Feb. 2006 US Army Strategic Studies Institute monograph - Recognizing and Understanding Revolutionary Change in Warfare: The Sovereignty of Context by Dr. Colin Gray.

Here is the summary...

Since 1993 at the latest, when Andrew W. Marshall and his Office of Net Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) introduced into public debate the concept of a Revolution in Military affairs (RMA), the idea of revolutionary change in warfare has gripped the official U.S. strategic imagination. All such master notions, or meta narratives, have lengthy antecedents. The provenance of RMA can be traced in the use of laser-guided bombs in Vietnam; in the 1970s “Assault Breaker” project to develop rocketdelivered smart bomblets to target Soviet armor far behind the front; in Soviet speculation about a Military-Technical Revolution (MTR) and the feasibility of “reconnaissance-strike complexes”; in the Discriminate Deterrence reports of the late 1980s (sponsored by then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Dr. Fred Ikle, and inspired by Dr. Albert Wohlstetter); by the dramatic effects of stealth and precision in the Gulf War of 1991; and, “off piste” as it were, by a rising argument among academic historians of early-modern Europe.

U.S. debate evolved into official commitment. RMA was to be realized as transformation or, for a scarcely less ambitious expression, as revolutionary change in the way American forces would fight. The fascination with revolutionary change persisted through the 1990s, survived, indeed was given “gravity assists” by the newly mandated Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs), by a change in administration in 2001, and was scarcely dented as the dominant defense concept by September 11, 2001 (9/11). Truly it seems to be a big idea for all seasons: for the no-name post-Cold War decade, now for the Age of Terror, and prospectively for whatever the decades ahead will bring.

This monograph provides an audit, a not-unfriendly critical review, of the concept of revolutionary military change. It offers a review of what those who theorize about, and those who are committed by policy to execute, such a revolution ought to know about their subject. As the subtitle of the analysis announces, the leading edge of the argument is the potency, indeed the sovereign importance, of warfare’s contexts.

The monograph strives to clarify the confusion over definitions. It points out that the concept of RMA, though less so the even grander idea of military revolution (MR), is eminently and irreducibly contestable. The RMA debate has provided a happy hunting ground for academic historians to wage protracted internecine combat. All definitions of RMA present problems, a fact which is of some practical consequence for a U.S. military now firmly taking what is intended to be a revolutionary path. This author prefers a truly minimalist definition: an RMA is a radical change in the conduct and character of war. The more detail one adds to the definition, the more hostages are offered to reasonable objection.

The first of the three major sections poses and answers the most basic of questions, the ones that really matter most, about revolutionary change in warfare. It asks: Does the RMA concept make sense? Is it useful? Does it much matter? Is not military change more a product of evolution than revolution? Are not continuities at least as important as changes in their relative contribution to military effectiveness? And, is revolutionary change the high road to victory? By and large, though not without some rough handling, the RMA concept, the notion of transformation, or simply the descriptive idea of revolutionary change, survive the ordeal of question and answer.

The second major section, the heart of the monograph, seeks to advance understanding of revolutionary change in warfare, the core purpose of this enterprise, by explaining that war (and its conduct in warfare) is dominated by, indeed what it really is all about—its contexts. To the best of this author’s knowledge, to date no other analysis has taken such a holistic view of warfare’s contexts with reference to RMA. This analysis breaks new ground. The thesis here is that context provides the key to recognizing and understanding revolutionary change in warfare. The argument is presented through the explanation of the significance of six contexts: the political, the strategic, the social-cultural, the economic, the technological, and the geographical. While each context is vitally significant, the occurrence of war, as well as its course in warfare, its outcome, and its consequences, derive their meaning only from politics. As this author argued in a recent monograph for the Strategic Studies Institute, Transformation and Strategic Surprise, American strategic performance is apt to disappoint on occasions because the strategic bridge between military behavior and the political context is not always in good enough repair.

The concluding, yet substantial, section assembles the arguments and insights from the previous discussions into seven broad findings, and it draws out the implications of each for the U.S. Armed Forces in general, and the Army in particular. The seven findings are effectively self-explanatory.

1. Contexts rule!

2. Revolutionary change in warfare may be less important than revolutionary change in social attitudes to war and the military.

3. Historical research shows that there are vital conditions for success in carrying through revolutionary changes in warfare.

4. Recognition of change in warfare is one thing, but understanding the character, relevance, and implications of change is something else entirely, given the sovereignty of the political and strategic contexts.

5. When we effect a revolutionary change in the way we fight, we must do so adaptably and flexibly. If we fail the adaptability test, we are begging to be caught out by the diversity and complexity of future warfare. If we lock ourselves into a way of war that is highly potent only across a narrow range of strategic and military contexts, and hence operational taskings, we will wound our ability to recognize and understand other varieties of radical change in warfare. Moreover, we will be slow, if able at all in a relevant time span, to respond effectively to them.

6. Revolutionary change in warfare always triggers a search for antidotes. Eventually the antidotes triumph. They can take any or all of tactical, operational, strategic, or political forms. The solution, in principle if not always in practice, is to carry through an RMA that is adaptable, flexible, and dynamic as recommended in 5. above.

7. Revolutionary change in warfare is only revealed by the “audit of war,” and not necessarily reliably even then. And if it is to be conducted competently, review of that audit must take full account of war’s complex nature.