When ‘good enough’ is better than ‘best’
Technology as a force multiplier is a familiar argument for states with limited strategic resources — such as manpower — to overcome. However, the lasting qualitative advantages any armed forces should seek may not come from technology.
Technology is necessarily short-lived. Five years ago, portable storage devices — so-called thumb drives — with megabytes of storage space were considered fairly cutting-edge technologies. Then came along portable hard drives with hundreds of megabytes of storage space. Today, mobile storage devices contain gigabytes of space.
Technological change is accelerating and, once measured by the century, is today likely to occur every year.
For an armed force seeking to maintain a technological advantage over its putative adversaries, the accelerating pace of technological changes means that any extant technological advantage (already naturally temporary) is increasingly short-lived. That armed force is going to spend an increasing amount of time, money and other resources looking for the next technological advantage. Furthermore, new technologies, particularly in the military domain, are increasingly expensive.
As advanced economies slow down in terms of their annual growth rates, it means that the growth of absolute amount of money that can be dedicated to military expenditure is going to slow down as well.
This translates into a simple argument that increasing costs of emerging military technologies may be out-stripping economic growth rates. This means armed forces will be able to afford fewer of these new technologies.
This has been called structural disarmament, concrete examples of which are the F-15SGs that the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) acquired to replace the F-5Es. Given the cost of the F-15SG relative to the F-5E, it was impossible for the RSAF to replace the F-5Es on a one-to-one basis.