Innovating Victory: Naval Technology in Three Wars

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Innovating Victory: Naval Technology in Three Wars

Innovating Victory: Naval Technology in Three Wars

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Overall, the book provides useful insights from its analysis and discussion of key tecnological developments during the first half of the 20th century. It also provides some stimulus for consideration by those planning the future of navies, in an inceasingly complex and challenging world. One of the key messages from the book is the need for a combination of scientists and specialists to work in collaboration with the end users to ensure a successful and effective outcome. In their “Conclusion” the authors point out that the six different technologies had mixed military and scientific antecedents, hence, varied roots and evolution in different ways. Time and financial resources were critical ingredients in the genesis of technologies, which were mostly national secrets. One major exception was the Allied cooperation on the development of radar, while the competition for resources between air forces and navies played a significant role in both German and Japanese naval technological developments. Other summaries conclude that combat is the “acid test” for new technologies and the authors note important countermeasures such as the development of German guided weapons, how Enigma was compromised, and needs and uses such as radar in offense versus defense, as well as how aircraft limited the effectiveness of submarines. The book focuses on technological successes and the authors state four broad principles: 1) expectations do not determine best use; 2) users have valuable input; 3) needs influence use; and 4) new technologist bring new vulnerabilities. New technologies also affect tactics and new uses provoke countermeasures. Innovating Victory: Naval Technology in Three Wars studies how the world's navies incorporated new technologies into their ships, their practices, and their doctrine. It does this by examining six core technologies fundamental to twentieth-century naval warfare including new platforms (submarines and aircraft), new weapons (torpedoes and mines), and new tools (radar and radio). Each chapter considers the state of a subject technology when it was first used in war and what navies expected of it. It then looks at the way navies discovered and developed the technology's best use, in many cases overcoming disappointed expectations. It considers how a new technology threatened its opponents, not to mention its users, and how those threats were managed.

This book focuses on six technologies grouped loosely into three broad categories. The categories are weapon, a technology designed to damage a target; tool, one to assist in using a weapon; and platform, one to deliver a weapon. Each of the technologies we examined transformed the practice of naval warfare in its own way. They include The dreadnought battleship provides an example of how combat experience can confound expectations. The dreadnought battleship was, in 1914, the alpha naval technology upon which victory at sea was supposed to depend. In the event, the technology produced results far different than those envisioned by politicians, admiralties, and the public: dominance without decisive victory for the British, and the seedbeds of revolution for the Russians, Germans, and Austro-Hungarians. Within forty years of its 1906 introduction, the dreadnought battleship had been supplanted. The last few heavily modified examples of the type are thirty years out of service while submarines and aircraft carriers dominate the seas of the twenty-first century. Why was the dreadnought superseded? Because it no longer had a use that justified its cost.

Leonard Heinz

Innovating Victory – Naval Technology in Three Wars. By Vincent P. O’Hara and Leonard R. Heinz. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2022. WASHINGTON and MINNEAPOLIS – Global investment firm The Carlyle Group (NASDAQ: CG) today announced it will acquire a majority stake in Minneapolis-based Victory Innovations, a maker of high-tech electrostatic sprayers used to disinfect offices, airplanes, schools and other businesses. There’s an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. That sentiment was definitely the case during World War II, a massive global conflict that presented the United States with a variety of tactical and logistical challenges. At every turn Americans seemed to need more of everything—more supplies, bigger bombs, faster airplanes, better medical treatments, and more precise communications. In response, scientists, technicians, and inventors supplied a steady stream of new products that helped make victory possible. Many of these innovations transformed the very nature of warfare for future generations and also had a significant impact on the lives of civilians as well.

The twentieth century was a time of profound technological change. In naval terms, this change came in four major waves, with the first three climaxed by a major naval war. The first wave started in the mid-nineteenth century as coal-fired steam engines replaced sail, armor was developed, guns and mines were improved, torpedoes appeared, and radio was introduced. This wave peaked in the Russo-Japanese War. In the second wave, which started in 1905 and ran through World War I, naval warfare became three-dimensional with the development of practical submarines and aircraft. The armored gunnery platform reached its acme of power and influence and imperceptibly began to fade in importance. The third wave, which lasted through the end of World War II, moved naval warfare fully into the electromagnetic spectrum as technologies such as radar and sonar expanded perceptions beyond the horizon and beneath the waves, revolutionized the collection and use of information, and saw the introduction of practical guided weapons. The fourth wave is under way. Naval warfare has entered another dimension—starting with the splitting of the atom and progressing to satellites, computers, drones, data networks, artificial intelligence, and a new generation of weapons using magnetic and directed energy. The fourth wave has lasted the longest, not because the pace of invention has slowed—it has in fact accelerated—but because since 1945 there has been no major peer-to-peer naval war—that is, a total war between opponents with similar technological resources—to prove these new technologies in all-out combat. New technologies do not materialize fully functional as from Aladdin’s lamp. History shows that a successful technology undergoes a process: invention, development, acceptance, deployment, and then a cycle of discovery, evolution, and exploitation. The capstone of this process is determining the technology’s best uses and then combining those with best practices for best results. In every case, the goal is a combat advantage. In 1904, 1914, and 1939, navies went to war with unproven technologies and experienced steep learning curves in trying to match expectations with practical and effective use. Should war break out tomorrow, the learning curve will be even steeper.The process of introducing and integrating new technology only begins with the better bow. There is the matter of selecting the proper target, determining the best circumstances of use, and, finally, of bending the bow itself. And then begins the hard part. Was the proper bending technique employed? Was the correct arrow used? Is there a better string? Is area or aimed fire better? Consider the sinuous path of radar’s development. Originally envisioned as a collision warning device, it became, in less than forty years, a way to trigger antiaircraft rounds in the proximity of a target. In the end, it comes down to results. And, in war, results can only be truly measured in combat. Doctrine must be based upon results obtained through use, and only from use can innovation follow. Victory Innovations is a leading provider of cordless electrostatic spraying equipment for disinfecting surfaces. Victory Innovations is transforming the way businesses, transportation systems, hospitals and schools are cleaning and santizing using electrostatic technology. The chemical-agnostic product enables users to sanitize any surface area with the convenience of cordless portability, faster application time and reduced chemical usage. Founded in 2014, Victory has sales in over 40 countries. For more information, please visit A goal of this book was to set forth the principles that govern the successful development, introduction and use of naval technology. It concludes in this context that:

O’Hara and Heinz studied the development of weapons (mines and torpedoes), tools (radio and radar), and platforms (submarines and aircraft). The guiding idea was to focus, not on technical details but to explore “the process by which each technology’s possibilities were first recognized, tested, then used, or not used, to best advantage” (2). Aside from the specific technologies, the book also considers the effects of human factors such as prior established practice, politics, and policy. The goal was to divine any principles that governed the process and determine whether those principles applied across platforms, technologies, and nations. The authors also wanted to know whether any identified principles led to victory irrespective of the time in history or the specific technology pursued. This would help answer the question of whether those principles were generalizable enough to apply developing technology today. Radio and radar. Radio expanded the volume and range of naval communications, while radar allowed platforms to see at great distances and in poor visibility. Both tools aided navies in bringing weapons to bear on their opponents and (generally) increased the amount of available information. The difference between the 104-gun first rate ship of the line HMS Victory of 1805 and HMS Dreadnought of 1905 is a clear example of technological progress, but where is the innovation? If the capital ship represents a synthesis of many technologies, then one can easily argue that behind the technological progress that produced this synthesis, there was profound innovation. This is true if one considers only technical innovation. One can ask whether these innovations were driven by militaries or by society in general. For example, the steam engine transformed naval warfare, but first it transformed transportation and manufacturing in general and in the process changed the world economy. Society at large and not the military drove many of the improvements in steam technology. The same is true of electromagnetic technology and even of advances in the sciences of metallurgy and chemistry that had direct applications to armor and explosives. Militaries generally regard the goal of technological innovation as a matter of progressive improvement in a proven field: larger guns firing bigger shells to greater ranges, for example. In general, navies strive to win wars with better versions of existing weapons, tools, and platforms rather than use novelties in the front line. But the greatest power of new technology comes from innovative use. What are these improved guns being fired at, and to what purpose? If they are used in the same old way, it is legitimate to repeat the question that opened this paragraph: Where is the innovation?

Vincent OHara

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