December 03, 2014

When Superiority Goes Wrong: Science Fiction and Offset Strategies

By Ben FitzGerald

For all our talk about the need for military technical superiority, what if pursuit of that goal becomes our downfall? A couple of weeks ago, Bill Sweetman from Aviation Weekly and I were talking about technology development issues and the Pentagon’s new offset strategy, the Defense Innovation Initiative. During the conversation he mentioned an Arthur C. Clarke story, Superiority, from 1951 that reminded him of some of our current challenges. Being the nerd that I am, I read it that evening with high hopes.

The story is great: It’s short and you should all read it. I’ll unpack it in a moment, but I’d like to pause for a second and consider the role of science fiction in military technology thinking. Why would I automatically assume that a science fiction short story from 63 years ago would be useful today?

Most defense nerds love science fiction. Peter Singer famously explored this relationship in Wired for War — drawing out the relationship between the technologists behind unmanned weapons system development and the science fiction that inspired them. The New America Foundation recently hosted a daylong conference, headlined by Neal Stephenson, that sought to re-focus science fiction on providing inspiration to today’s scientists and engineers. August Cole, of the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfareproject, and Peter Singer will publish Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War next year. And, well, this is how Lt Col Dan Ward writes his books.

Read the full article at War on the Rocks.