Military Innovation in the Third Age of U.S. Unmanned Aviation, 1991–2015
Grant, Robert L., Jr.
Darnton, Christopher N.
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Military innovation studies have largely relied on monocausal accounts—rationalism, institutionalism, or culture—to explain technologically innovative and adaptive outcomes in defense organizations. None of these perspectives alone provided a compelling explanation for the adoption outcomes of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the U.S. military from 1991 to 2015. Two questions motivated this research: Why, despite abundant material resources, mature technology, and operational need, are the most-capable UAVs not in the inventory across the services? What accounts for variations and patterns in UAV innovation adoption? The study selected ten UAV program episodes from the Air Force and Navy, categorized as high-, medium-, and low-end cases, for within-case and cross-case analysis. Primary and secondary sources, plus interviews, enabled process tracing across episodes. The results showed a pattern of adoption or rejection based on a logic-of-utility effectiveness and consistent resource availability: a military problem to solve, and a capability gap in threats or tasks and consistent monetary capacity; furthermore, ideational factors strengthened or weakened adoption. In conclusion, the study undermines single-perspective arguments as sole determinants of innovation, reveals that military culture is not monolithic in determining outcomes, and demonstrates that civil-military relationships no longer operate where civilian leaders hold inordinate sway over military institutions.
RightsThis publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.
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