Is Western technological superiority a self-perpetuating illusion?

In a report submitted to the American Congress in 2023, the Pentagon recognizes that the People's Liberation Army has, today, a significant operational arsenal composed of hypersonic ballistic missiles topped with a hypersonic glider, a technology which the American armies will only actually be provided in 2025, and in sample quantities.

This statement may come as a surprise, given that for more than 30 years now, the West, led by the United States, has been presented as having such a technological advance in defense that it is sufficient on its own. , to impose itself on the entire planet, and to compensate for sometimes unfavorable numerical balances of power.

Thus, when we look objectively at this supposed Western technological superiority in matters of defense, elevated to the rank of dogma for almost three decades, as well as at the origin of this certainty, it appears that it is not only, frequently, questionable, but still, sometimes, the origin of deleterious consequences for the evolution of the power of Western armies in a world in full reorganization, more unstable and contested than ever.

Biased lessons from the Gulf War

Those who experienced the end of the 1980s certainly remember that at that time, the Western armed forces were far from considering that they had obvious superiority, including from a technological point of view, compared to the armies Soviets and the Warsaw Pact.

The coalition's resounding victory against Iraq in 1991

Certainly, and not without reason, Western general staffs were aware of certain marked advantages, as in the field of air forces. It was not so much the superiority of the F-15, F-16, F-18, Mirage 20000 and other Tornado, over the Soviet Sukhoi and Mig, as the powerful support fleet made up of tanker planes and Awacs, which acted as an effective multiplier.

US Air Force F-15 and F-16 in Iraq
The US Air Force quickly took control of Iraqi airspace during Operation Desert Shield.

In many other areas, however, the perceived advantage was without context given to Soviet forces, such as in anti-aircraft defense, artillery or even armored power. The Russian armies had, in fact, equipment often considered as efficient as their Western counterparts, but available in much greater numbers.

This perception changed radically in 1991, with the Gulf War, which pitted the Iraqi armies, mainly equipped with Soviet equipment, against the Western forces of the coalition.

Presented then, and probably too hastily, after an Iran-Iraq war having left it bloodless, as the fourth army in the world, the Iraqi armed forces failed to oppose the coalition led by the United States, and had to leave Kuwait after a few weeks of air campaign and four days of ground assault having destroyed a large part of its operational potential.

F-117, Tomahawk, Patriot: American equipment showed its superiority in Iraq

The Western, and more especially American, demonstration of force was interpreted by many, including those mainly concerned, as a demonstration of American and Western technological superiority in the face of their main competitors, the Soviets.

Western technological superiority F-117
The F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter was one of the pieces of equipment that helped create the legend of Western technological advance in Iraq.

Certain equipment, such as the Tomahawk cruise missile, the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, the M1 Abrams tank, the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, or the Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile system, were thus raised to the rank of technological standard meter, by the demonstration made of their effectiveness in Iraq.


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1 COMMENT

  1. There is missing in your analysis an essential element of which “technologicalism” is the consequence and of which you forget to mention: The American military doctrine of “zero death war” designed at the end of the 1980s and which has rightly had its moment glory in 1991, during the Gulf War.

    In our democratic countries, one death is already one death too many, unlike countries like China, Russia or even India which do not have the same relationship as us with life and death.

    We discover to our horror that the Russians are capable of accepting to lose 100, 200 or 300 men if they consider that the game is worth it. And let's have no doubt that if the Chinese considered that the price of Taiwan was one or two million deaths, I'm not sure that would make them back down.

    As for us Westerners for whom one death is one death too many, we have chosen ever more protection with equipment that is ever more complex, ever heavier and ever more expensive but ever less numerous.

    Are our modern societies today ready to make the sacrifice of several million lives so that China does not get its hands on Taiwan?

    We are far from that time when the 2 brothers of my paternal great-grandfather went to the front with guns blazing without asking any questions and were killed by the enemy. The 1st, second class soldier in the 6th battalion of hunters was picked up by German machine guns while attacking the German lines at Vergaville on August 19, 1914. The life of his people who came from the depths of France and who nothing was not of great value. It was necessary to save the homeland in danger.

    We have somewhat forgotten it, but war is dirty and it only brings ruin, death and desolation.

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