intervene, to the detriment of the actors on the ground. As for the combatant himself; is he up to the task of the technologies that are made available to him?

And don't these new technologies, which push the soldier to individualism, risk harming esprit de corps? In people's minds, technology is undeniably a guarantee of success, without being a guarantee of success. 4. According to the French expert Thérèse Delpech 5 overconfidence in the possibilities of technology": "overconfidence in the possibilities of technology": "overconfidence in the possibilities of technology was responsible for one of the U.S. Army's greatest defeats in Vietnam... "

As for the French interventions of the last fifty years, they give voice to the assertions of the military that advocate a certain distrust of a "technological whole". Indeed, once the moment of surprise has passed, the adversary ends up adapting, within a more or less long period of time, to a new technology that counteracts its effects, before copying that technology. Finally, history tells us that a change in the opponent's tactics often reduces the effects of a technological process. 6. « It is the proof that an innovation is not necessary, when it is too difficult to establish" (Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues 1715-1747).

The whole issue is to determine what technology the military should develop tomorrow. One of the difficulties comes from the vertigo of possible technologies, and it's better not to make mistakes. 7 ! If it is only a question of meeting the needs expressed, this is tantamount to analysing the past in order to predict the future. If it is a question of a prospective vision intended to pierce the "fog of war" so dear to Clausewitz, the problem arises of the availability of the means necessary for the development of future technology. Similarly, one cannot, nowadays, envisage just any technology.

Ethical and legal requirements must be respected: it is a question of defending oneself without losing one's soul. Should we go as far as a disruptive, budget-consuming technology? Should we confine ourselves only to cutting-edge technology? Or recycle an old technology? These are the questions that must be resolved by those who bear the responsibility for conducting the war of the future.

But it is certain that technology must not play the role that yesterday's simple superiority of numbers and "mass" played, that is to say, to install in blinding comfort the one who possesses it. Finally, it appears "that a profusion of technological means and performances cannot produce the right effects without men capable of implementing them with discernment". 8». This concept makes the notions of force training and education fundamental.


1 Richard the Lionheart (Third Crusade) takes a contingent of 1,000 crossbowmen with him to the Holy Land.

2 Hippolyte Langlois (1839-1912). General, senator, professor of general tactics at the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre, member of the Académie Française.

3 In Jena, in 1806, an infantry battalion represents 1,000 rounds per minute. In 1914, the same result was achieved by two machine guns and six servants.

4 In order to defeat the Boers of South Africa (30,000 men), the British army had to monopolize some 250,000 men drawn from its entire empire and
four years of hard fighting.

5 Associate Professor of Philosophy, former research associate at the Centre for International Studies and Research, member of the board of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, now deceased.

6 At the dawn of the Second World War, the two sides had roughly equivalent technology. It was the tactics employed (Blitzkrieg) that would make the difference.

7 The Maginot Line will prove to be bad technology.

8 Excerpt from The Future of Force Training Simulation: What are the benefits and limitations? CHEAr, 45th National Session, 2009.

Title : A short history of the relationship between armies and new technologies
Author (s) : Lieutenant-colonel Georges Housset, du pôle études et prospective