Military Reengineering Between the World Wars

by Brett Steele

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Abstract

This study analyzes the contrasting military responses of various militaries to the internal combustion engine between World War I and World War II. The Italian, British, and American armies adopted the tank but left basic military processes intact. The French army, virtually all of the naval forces, and the U.S. Army Air Corps changed their processes (i.e., reengineered) but based their work on fallacious strategic assumptions. The Red Army, the German Wehrmacht, and the U.S. Marine Corps, despite relatively successful reengineering attempts, discovered serious shortfalls when their new forces were exposed to combat but were able to use feedback to correct the errors of their peacetime reengineering efforts. For the Germans, however, such feedback came too late to avoid catastrophic defeat. Five conditions are necessary for successful military reengineering: a willingness to exploit new technological opportunities systematically; the ability to anticipate and prepare for the range of future strategic demands; securing sufficient resources (financial, material, and human) for the reengineering process-both externally from civilian political authorities and internally from the military ranks; the ability to balance the skilled, traditional warrior and the scientific or rational analyst; and the ability to objectively diagnose weaknesses in the reengineered processes and to proceed to correct them expeditiously. The countries’ experiences have lessons for modern-day efforts to transform U.S. military forces.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.

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