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The military concept of Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is a theory about the future of warfare, often connected to technological and organizational recommendations for change in the United States military and others.

Especially tied to modern information, communications, and space technology, RMA is often linked to current discussions under the label of Transformation and total systems integration in the US military.


The original theorizing was done by the Soviet Armed Forces in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly by Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov.[1] The U.S. initially became interested in it through Andrew Marshall, the head of the Office of Net Assessment, a Department of Defense think tank. It slowly gained credence within official military circles, and other nations began exploring similar shifts in organization and technology.

Interest in RMA and the structure of future United States armed forces is strong within the China's People's Liberation Army and incorporated to current Chinese strategic military doctrine. Many other militaries have researched and considered RMA as an organizational concept, including Canada, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Republic of China (Taiwan), India, Russia and Germany. However, the infrastructure and investment demands are very expensive for many countries and nations unwilling to invest substantial sums in defense.

Renewed interest was placed on RMA theory and practice after what many saw as a stunning, one-sided victory by the United States in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. American dominance through superior satellite, weapons-guiding, and communications technology emphasized the enormous relative power of the US through technological advances, even against an Iraqi military that was by no means an insignificant rival.

After the Kosovo War where the United States did not lose a single life, others suggested that war had become too sterile, creating an almost "Virtual War." Consequently, the U.S. failure to capture Osama bin Laden and the Iraqi insurgency led some to question RMA's build-up as a military nirvana. U.S. foes may increasingly resort to asymmetrical warfare to counter the advantages of RMA.

In 1997, the United States Army mounted an exercise code-named "Force 21", to test the application of digital technologies in warfare. The goal of Force 21 was to improve the communications and logistics through the application of computers and information technology generated in the private sector and adapted for military use.

The specific aims were to increase awareness of one's own position on the battlefield and to have a clear sense of the enemy's position, in pursuit of the following goals: (1) increased lethality, (2) increased control of the tempo of warfare, (3) the reduction of instances caused by friendly fire, with improvement in Identification Friend or Foe.[2]

Areas of focus

One of the central problems in understanding the current debate over RMA is due to many theorists' use of the term as referring to the revolutionary technology itself, which is the driving force of change. Concurrently, other theorists tend to use the term as referring to revolutionary adaptations by military organisations that may be necessary to deal with the changes in technology. Other theorists place RMA more closely inside the specific political and economic context of globalization and the end of the Cold War.

When reviewing the gamut of theories, three fundamental versions of RMA come to the forefront. The first perspective focuses primarily upon changes in the nation-state and the role of an organised military in using force. This approach highlights the political, social, and economic factors worldwide, which might require a completely different type of military and organisational structure to apply force in the future.

Authors such as RAND's Sean J. A. Edwards (advocate of BattleSwarm tactics), Carl H. Builder and Lt. Col. Ralph Peters emphasized the decline of the nation-state, the nature of the emerging international order, and the different types of forces needed in the near future.

The second perspective—most commonly assigned the term RMA—highlights the evolution of weapons technology, information technology, military organization, and military doctrine among advanced powers. This "System of Systems" perspective on RMA has been ardently supported by Admiral William Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who identified three overlapping areas for force assets. These are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command, control, communications and intelligence processing, and precision force.

Advanced versions of RMA incorporate other sophisticated technologies, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), nanotechnology, robotics, and biotechnology. Recently, the RMA debate focussed on "network-centric warfare" which is a doctrine that aims to connect all troops on the battlefield.

Finally, the third concept is that a "true" revolution in military affairs has not yet occurred or is unlikely to. Authors such as Michael O'Hanlon and Frederick Kagan, point to the fact much of the technology and weapons systems ascribed to the contemporary RMA were in development long before 1991 and the Internet and information technology boom.

Several critics point out that a "revolution" within the military ranks might carry detrimental consequences, produce severe economic strain, and ultimately prove counterproductive. Such authors tend to profess a much more gradual "evolution" in military affairs, as opposed to a rapid revolution.

See also

US military-specific:


  1. Steven Metz, James Kievit. "Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs: From Theory to Policy" June 27, 1995
  2. The United States Army 1995 Modernization Plan. Force 21

Further reading

  • Alexander, John B., Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First-Century Warfare, New York, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Griffin, 1999 ISBN 0-312-26739-8
  • Arquilla, John and David F. Ronfeldt (eds.), In Athena's Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation, 1997 ISBN 0-8330-2514-7
  • Barnett, Thomas P.M., The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, New York & London, Penguin, 2004 ISBN 0-399-15175-3
  • Broad, William, Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2001 ISBN 0-684-87159-9
  • DerDerian, James, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, Westview Press Inc. 2001 ISBN 0-8133-9794-4
  • Edwards, Sean A. J., Swarming on the Battlefield: Past, Present, and Future, Palo Alto, CA, RAND Research, 2000 ISBN 0-8330-2779-4
  • Gongora, Thierry and Harald von Riekhoff (eds.), Toward a Revolution in Military Affairs?: Defense and Security at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2000 ISBN 0-313-31037-8
  • Gray, Colin S., Strategy for Chaos: Revolutions in Military Affairs and The Evidence of History, London, Frank Cass, 2004 ISBN 0-7146-8483-X
  • Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Hamish Hamilton, 2005 ISBN 0-241-14240-7
  • Henrotin, Joseph, La technologie militaire en question, Paris, Economica, 2008.
  • Kagan, Donald and Frederick W. Kagan, While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness and the Threat to Peace Today, New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 2000 ISBN 0-312-28374-1
  • Krames, Jeffrey A., The Rumsfeld Way, New York & Chicago, McGraw-Hill, 2002 ISBN 0-07-140641-7
  • Landa, Manuel de, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, New York, Zone Books, 1991 ISBN 0-942299-76-0
  • Rumsfeld, Donald H., Transforming the Military, in: Foreign Affairs, vol. 81, No. 3, May/June, 2002, pp. 20–32.
  • Ugtoff, Victor (ed.), The Coming Crisis: Nuclear Proliferation, U.S. Interests, and World Order, Cambridge & London, The MIT Press, 2000 ISBN 0-262-71005-6
  • Cohen, Eliot A. 1995. Come the Revolution. National Review, July 31, 26+.
  • Schwartzstein, Stuart J.D. (ed.), The Information Revolution and National Security: Dimensions and Directions, Washington, D.C., The Center for Strategic & International Studies, 1996 ISBN 0-89206-288-6
  • Tomes, Robert R., US Defense Strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military Innovation and the New American Way of War, 1973-2003, 2007 ISBN 0-415-77252-4
  • John Gordon, "Transforming for What? Challenges Facing Western Militaries Today", Focus stratégique, Paris, Ifri, November 2008.

External links

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