A term used around the early 1990s to describe changes in United States military theory and practice, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and especially in relation to the overwhelming victory of Desert Storm. The term derives from the Soviet term Military Technical Revolution, which was applied by the Soviets to the World War I advent of military aircraft, motor vehicles, and chemical warfare such as mustard gas, and the World War II advent of long-range missiles like the V2, computers for batch mathematical calculations, and most obviously nuclear weapons.

Soviet doctrine during the 1980s was that technologies including electronics, communications, directed energy weapons to scramble electronics and radio transmissions, and Global Positioning Satellites to guide missiles and other objects, would radically change war and make conventional weapons as destructive as weapons of mass destruction. Rather than sending a single nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile to a city, the entire city could be saturated with evenly spaced conventional explosives, all on perfectly accurate, GPS-guided missiles. The effect would be like the Dresden firebombing, without any antiaircraft fire, since it would use missiles instead of planes.

Andrew Marshall, director of the Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, suggested the term "Revolution in Military Affairs" rather than "Military Technical Revolution" in the late 1980s, to emphasize changes in organization and training, as well as hardware and equipment. In addition to specific technologies, discussion of an RMA has focused on making the entire military more flexible, creative, and better at learning, and overcoming institutional rigidity and resistance to change.

It's generally agreed that wars followed a pattern of nation against nation until Hiroshima, and then shifted during the Cold War to conflicts such as Vietnam or Afghanistan, where opposing superpowers armed and trained the opposing sides in civil wars, without being involved directly. The discussion surrounding the RMA has suggested that since the fall of the USSR, conflicts have shifted to the US opposing civil wars as in Bosnia, Somalia, and Iraq, drug trafficking cartels as in Colombia and Mexico, and terrorism training as in Afghanistan and Iraq. Changes in American law and attitudes, such as accepting more invasive police searches, may also be considered part of the RMA.

In addition to claiming that electronics had created an RMA, or claiming that the fall of the USSR had created an RMA, proponents of the term often made plans to create a deliberate RMA by policy. This required reorganizing the military and its spending to seize the opportunities created by new politics and technology in a sudden, revolutionary way, rather than a gradual way. This often included sharp reductions in the size of the military and spending on upkeep, with more spending on research and new projects instead. These pitches were made in the context of shrinking military budgets, which is perhaps the most dated aspect of the discussion today.

It should be noted that the existence of the RMA is and was fiercely contested among academics, policymakers and professional warfighters alike. There was a great deal of debate as to whether or not the RMA was inferred, with various amounts of wishful thinking depending on who you believe, from the results of the first Gulf War. That conflict was, before its actual short life, thought to represent the form of conflict that the U.S. had spent so many years preparing to fight in Central Europe against the Soviet Union - armor-heavy, with modern technology and massive mechanized forces on both sides of the conflict. The Iraqi army was even organized according to Warsaw Pact doctrine and design.

The results of that war were startling to nearly all observers. Even those who had predicted a crushing Coalition victory were surprised by the lopsided nature of the outcome. Almost immediately, the race to explain these results was on.

One school of thought was that the continuous investment in technology over quantity that the Western Allies had kept up during the Cold War finally paid off - we finally knew what would have happened had NATO and the Pact gone head to head. This school of thought, to which U.S. SecDef Donald Rumsfeld ascribes, concluded that technology had so changed the way war was fought that massive adjustments in the numbers and types of troops required to do so were called for.

On the other hand, there were and are those who hold to a more situational view - that the results of Gulf War I were the product of doctrine, training, and circumstances peculiar to the opponents in that conflict. In their eyes, warfighting has not changed - there have always been surprise victories and defeats - and to assume, based on that sample, that it has is a recipe for disaster.

One of the problems with answering the question of whether the RMA exists is getting everyone to agree on what the RMA means in the first place. As can be seen in the above writeup, there are at least two different components to it - one, the changes in the mechanics and kinetics of warfighting which are strongly driven by the introduction of technology and resources into combat. Two, there are changes in the nature of warfare itself, which at least in part are a result of the observed changes in force balances - where the United States and its allies stood atop the world in terms of power projection due to the particular path of events that was the ending of the Cold War, and those actors who had goals in conflict with them chose more appropriate means of fighting them. Indeed, the identity of those actors - loose groups over nation-states, tribal over nationalist and religious over secular identification - might be the result of the Cold War ending as well, as pressures which forced conflict into 'safe' and 'known' paths between blocs and nations eroded away.

The specter of a high-tech nation confronted by a low-tech loose confederacy of fighters is not new. The United States faced it thirty-five years ago in Vietnam. While the motivating factors might have been different, the battlefield wasn't really, despite the gross difference of jungle vs. desert environment. Both share a low-tech, guerrilla resistance against an occupying higher-tech military; the insurgents in both cases favor concealment to cope with the occupier's massive firepower advantage; insurgent attacks on civilian targets are common when military targets are unavailable or too 'hard' to hit, and skirmishes tend to erupt as occupying patrols or convoys are ambushed, with the insurgents choosing the time and place of engagement.

'Revolution in Military Affairs' is an attempt to stake out the intellectual position that there has been a fundamental change in warfighting, akin to the invention of gunpowder or the stirrup; the current use is an attempt to 'brand' the present U.S. and allied advantage in technology and warfighting resources as an actual structural change. Remember, though: the U.S. spends as much on its military as the next seven nations' defense budgets combined - and four of those are our allies. Has there been a qualitative shift? As Stalin said: "Quantity has a quality all its own."

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