WASHINGTON (Army News Service) — Not everyone realizes that many components of today’s smartphones originated as defense technology, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, during the Smithsonian’s 2017 Military Invention Day, Saturday.
Inventors, scientists and engineers representing the Army, and other services, branches had the opportunity to demonstrate their cutting-edge technology at the National Museum of American History. Additionally, subject-matter experts were able to explain their design motivation, invention process, and challenges they face in producing first-rate equipment for the Armed Forces.
This year, Military Invention Day coincided with Armed Forces Day, and Milley reminded visitors to take a moment to greet the service members in attendance and remember those deployed around the world.
INVENTION vs. INNOVATION
“The theme for today is invention and how it is linked to the military,” Milley said. “But I want to distinguish between technological inventions and innovation.”
Innovation, he said, refers to the “doctrine, organization, leadership and training that goes into making the technology applicable to everyday life or military operations.”
“Invention,” however, refers to the creation process behind technology.
While the U.S. government was behind contributed to the creation of many of the components that found their way into the iPhone and other similar smartphones, Apple and other technology companies have been responsible for the innovation process which “illustrates the symbiosis between the government and the civil society,” Milley said.
For example, today’s smartphones use a liquid crystal display technology that was originally developed by the DOD, and the signal compression technology used by many phones originated within Army research labs. Technologies like micro hard drives, RAM cache, and SIRI also got their start at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, he said.
“We know for the past decades that the military has been the origin for technologies ranging from GPS, to medicines, to the internet,” said Arthur Deammrich, director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Those technologies now “shape our daily lives.”
TECHNOLOGY MASS PRODUCTION
In the 1820s the Army made a request for more uniform gun parts so that Soldiers could easily swap out broken pieces, Deammrich said. At the time, if a Soldier broke his weapon, a highly-skilled machinist would need to craft that particular replacement part.
“That led to the invention and production of some high-performance lathes,” Deammrich said. “In turn, it eventually would lead to a unique American contribution to the industrial revolution. Machining of precision parts would lay the stage for mass production, not just of guns, but of bicycles, sewing machines and thousands of other consumer products, and turn the United States from an agrarian nation into an advanced industrialized one.”
The creative technological growth continued in the following decades, as “the Army’s call for new inventions put out to the general public [during World War I] led to a more systemized research and development program. It quickly responded with some remarkable technologies. Ultimately, WWI would introduce some major changes in warfighter tactics and in the technologies,” Deammrich said.
Additionally, the advent of aviation contributed a third dimension of warfighting to augment ground and sea forces. Air power capabilities provided the Armed Forces with the ability to fight over long distances that were previously unimaginable.
In World War II, memorable technological advances led to the creation and deployment of the atomic bomb, as well as to the invention of the first mine detector, Deammrich added.
THE EVOLVING CHARACTER OF WARFARE
As technology continues to evolve, it will change the character of warfare, Milley said. The Army must understand coming changes and adapt its organizational operating structure based on futuretechnology deployment on the battlefield and throughout the world.
Milley pointed out that one of the best examples of a fundamental change in war technology happened between World War I and World War II, when the world shifted from human- and animal-powered technologies to wheeled and tracked vehicles, airplanes, and radio communications technology.
The Germans’ ability to innovate technology and apply a martial doctrine that combined infantry, armor and artillery led to Blitzkrieg, Milley added. It provided them the operational and tactical advantage during the first half World War II, as they overran Europe from 1939 to 1942.
“Today, we are in the middle of another change in the character of warfare,” he continued. “The result to which we don’t know yet, but at some future point in time, there is a very good possibility that whoever [brings] together these technologies, these ideas, in the most innovative way will prevail and their nation will be secure.”
“I am looking toward to the future and the security of this nation,” Milley said. “We will need to continue to invent and innovate in order to secure the nation that has given us the liberties we have today.”