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The Immutable Nature of War. Interview with LTG Paul van Riper


Vivere est militare!
In Millennium Challenge 2002, a $250 million war game designed to test the new technologies and concepts of transformation and network-centric warfare—in which U.S. forces are data-linked with one another as never before—Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper, former president of the Marine Corps University, was asked to command the "enemy" forces. In the first days of that mock battle, he used unconventional methods, including a preemptive attack that featured air-, sea-, and ground-launched cruise missiles to sink 16 American ships. After the American forces decided to refloat the ships and restart the game, Van Riper stepped aside from his role, contending that the rest of the game was scripted for American victory. In this interview, Van Riper explains the peril of placing too much faith in technology at the expense of a deeper understanding of the nature of war. (For another view on transformation, see Transforming Warfare.)


NOVA: Isn't the current revolution—transformation, network-centric warfare—supposed to change how war is fought?

Van Riper: We hear many terms, whether it's "transformation," "military technical revolution," "revolution of military affairs," all indicating something revolutionary has happened that's going to change warfare. Nothing has happened that's going to change the fundamental elements of war. The nature of war is immutable, though the character and form will change. The difficulty is that those who put forth this argument believe that something fundamentally has changed, and you can change very quickly without thinking your way through it. They want to apply the technology without the brainpower.

NOVA: You don't think that transformation and network-centric warfare are powerful ideas?

Van Riper: My experience has been that those who focus on the technology, the science, tend towards sloganeering. There's very little intellectual content to what they say, and they use slogans in place of this intellectual content. It does a great disservice to the American military, the American defense establishment. "Information dominance," "network-centric warfare," "focused logistics"—you could fill a book with all of these slogans.

Full text: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/wartech/nature.html
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