When Virgil sang of arms and the man, words like “smart” and “friendly” characterized the warrior, not his weapons. Today, because of modern technology, these terms are more often used to describe the machine than the man. Dramatic advances have spawned a generation of weapon systems designed to tell friend from foe, to stalk the enemy with precision and stealth, and to destroy him with unprecedented efficiency. But can ordinary Americans operate and support these advanced systems, or have emerging technologies pushed military hardware beyond the capabilities of the people the armed forces can expect to attract and retain? How can the military better match weapons and skills?
Martin Binkin looks at the complex issues from several angles, starting with skill levels and jobs in today’s military. He profiles America’s arsenal in the 1990s and examines the implications of electronic warfare for manpower needs. Links among hardware complexity, reliability, and maintenance are unraveled, and current demographic trends traced.
The study assesses various policy options available to hedge against the possibility that the military could become squeezed between growing demands for technologically adept people and a declining supply of recruits. Among these are efforts to design simpler systems with more reliable engineering techniques. Binkin reviews ways to make weapons easier to maintain, stressing component accessibility, technical documentation, and automated diagnostics. He covers the use of advanced technology to prepare people to handle new systems. Finally, he discusses the principal manpower management alternatives—expanding the role of women, substituting civilians, retaining more personnel, and returning to conscription.
Martin Binkin is a senior fellow in the Brookings Foreign Policy Studies program and the author or coauthor of several books in the Brookings Studies in Defense Policy series.