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Technology Evolution in War

August 18, 2010

There is little doubt that war fuels technology development.  Why?  I’d hazard a guess that because the artefacts are being tested much more exhaustively and also because there is a huge amount of resources poured into the generation of the next iteration of technology. One thing we can see clearly is the evolution of a physical equivalent of a predator-prey relationshipFor example insurgents in Iraq deploy a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) device that fires a molten slug of copper capable of smashing though the coalition vehicles’ armour in response to the heat of an approaching vehicle.  In response the military develop a counter-object on a boom-arm in front of the vehicle – this triggers the IED to fire too early.  The insurgents then simply move the angle of fire to shoot back 3 meters – the length of the boom-arm.  So the coalition responds with variable length boom arms meaning the IED more often than not will miss the vehicle.  The insurgents then respond by making the IED trigger not to the heat of the vehicle, but the jamming signal that the vehicle sends out to counter other IEDs.  It’s scary innovation.

While there is a trend in evolution towards more complexity – we have developed into much more complex organisms than our distant relatives were.  But that is not a rule – it’s a trend.  In the dangerous world of aysmetric warfare we can see an example of technology evolution that becomes less complicated – that of Improvised Explosive Devices:

Late one afternoon in April, Llamas shows me the latest device they’ve been working on, just in from Afghanistan. A neatly made plywood box about 8 inches high and 5 inches square, it has a length of replica detonation cord emerging from the base. Llamas pulls the box open, revealing a layer of soft foam and a wooden plunger attached to the lid. When stepped on or driven over, he says, the foam is compressed and the tip of the plunger, which is saturated with a chemical, descends into a chamber at the bottom of the box. That chamber contains a second substance, and when the two chemicals mix, a pyrotechnic reaction ignites the end of the detonation cord, which leads to an explosive charge.

The box is the logical conclusion of years of reverse evolution in insurgent weapons technology. Without a power source, a blasting cap, or a single piece of wire or metal contact, it has no electromagnetic or metallic signature. Linked to a charge mixed up from odorless homemade explosives, packed beneath a dirt road, it would be all but impossible to detect: a Flintstones land mine. “It’s a block of wood, basically,” Llamas says.

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