by Charlie Vono, special to Aerotech News
In 1790, President George Washington signed the United States patent number 3 for Oliver Evans’ flour mill. Washington was so impressed with Evans, that he ordered one for Mount Vernon.
The Evans Flour Mill is often cited as the first, best example of today’s modern factory.
It was, in fact, a complex system that ran from a single source of power, took in various grains, ran them through a series of machines, and produced high quality flour, corn meal, or whatever the input and processes determined. See “The Young Mill-Wright and Miller’s Guide” by Oliver and Cadwallader Evans book, available at amazon.com.
The illustration at the top of this article is “Plate VIII” from the book and is used to describe his systemic process. I have used this history and this book to create a presentation comparing “the first factory” to the new factory floor of commercial space: “Oliver Evans’ Flour Mill and Tomorrow’s Orbital Factory Floor.” It will also direct you to the Mount Vernon video mentioned above, or “google it” directly.
From this point in 1790, a straight line can be drawn through any number of historical events demonstrating that complex systems have become ever more ubiquitous and ever more complex, and ever more long-lived as time goes on. This article will pick combat aerospace events to demonstrate:
* The American Civil War
* World War I with its killing machines and defensive trenches
* Spanish Civil War air bombardments
* U.S. Army Air Forces doctrine of Strategic Bombardment
* World War II Allied Bomber Forces
* Cold War Strategic Air Command’s submarines, bombers, and missiles.
The American Civil War is considered the first modern industrial war because it used the fruits of the Industrial Revolution to good advantage. Trains, mass production, and even air forces were used to excellent effect by both sides. The more industrialized North was the victor. Not only did Evans’ mill lead to mass production factories for important war items like bullets and uniforms, but both new and modern and older mills played key roles in the conflict. When the various mills were not used as targets they were used as meeting places convenient to the current battle. Modern mass production factories provide rifled bullets, medical supplies, clothing and much more to each army.
The Civil War had air forces? Yes. Both sides developed balloons to spy over enemy lines, sending intel down the tether using the modern telegraph. A pleasant afternoon can be spent looking up the exploits of the North’s Professor Thaddeus Lowe and his lovely wife, the Parisian actress Leontine Lowe. The Battle of Gaines Mill was the first Civil War battle where both sides used observation balloons. This is where the Confederates used their famous “silk dress” balloon. You can start with a “google search” for “Balloons of the Civil War,” Lt. Cmdr. Steven D. Culpepper’s master’s thesis for the US Army Command and General Staff College.
As the Industrial Revolution ground on, it produced more complex systems, many of which were highly efficient killing machines. For instance, the machine gun was the main (although not the only) reason trenches were needed in World War I and the front lines became stalemates of mass slaughter. Again, balloons were used for recon, but they had a new enemy, heavier-than-air aero machines that would shoot them out of the sky. Try looking up the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” Frank Luke.
In the 1930s, our fledgling Army pilots took all this in, combined it with Prussian Gen. Carl Von Clausewitz, and produced our country’s first strategic bombardment doctrine. The U.S. Army Air Forces proved this doctrine in Europe, flying past enemy lines to deliver destruction to Germany’s rail yards, oil refineries, and ball bearing plants. This severely weakened their ability to push back against the D-Day Invasion. Von Clausewitz’ “On War” is required reading for any up and coming military strategist, it explains that the Army must hit the enemy’s “center of gravity” to win. You can read more about this in “The Development of Air Doctrine in the Army Air Arm 1917-1941” based on interviews with aviation giants Hap Arnold, Claire Chennault, Giulio Douhet, Billy Mitchell, Benjamin Foulois and others. It can be found on amazon.com.
During the course of World War II, incredible American leaders such as Gen. Curtis LeMay, translated our strategic bombardment doctrine into practical use.
By the end of the war, it culminated in one aircraft, one bomb, one city. Executing this plan once and then twice forced Japan’s surrender; but it also ushered in the post-war period, where everyone (some sooner than others) began to realize that our vast oceans and frozen north pole were no longer barriers to attack against the United States. How could we defend against a Russia, for instance, that had all their World War II bomber aircraft, were building more, and were creating their own atomic bombs? Remaining sceptics were soon won over with the launch of Sputnik. Couldn’t that satellite have easily been a bomb?! Of course, the Sputnik satellite was much lighter than a warhead, but if anyone had that kind of engineering background to understand that, then they also understood The Bomb atop a missile was only a few months away.
The best answer we could muster to this threat was to mount a threat of our own.
Our Sea Launched Ballistic Missiles, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and manned bombers are on the alert to respond to any threat. Therefore, a threat is much less likely to occur. Bombers can be moved to make a statement and recalled as needed. ICBMs create a vast landscape of targets that must be eliminated if World War III is to be pursued. SLBMs are the final threat, unseen, undetectable, and therefore invulnerable.
We have, in very few words, spanned the days from 1790 to 2020. We visited Evans’ Flour Mill, the battlefields of the American Civil War, the Great War, and the Spanish Civil War. We watched our nation prove its strategic bombardment doctrine and then pivot to protect our nation using nuclear deterrence. All the while, the systems became more pervasive, longer-lived, and complex.
I was born in 1952 and spent my career as a Cold War Warrior. Here’s some additional homework for you, especially if you are a younger reader.
Today, in 2020, as the world continues its laudable downward trend of eliminating all nuclear weapons, you need to assess the unchanged threat, emerging threats, and the new technologies to see if you can find a better solution than mutually assured destruction. See the movie, Dr. Strangelove.
Also, today, our young space aces need to consider, like our young pilots of the 1930s, what should our U.S. Space Forces Space Doctrine will be? Will our future industrial wars follow the pattern of the American Civil War and World War II and target our factory floors in space?
The final question for today is whether we can all become experts in sustaining all these complex systems that are appearing around us daily and living longer and longer lives? You can find some answers and more questions in my paper: “The Rise of Long-lived Complex Systems.”
Editor’s note: Charlie Vono is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, retired astronautical engineer, and current AIAA distinguished lecturer. The presentations and papers mentioned here can be found at charlesvono.com/Presentations and Publications.
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