From No, to Yes, Maybe, and NIMBY: Explaining Variation in Remotely-Piloted Aircraft Adoption between the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps since 1993
Cuomo, Scott Anthony
When millions of Americans watched on CNN as precision-guided munitions struck targets in Baghdad during the 1990-1991 Gulf War, the U.S. Air Force did not have a single operational remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA). At the time, the U.S. Marine Corps not only had such aircraft, but employed them more aggressively than any other U.S. military service. Moreover, at the end of the war, the Marines’ senior commander identified RPA as his “single most valuable intelligence collector.” Over the past 30 years, the table has flipped. Throughout the world today, and for the past few decades, U.S. policymakers have routinely depended on U.S. Air Force medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, to help achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives. Marine Corps RPA have become an afterthought. My dissertation seeks to understand how this transformative change happened. To achieve this goal, I employ a “typological theory,” or a theory that includes several variables that interact in different combinations. This type of theory allows for different pathways to the outcome of interest, here, the (non)adoption of RPAs. The theory incorporates eight independent variables and nine hypotheses based upon the most cited military innovation literature. These hypotheses predict U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps RPA adoption decisions based upon path dependence, as well as the following six military innovation models: civil-military relations, interservice politics, intraservice politics, organizational culture, maverick and/or incubator-inspired innovation, and innovation championed by service leaders. To test my theory, I investigate the observed outcomes in the following case studies: Marine Corps RPA adoption decisions between 1983-1991; a comparative assessment of Marine Corps and Air Force medium-altitude, long-endurance RPA adoption decisions between 1993-2001; and a subsequent comparative assessment of both services’ RPA adoption decisions between 2002-2020. The dissertation has multiple key findings. First, civilian demand for capabilities such as Predator and Reaper was the most important causal factor, followed by service chief championing. Then, depending on the case, organizational cultural change, followed by intraservice politics and maverick and/or incubator-inspired movements, were the most important causal factors. Interservice politics and Congressional demand proved to be the least important.
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