It’s the cold war…. Russia has a much larger standing army than the USA… It has more tanks, more mens, more planes… it likely had more bombs…
And yet, Russia could not transform that military power into anything tangible… The advent of Nuclear Weapons made the thought of full scale war between two Superpowers too terrifying to even attempt.
The USA knew it could not win a straight up fight with Russia, and so they invested in technology (ie. Nuclear Weapons). And because of this new technology (actual weapons of mass destruction) this created a balancing force against Russia’s greater number of men, tanks, and planes.
Now, we’ve had a few local brush fire wars, which has shown that just because the USA may be technologically advanced in terms of their weapons, they are not invincible to often very crude and old fashioned tactics and strategies… not to mention, having advanced military TOOLS still has no bearing on the ability of the military leaders in the USA to set a coherent and intelligent military STRATEGY.
All the technology in the world didn’t help the USA “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan in a matter of months or years.
And if we go back even further, into World War II, the USA had a different military advantage. It wasn’t technology at the time. The advantage the USA had was the ability to Manufacture more war material and supplies than Germany or Japan. It could then Distribute (ie. logistics) that war material and supplies to the troops that needed it on the front lines. And of course the USA had plenty of raw Resources to continue out-producing Axis powers.
The question remains… what is the next big leap in military technology? What is the next big change that will radically characterize military power and projection into the 21st century?
Well, there are different threats in this day and age. Russia and China. Russia because it is unpredictable. And China, because of the obvious economic and cultural competition. And there are regional players… Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan etc…
Let’s limit our discussion to the question of the USA vs China. When we review the comparative advantages of China vs the USA, it’s very likely that China now enjoys the advantages of Manufacturing war material and supplies versus the USA (at least in terms of cost). And by sheer size of the population, China with 1.2 billion people greatly outnumbers the USA at 350 million (or so).
It might be thought that as military power becomes more mechanized… bigger boats, faster planes, quieter submarines, longer range missiles etc…. that China will have the ultimate advantage. While they may be behind in terms of technology (ie quality) that China will be able to more than make up for it based on Manufacturing (ie. quantity) of military hardware.
And if we talk about a world where we are building drones… robots to do our fighting for us, that the because labor is so cheap in china, because it’s so inexpensive to get things BUILT and to get things MADE and then SHIPPED that China will have a natural advantage.
I used to think this way, but then I realized something. Technology isn’t just about Atomic Bombs or Submarines or Stealth Jets. But technology is also related to things like Radar or the ability to break codes.
And in some cases, it also may come in the form of the ability to improve Manufacturing to the point where manual labor inputs (especially unskilled labor) are not the main contributing factor.
Take 3D printing for example. Read this article here, saying the US Army wants to Print 3d Weapons.
The ability to PRINT weapons, first small arms, but then missiles, circuit boards, engine parts, and so on in small batches (rather than requiring large batches) will be a game changer.
One might think that China would be the perfect place to build cars. Cheap labor, lots of raw resources… But the world’s cars don’t come from China. They are produced in Japan and in the USA. And the only way Japan can do so, with their relatively high cost of labor compared to China, is with robotics.
Well, 3D printing will become the new robotics. Because it’s the robotics without the “robot”. 3D printing requires only 3 things:
1) The technology (ie. the machine)
2) The raw resources
3) The intelligence (ie. the ideas, creativity… the “plan”… the blueprint)
While the USA is likely slightly ahead on technology and perhaps China and the USA are relatively even on the raw resources (or the ability to procure such raw resources) it’s the third area which is the most important when it comes to 3D printing… the pure intelligence… the ability to creatively think up of the plan… the blueprint..
This is where genius comes into play.
And the core question is, when it comes down to each respective country – China vs the USA – which culture, which society, which political system is able to produce more intellectually sharp, creative, novel, out of the box thinkers?
With 3D printing, you take out the cost of labor from the equation in the production of certain war material. So what’s left are the ideas.
China’s society and political system likely may be as good (if not better) than the USA at potentially solving known problems. This is the benefit of a more strict political system – less debate, quicker actions (but more corruption, less transparency)
However, I would maintain that the USA’s cultural, social and political system – regardless of the state of it’s overall education system, the “average” – that it still has the ability to produce more pure intellectually creative thinkers than China.
Think of the level of innovation that resides in the USA – Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon, PayPal…
Now China has it’s success stories… Baidu, Alibaba etc… but how many of them were NOVEL and NEW and ORIGINAL ideas? How many of them were started FIRST? (perhaps Tencent, and gaming, is the only place China is solidly in the lead compared with the West)
When it comes down to NOVEL and NEW and CREATIVITY, these are the factors that will impact 3D printed weapons eventually. The very best thing for the USA would be to improve the technology of Manufacturing so that cost doesn’t need to be the limiting factor in arms and weapons procurement and if suddenly military weapons procurement was idea limited instead of cost limited…
So, at the end of the day, Technology really is essential in maintaining a military advantage. One cannot simply count up men, bombs, planes, tanks and ships and look and see whose army is bigger or better.
If 3D printing can be advanced to the point we are printing entire small arms or entire machine parts (bringing the cost of production and manufacturing much lower) then suddenly being efficient at those things (based on using unskilled labor) becomes MUCH less important, and IDEAS become more important. Genius becomes more important.
If only China had their Steve Jobs or their Bill Gates or their Einsteins… These are outliners which have massive, massive, outsized impacts on entire countries or populations or even across the world. And the USA is still likely the best at that, because there very likely is a correlation between creativity, and the ability to think outside the box and geniuses and contrast. And the USA – if nothing else – does have lots and lots of “contrast”