Professional Readings

Reading #151

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  • Monday, August 14, 2017

The Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight

“In war, the chief incalculable is the human will.”

B.H Liddell Hart


Technological advances provided US forces with an asymmetric advantage and contributed significantly to American victories, most notably Operation Desert Storm. The “Big Five” provided ground forces with overwhelming firepower while Global Positioning System navigation provided precision for maneuvering on the battlefield. Through technological superiority, Army forces can provide national leaders with additional options, capture the initiative rapidly, and create multiple dilemmas for an adversary on the battlefield. However, technological superiority on its own, does not ensure that US forces will successfully achieve its strategic objectives. While advances in technology will remain vital to the Army, the Army recognizes that there are no "silver bullet" technological solutions. To retain overmatch, the Army combines and integrates technologies into organizational, doctrinal, leader development, training, and personnel policy changes.

This week’s Professional Reading is a TED talk by Malcolm Gladwell titled “the Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight.” During his Ted Talk, Gladwell examines technology’s impact on warfare by analyzing the Norden bombsight. Before the development of Global Positioning Systems (GPS), radar, and advanced optics dropping a bomb on a stationary target from a flying aircraft provided a difficult physics problem. The world recognized the aircraft’s potential but wind, airspeed, altitude, temperature, and other factors complicated bombing efforts until Carl Norden, a Swiss engineer, developed the Mark 15 bombsight – the Norden bombsight. Before the development of the bombsight, Norden quipped that, “bombs would routinely miss their target by a mile or more” but, with the Mark 15 pilots “could drop a bomb into a pickle barrel at 20,000 ft."

After spending $1.5 Billion - the Manhattan Project cost $3 Billion – the Norden Bombsight failed to live up to expectations. Allied efforts to bomb the chemical plant in Leuna, Germany provides an example of the bombsight’s inaccuracy. After allies flew 22 missions and dropped 85,000 bombs on the 757 acre chemical plant only 10% hit their target. Gladwell outlines three primary reasons that the Norden Bombsight failed to provide the Allies with a decisive advantage:

  • It was difficult to use.
  • It broke down a lot.
  • It was developed without consideration of wartime conditions.

Gladwell concludes his TED Talk by observing that “We live in a time where there are all kinds of really, really smart people running around, saying that they've invented gadgets that will forever change our world.” While new technologies, such as the Norden Bomb sight, may provide some utility, leaders must recognize that complex problems often require complex solutions. “This is the problem with our infatuation with the things we make,” Gladwell states, “We think the things we make can solve our problems, but our problems are much more complex than that.”

As the Army continues to develop the Multi-Domain Battle Concept and looks to industry to provide the capabilities required to execute Multi-Domain Battle in the future, leaders must recognize the limits of emerging technologies. New problems and new vulnerabilities often accompany the integration of new technologies. While the Army’s advantage over enemies depends in large measure on advanced technology, the Army will achieve success on the battlefield through skilled leaders and Soldiers that are enabled by technology. As you watch Gladwell’s TED talk on “the Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight” consider how the Army should apply emerging technologies and the subsequent changes in doctrine, organizations, and training in order to retain combat effectiveness.

Click on the following link to watch the “The Strange Tale of the Norden Bombsight” TED Talk by Malcolm Gladwell:

To learn more about Multi-Domain Battle and contribute to conversation, access the following link:

Further information and the latest articles on Multi-Domain Battle may be accessed at:

As you read the article, consider the impacts on the following Army Warfighting Challenges:
#1 Develop Situational Understanding:

How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#2/3 Shape the Security Environment:

How the Army influences the security environment and engages key actors and local/regional forces in order to consolidate gains and achieve sustainable security outcomes in support of Geographic Combatant Commands and Joint requirements.

#4 Adapt the Institutional Army and Innovate:

How to improve the rate of innovation to drive capability development and deliver DOTMLPF-P solutions to the warfighter at a pace that meets operational demand within the existing constraints of the acquisition and budgeting processes.

#7 Conduct Space, Cyberspace, Electronic Warfare, and Communications Operations :

How to assure access to and integrity of critical data and information, across multiple domains, in an increasingly contested and congested operational environment, while simultaneously denying the same to the enemy.

#9 Improve Soldier, Leader, and Team Performance:

How to develop resilient Soldiers, adaptive leaders, and cohesive teams committed to the Army professional ethic that are capable of accomplishing the mission in environments of uncertainty and persistent danger.

#10 Develop Agile and Adaptive Leaders:

How to develop agile, adaptive, and innovative leaders who thrive in conditions of uncertainty and chaos and are capable of visualizing, describing, directing, and leading and assessing operations in complex environments and against adaptive enemies.

#11 Conduct Air-Ground Reconnaissance and Security Operations:

How Army formations conduct continuous integrated reconnaissance and security operations across multiple domains (air/land/cyberspace/space/maritime) to rapidly develop the situation while in contact with the enemy and civilian populations.

#12 Conduct Joint Expeditionary Maneuver and Entry Operations:

The Army needs formations that can rapidly deploy into contested environments, quickly transition to operations, and be sustained to maintain high operational tempo with the overmatch necessary to destroy or defeat enemy forces.

#14 Ensure Interoperability and Operate in Joint, Inter-organizational, Multinational Environment:

How to integrate joint, inter-organizational, and multi-national partner capabilities and campaigns to ensure unity of effort and accomplish missions across the range of military operations.

#15 Conduct Cross-Domain Maneuver:

How Army forces, operating as part of a joint, interorganizational, and multinational force, train, organize, equip, and posture sufficiently to deter or defeat highly capable peer threats in the degraded, contested, lethal, and complex future operational environment.

#17/18 Employ Cross-Domain Fires:

How to employ cross-domain fires to defeat the enemy and preserve freedom of action across the range of military operations (ROMO).

#19 Exercise Mission Command:

How to understand, visualize, describe, and direct operations consistent with the philosophy of mission command to seize the initiative over the enemy and accomplish the mission across the range of military operations.

Continuous feedback, collaboration, and teamwork are keys to the success of the Campaign of Learning and driving innovation in the Army. Please use the Army Warfighting Challenges as the framework to contribute your ideas and recommendations with respect to this topic to improve our ability to innovate as we develop the current and future force.

The Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) framework may be accessed here:

For previous weekly readings go to: ARCIC Professional Readings

  1. Army Operating Concept, TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, 30 October 2014
  2. Multi-Domain Battle

All the best,