There is a widespread consensus that emerging technologies have the potential to alter the landscape of warfare, potentially reshaping its fundamental nature. However, there is a considerable divergence of opinion and debate regarding the precise mechanisms and pace at which these changes will occur and how these changes might shape the geopolitical outcomes.

“The Origins of the Victory: How Disruptive Military Innovation Determines the Fates of Great Powers”, contributes to this ongoing debate by shedding light on the complex interplay between technological innovation, military strategy, and geopolitical outcomes.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, a prominent defence strategist from the United States, has authored the Origins of the Victory. It was released in March 2023 amidst increasing discussions regarding the potential military applications of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, and synthetic biology and their probable impacts on future warfare.

Andrew’s extensive background, including 21 years of service in the US Army, lends weight to his authorship. Before this publication, he had delved into the subject matter extensively, exemplified by his notable works such as “The Army and Vietnam,” a significant analysis of US organisational failures during the Vietnam War, and “7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century,” which examines the evolving nature of warfare in contemporary times. These scholarly contributions firmly establish Andrew’s credibility and expertise in the field, qualifying him to address the themes explored in his latest book.

In the first part of the book, comprised of five chapters, the author provides an overview of contemporary military technology and the current state of warfare while also forecasting its future trajectory. The author’s main argument in this part is that the prevailing paradigm of a “precision-warfare regime,” widely regarded as the pinnacle of military capability in contemporary times, has begun to reach its zenith and is gradually losing its supremacy in warfare. The author posits that the US employed the said regime for the first time by using technologies such as stealth aircraft precision-guided munitions and space-based navigation, which placed the US military in a dominant position vis-a-vis its competitors.

Krepinevich also cautioned the readers that the rise of nations such as China and Russia, coupled with their significant developments in emerging technologies, has diminished to an extent the dominance, as mentioned earlier, held by the US.

After presenting an overview of contemporary military technology and warfare in the first part of the book, the author then proceeds to study a series of case studies in the second part. These case studies offer a historical analysis of disruptive technologies and their employment by various military branches of a number of countries during the 20th century.

By conducting this historical review, the author aims to identify recurring patterns and trends in significant military advancements across different domains throughout the said century.

For instance, within the naval domain, the author discussed the battleship innovation represented by the British Dreadnought-class ships during the early 20th century. The author traces their evolution from being the epitome of big gunship design to their eventual replacement by aircraft carriers during World War II. Similarly, in the context of the land domain, the author examined the progression of tanks and armoured vehicles between the two World Wars, along with the evolution of combined arms doctrines and capabilities.

The author took the German military as an example in this regard to illustrate how, following their defeat in World War I, the German military underwent a substantial overhaul by incorporating tanks as a fundamental component in warfare and by combining the integration of mechanisation, radio communications, and tactical airpower. These changes, the author highlighted, culminated in the creation of the formidable German Army in World War II, which swiftly conquered much of Europe.

Lastly, in the air domain, the author guides the reader through the historical development of the US Air Force. The journey traces its trajectory from a rigidly structured strategic nuclear bomber force in the post-World War II nuclear era to a remarkably effective instrument of air power in the 1990s. This transformation is predominantly attributed to the assimilation of cutting-edge technologies such as stealth aircraft, precision-guided munitions, and the strategic deployment of space-based navigation and communication satellites within the operational framework of the US Air Force during the 1990s.

In the book’s final section, Krepinevich conducts a thorough assessment of the historical examples mentioned above to identify recurring patterns and derive conclusions regarding the institutional prerequisites for the successive integration of disruptive military innovations into conventional military structures.

The Author delves into the imperative of integrating these novel capabilities into doctrine, training protocols, and, ultimately, operational strategies to ensure efficacy in combat in the foreseeable future.

Though the book is a valuable contribution to the already existing corpus of literature on military history, especially owing to its wealth of knowledge and information as well as the reliability of its consulted sources, the book is not immune to criticism, primarily due to several notable weaknesses.

Firstly, it can be argued that the book’s reliance on just four case studies to draw general lessons about best military practices for the militaries worldwide may limit the breadth and depth of its conclusions. While these case studies offer valuable insights, their relatively small sample size raises questions about the comprehensiveness and applicability of the lessons derived.

Secondly, despite its wealth of interesting details and information, as mentioned earlier, the book occasionally struggles to maintain focus, particularly in its extensive exploration of the four case studies. While these studies are intriguing, they sometimes appear disconnected from the author’s overarching argument, failing to support the central thesis effectively.

Third, while the author discusses the space domain, the omission of an in-depth discussion on the equally vital cyber domain is apparent in the book. Moreover, given Krepinevich’s detailed analyses of historical shifts in US military structure, such as the US Navy’s transition to aviation and the separation of the US Air Force from the US Army, it is surprising that he neglects to address whether space and cyber forces should operate independently or remain integrated within existing military services, especially in light of the recent establishment of the US Space Force.

Last but not least, despite its publication in 2023, the book fails to acknowledge the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, a conflict ripe with the book’s subject matter. This lack of mention is particularly important considering both involved parties’ active deployment of emerging technologies and novel techniques such as cyber operations, Artificial Intelligence, robotics, drones, and electronic warfare. Incorporating an analysis of this conflict would have further enriched the book.

However, despite the identified weaknesses, the book remains valuable and insightful. This book is recommended to anyone interested in military history and armed forces officials seeking to deepen their understanding of strategic decision-making and the integration of disruptive technologies into military structures. While acknowledging its limitations, the book’s analysis and thought-provoking discussions make it a worthwhile addition to the military enthusiasts’ and practitioners’ library.

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