Blackeagle (cdupchurch@hotmail.com)
Wed, 19 Jul 2000 09:35:46 MST


> > I've got a bit of a problem with your concept of "prototype in the
> > Japanese sense of the word." It seems to me that in real life
> > Japanese technology proceeds in an evolutionary manner, with each
> > model a minor improvement on what has gone before, rather than the
> > stuff everyting we can possibly fit in and make a great
> > technological leap forward strategy of the Gundam.
>
>I was not the one who made the original comment, but I think what you
>are talking about is the progression of consumer products (Japanese
>or not), as opposed to military products (it is a bit hard to tell
>how Japan develops modern military hardware, due to the rather
>limited scope of the Japanese military). It has been proven time and
>time again, that consumers are very reticent to buy a product based
>on revolutionary technology, as opposed to an improvement over
>existing technology. When the general public is involved, they do not
>want to be sold a product they can't relate to, so products need to
>be developed in an evolutionary manner, so as not to jump too far
>ahead of the existing customer base. Military technology is quite
>different, in that optimal performance is far more important than
>method used to achieve the performance, and price is often a minor
>factor if performance improvements are substantial enough.
>
>I have no idea what the "in the Japanese sense of the word" comment
>means, but I am fairly sure that if it were not for the restrictions
>placed on the Japanese military, it would develop weapons in much the
>same leapfrog revolutionary progression that any other first world
>military uses.

I think the last statement there would be more accurate if you replaced
"first world military" with "western military." China and the Soviet
Union/Russia have long pursued evolutionary rather than revolutionary
patterns for the development of their military hardware. Even the U.S. has
at times forsaken revolutionary model for evolutionary development (look at
tank development from the end of WWII up through the M60 or pre WWII heavy
cruiser development).

Actually, I was specifically referring to Japanese military technology. A
lot of Japan's military hardware are U.S. designs built under liscense (Like
the F-15). However, there are several areas in which they are more or less
self sufficent, like naval construction. If you look naval procurment, it's
easy to see their development proceeds using an evolutionary pattern.

For instnace, in the past 17 years, 3 different classes of submarine have
entered service (at 7-8 year intervals). Each of these classes is a
moderate improvement over what preceeded it, but non could be called a great
leap forward. Compare that with the U.S. Navy; in 1997 the USN comissioned
its first new class of submarine in 21 years.

In the past 20 years, the Japanese MSDF comissioned 3 different types of
anti-submarine warfare destroyers, with another class set to enter service
in 2002 (6-8 year intervals). Again, each class is a moderate improvement
on the one before it. In the past 25 years, the MSDF comissioned 3
different classes of anti-aircraft destroyers (7-10 year intervals). While
the newest of these, the Kongo class, is a revolutionary rather than an
evolutionary design, it's basically a liscensed copy of the American Arliegh
Burke design, not a native Japanese development. Compare this rather
frantic pace of development to the U.S. Navy which has comissioned only
three new classes of surface combatants in the last 25 years (the Spruance,
Ticongeroga and Burke classes).

Finally, I would dispute your statement claiming that revolutionary
development is unambigiously the best way to produce military hardware.
While revolutionary hardware is definitely on the cutting edge when it comes
out, it takes quite a while for you to gear up for your next revolution.
During this time, your revolutionary hardware is growing quite long in the
tooth. The big advantage you had when your stuff was new has been cut down
or evaporated.

An example of this can be seen in cold war submarine development. The Los
Angelas class was far better than any Soviet boats when they entered service
back in the '70s. However, fifteen years later, the Soviets had gone
through five different attack sub classes and their latest, the Akula class,
could match the latest Los Angelas class boats. It was projected that the
subs the Soviets would be building in the mid '90s would actually be better
than the Los Angelas class. This is what lead to the design of the
incredibly capable (but incredibly expensive) Seawolf class.

Most nations try to mitigate the effects of aging revolutionary technology
by progressively upgradiding their hardware, either by incorporating
improvements to later models on the assembly line (most aircraft, the Los
Angelas class attack subs, the M-1 Abrams) or by upgrading systems that are
in service (Aegis ships). While this can mitigate the effect of aging
technology, it cannot completely offset it.

Compounding the problem of aging technology is the factor of technological
risk. Whenever you try to produce a new and revolutionary technology, there
is the risk that you will fail. If you do, your aging hardware must remain
in service even longer while you go back to the drawing board.

A good example of this is the MBT-70 project. MBT-70 was an attempt to
develop a replacement for the M-60 main battle tank. It was an unmitigated
disaster. The project had so many problems that the Army eventually junked
the whole thing and went back to the drawing board (eventually producing the
M-1 Abrams). However, while the M-1 was under development, the M-60 had to
remain in service for another decade, and found itself increasingly
outmatched by the latest Soviet tanks. The M-1 eventually remidied this,
but if war had come in the '70s or early '80s, the U.S. Army would have been
in deep shit.

On the other hand, an evolutionary development strategy tends to
dramatically reduce technological risk, since changes between generations
take place on a far smaller scale. Since generations of new technology come
along much more often using an evolutionary plan, you don't have to worry as
much about your entire military being dependent on aging technology. While
evolution doesn't have the potential upside that new and revolutionary
technology does, it doesn't have the drawbacks either.

________________________________
Chris Upchurch a.k.a. Blackeagle
cdupchurch@hotmail.com

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