Saturday, November 4, 2017

Skills vs. Technology

This is a very old argument.  Or, in my opinion, non-argument.

Technology does not compete with skill.  Technology multiplies skill.  Anything times zero is still zero.

Skills can stand alone. 

A mental exercise

45 acres randomly snipped out of a large city.  Businesses along the major streets.  Residential housing on side streets.  Vacant lots where derelict properties had been put to the wrecking ball.
Suppose two forces were to enter approximately forty acres of urban territory.  Neither force had ever set foot on the parcel.

Images from Google Streetview to show what the neighborhood looks like.
Both forces have identical missions, to eradicate every member of the other team either by killing them or forcing outside the perimeter.  Both forces enter the parcel at exactly midnight, December 5, 2017 from opposite corners.  In case the math is too hard, they both have thirty days to prepare.

For the sake of simplicity, let's say the parcel has been completely abandoned by the residents.

Team T: "T" for Technology
Sixteen stone-cold killers culled from prisons across America.  They are between 17-and-27 years of age.

They are given fully automatic AK-47s with thirty round magazines.  They are allowed to carry as many magazines as they want.  They are also given $1000 each to pimp-out their weapon.

Team S: "S" for Skills
Eight soldiers or marines who recently fought together as a team.

They are given NEF Handi-Rifles in .357 Magnum and, as a nod to their training, the sights are switched to rear aperture and hooded, front post sights.  These are "iron" sights with no magnification.

Incidentally, the Handi-Rifle is a single shot firearm that uses a basic design that was first put into production in 1837. I chose the .357 Magnum because it is not significantly more powerful than the ammo used in the Civil War in 1863.

The math
Team T's raw capability is 30*16*14...Thirty round magazines times sixteen sets of boots on the ground times 14X magnification of the scopes some of them bought.  That gives them a score of about 6700.

Team S's raw capability is 1*8*1...One round in the gun times eight sets of boots on the ground times no magnification.  That gives Team S a score of 8.

The odds
The math says 840:1 in favor of Team T.

Our experience tells us 30:1 in favor of Team S.

The difference?  Team S has skills and will make effective use of their month to train, prepare and plan.

Knowledge and technology are nouns.  "Skills" are implied verbs.  Skills are developed through repetition.

Consider the difference between Sex Education and Sex Training.  Sex Education is passive.  And please forgive the humor, Sex Training is hands-on and active.

One scenario of how it might play out


  1. When I hear the argument about technology vs skills, I am reminded about Simo Hayha, the Finnish sniper who took exception to the Red Army invading Finland. My understanding was that he didn't have the latest, greatest rifle, he had a rifle that he knew very well and was very good at using.

    To my mind, skill is looking at a situation, seeing what is available, and knowing what is the desired outcome. Farmers have been using skills over technology for generations, hence the sayings about baling wire and duct tape.

    As a home care nurse, I have frequently had to deal with an "Oh, by the way, nurse, I have a cut/sore/boo-boo and what should I do about it?" "Well, what do you have to put on it?" and we go from there. Sort of like wilderness camping.

    Knowledge is using skill to develop the technology necessary to get the job done. In your scenario, I would bet on the 8 man team as they would have the discipline and skills to overcome the disorganized ex-cons quickly and efficiently. The longer the ex-cons have to get organized, the harder it will be to take them out as they will be developing survival skills.

    1. I agree that the longer that Team T has to get organized the stronger it will become. Also, the dumbest ones will be thinned out first.

      The counterargument is that Team S will probably be picking up some of the AK-47s unless Team T plays swarmball. The other counterargument is that it is very difficult to plan when bullets are whizzing overhead. Cooper once wrote that we rarely rise to the occasion, rather we regress to the level of training that we mastered.

      Thanks for writing. GREAT thoughts.

  2. Agree on Team S, they've been under fire, the others, not so much... And 'freebie' weapons collected will significantly even the odds!

  3. As ever, going back to competitions between unequal men o' war at sea, he who shoots first (accurately being a notable bonus) wins. Because every volley gives the first shooter increasing parity, and then dominance.

    Team S' members will have orders to ambush on contact.
    Being trained (skills!) they will take out 1-2 of Team T at every encounter. Then hunker down behind good cover, and displace, or continue to snipe.

    Team T is liable to suffer 20-40% casualties if the run into a prepared ambush from T. Now it's not 16 on 8, it's 12 on 8, or worse.

    Starting at an absolute handicap of only 2:1 superiority, when doctrinally they need 3:1 or better to dislodge a prepared defender, they they have no hope of prevailing from Day One. It's just a matter of time.

    If Team S finds them, they will rotate watches, fix their opponents, and kill them. Like as not they'll get 75% in days after the "go" mark, before the survivors will lose all cohesion (tenuous at the best of times) and egress permanently. IOW GTFO of Dodge.

    If, contrary to probability, they defend to the last, S will surround them, close in inexorably, and whack them to extinction, in return for no or minimal casualties, if any.

    And if S gets lucky, and T blunders into a deliberate ambush early, the odds are whittled to 1:1 in two volleys, at which point T becomes totally unglued.
    If S and T split up recovery of weapons, S gains a four-man fire team with the recovered weaponry of T, which now gives them a base of fire element for further (brief) mop-up games vs. T.
    Spitballing, but odds at that point are that Team T is extinct within 24-48 hours, max.
    On Wednesday morning of Week One, Team S now has all the weaponry, and all the territory, and sets up their base camp in the center of their new 45-acre AO.
    Which they hold, strip-mine, develop, and begin seeking out amenable recruits to augment their force until they are the biggest, baddest gang in the grid square by adding suitable new recruits onesie-twosie, whom they imbue with their values, training, and skills; or else displace to more strategic terrain, shifting their haul in batches, and doing the same thing from an even more advantageous position.
    Over time they morph from rump squad to whatever size they can arm, feed, and support, anything up to regimental size, with a nominal battalion being the likeliest, and thus easily able to defend against anything up to brigade-sized infantry foes.

    They are, at that point, effectively New Sparta.

    Exemplars would be Xenophon's Ten Thousand, B/26 at Rorke's Drift, or the 1stMarDiv at Chosin Reservoir.

    1. Thanks for reading and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  4. of If team S are Marines that makes up 2 fire teams 1/3 of a squad. Team T will lose every time.