The basis for Manticoran inventiveness
Hi, guys --
This is sort of a gift for Richard Earnshaw. He's in the hospital right now, from which he will hopefully be returning shortly, but he dropped an e-mail to me before he took himself off, and he told me that the question of why Manticore "always seems to be the innovator" has arisen once again upon the Bar.
As I understand it from what Richard said to me (I've been studiously avoiding the Bar myself, especially since the -- shudder -- ARC came out), the questions which are being raised include:
(1) Why is it that Manticore is so far out ahead of everyone else in R&D and applied hardware?
(2) Why is it that Manticore always seems to be the one introducing innovative tactics and operational concepts which are then slavishly imitated by everyone else?
(3) Why, when the Manties themselves earlier in the series reflect that the Andermani's basic tech isn't that far behind their own, are the Andermani ships and weapons available in At All Costs inferior not simply to Manticoran hardware, but even to Havenite hardware?
(4) Associated with the above, why wasn't the Andermani navy bigger, and why weren't the Andermani inspired to improve their technology and general war fighting ability more radically, given what the Manties and the Peeps were up to?
(5) Even granted that the SLN has a closed institutional mindset, aren't there any private arms firms or research outfits in the Solarian League working to do something about the League's technological inferiority vis-à-vis Manticore?
I've responded to some of these points before in posts which I believe Joe Buckley (and probably, now, Leon Brooks [David Weber's Honorverse at Fit2burst un/pwd samantha/berry, includes search facility -Ed.]) have been kind enough to archive for all of you. There may be some of my earlier points which require a bit of expansion to fully answer these questions, and I'm not really certain -- I haven't checked to see -- if I've actually addressed all of them before or not. So, let's take a shot at it.
I know I've addressed the reasons for Manticore's technological superiority to almost everyone else before, but let's take another run at it.
Manticore is a meritocracy, which is very wealthy, which is a "maritime empire," which traditionally consists of a single star system with a relatively low population density, and which recognized 70-odd years ago that it was going to find itself eventually involved in a shooting war against the People's Republic of Haven. Now, let's look at each of those points individually.
(A) Manticore, despite its aristocratic political system, is basically a raving meritocracy. People with merit and ability can rise as high as their talent level and industriousness will take them. Achieving success, whether professional, economic, or academic, is the key to increased status, wealth, respect, and power in this society, especially for someone not born into the ranks of the aristocracy. Which, even on Manticore, is the vast bulk of the population. Manticore is also a star nation whose ruling dynasty has considerable power and has deliberately pursued a policy of strongly encouraging basic education and scientific and technological advancement. This is a policy which long predates the collapse of the original Republic of Haven into the People's Republic of Haven, and it is part of what has created the "institutional mindset" of the entire society. In other words, this is a society which has always thought in terms of finding ways to do things better rather than accepting ways of doing them adequately. They aren't interested in simply doing them "better than anyone else;" they are interested in finding ways to do things better than they already do them.
(B) Manticore is filthy rich. There's lots of money in the Manticoran economy, a lot of it is in the hands of private enterprise in a society which (as we've just observed above) is deeply committed to steadily advancing technology and R&D, and a lot of it is also in the hands of the Manticoran government, thanks in no small part to user fees on the Manticoran Wormhole Junction. If you have lots of money floating around looking for something to be invested in, coupled with a tradition of encouraging/pursuing innovation, and backed by the discovery/realization that continually improving technology is a great generator of additional wealth, guess where a lot of that investment is going to go. Moreover, once someone in an official position of authority decides that it's time to deliberately promote technology, or to fund specific approaches in R&D because it's in the national interest, there's lots of money to let that funding proceed.
(C) Manticore is a maritime empire. Now, I realize that any multi-star political unit in the Honorverse is technically the equivalent of a "maritime empire," because the only way to get from one star to another is via starship. However, there is an enormous difference between being a maritime empire and simply having a few merchantships under the national flag. Specifically, Manticore is the largest single star nation merchant carrier after the Solarian League itself. Its merchant marine is huge. It's far, far larger than that of the Republic of Haven. In fact, it's much larger than the combined merchant marines of the Republic of Haven, the Andermani Empire, Erewhon, Midgard, Asgard, and the Silesian Confederacy, plus all of the merchantships registered in the Talbott Cluster. We are talking a really, really big merchant fleet here, people. It is, combined with the wormhole junction itself (which, bottom line, is the reason Manticore has such a huge merchant fleet), the basis of Manticore's wealth, political power, industrial infrastructure, and military power. Moreover, the Star Kingdom's reliance upon the size and power of it's merchant marine has always been recognized by the various Manticoran governments, regardless of the political parties which dominated those governments, and a consistent policy of protecting and further expanding that merchant fleet has been pursued no matter who was in office. Some political parties have pursued it more assiduously than others, but all of them have pursued it to some effect. After several centuries, it is essentially a spinal reflex of the Star Kingdom. Now, when you have that sort of merchant marine, it does several things for you.
For one thing, Manticoran merchant spacers see (and bring back reports on, books from, and news reports about) virtually everything that happens anywhere in the galaxy. They're everywhere, folks, and into everything. This, by the way, is one reason so many Sollies resent the Star Kingdom as much as they do. Every time they turn around, there's another one of those ubiquitous Manticoran merchantships poking its nose in where it's not wanted and generally being a pest. Moreover, the Manticoran government -- and specifically its intelligence agencies -- have always recognized the intelligence asset its merchant fleet represents. This is especially true given how many merchant officers in the SKM's service are retired military or hold reserve commissions in the RMN. In effect, a very significant percentage of the total Manticoran merchant fleet is officered by "trained observers" who are far more likely to recognize the implications, especially military, of something they see. Remember Bachfisch's observations, reported to Honor in War of Honor. That represents a report which is typical of those filed with ONI, at least when there's competent leadership at ONI.
But it's not just the government which recognizes the advantages provided by the ubiquity of the Manty merchant fleet. Private enterprise also recognizes the advantages. Observations about other people's technology, advances, weaknesses, etc., flow into the offices of a majority of the largest -- and almost all of the most successful -- Manticoran merchant and industrial cartels. These people have their own R&D programs, and those programs feed on the synergy of the reports and samples of other people's technology which are routinely brought back to them by this stupendous fleet of merchantships. And it should be remembered, that whereas Haven had relatively little direct trade with the Solarian League, and the same was essentially true of the Andermani Empire, Manticore services almost the entire League through the network of wormhole junctions and termini it commands/has access to. I said they see everything, and I meant it. But it's equally significant that the Andermani and the Havenites don't see everything. They lack the window into the smorgasbord of technological concepts and insights to which the Manties are routinely exposed. Oh, and by the way. Richard tells me that some people have complained that while it's undoubtedly true that the Star Kingdom is a maritime empire, so are the Andermani. Well, that's true, and it's also untrue. The Andermani merchant fleet is minuscule compared to the Manticoran merchant fleet, and the bulk of Andermani interstellar trade is with Silesia, Manticore itself, Asgard, and Midgard. Most of the trade with Manticore is carried in Manticoran hulls, not Andermani hulls, because it's so much cheaper and easier to use the very large, very sophisticated Manticoran merchant marine than it is to ship in Andermani bottoms.
Similarly, the primary commerce protection requirements for the Republic of Haven (and the People's Republic of Haven, before it) were internal. They weren't concerned with protecting their trade as far afield someplace like Silesia or the Andermani Empire, for the simple reason that they didn't have enough trade to make it worthwhile. The same thing, to a slightly lesser extent, is true of the Andermani. Most of the Andermani concerns for commerce protection focused on the incidence of piracy in Silesia, which was scarcely a huge technological challenge, nor was the threat level for the Havenites in their protection of their internal merchant shipping any greater. The Manticorans, on the other hand, have been forced to develop sophisticated models for protecting their commerce, and have been continually faced with the need to deal with threats which considerably exceed those which either the Andermani or the Havenites have faced. In other words, the "national merchant marines," if you will, of the Andermani and the Havenites are less critical to their very survival, less extensive, and face less sophisticated/challenging operational environments. So both the advantages which the Manticorans' merchant fleet offer and the challenges which protecting the Manticorans' merchant fleet poses are far less applicable to the Andermani or the Havenites than they are to the Star Kingdom.
(D) Manticore's great Achilles' heel was never wealth, or technological capability, but a simple matter of the Star Kingdom's physical size limitations. For example, one would assume that with such a huge merchant marine, the Star Kingdom would be in the enviable position of possessing an equally huge reserve of trained spacers who could be called up for military service. Unfortunately, Manticore can't afford to call them up in droves. The Star Kingdom has to keep its merchant marine up and running in order to feed its economy, and without it's raw economic muscle, the Star Kingdom couldn't possibly stand up to an opponent like Haven. So BuPers has to be extraordinarily careful when it thinks about levies on the merchant marine.
In addition, traditionally, the Star Kingdom has had nothing like the strategic depth that someone like the Republic of Haven, or even the Andermani Empire, possessed. For all intents and purposes, there was only a single star system, which was not simply the heart but the totality of the Star Kingdom. If the Manticore System fell, there was no Star Kingdom, which is one reason why the Manties have always been so strategically sensitive to the need to not uncover critical systems, and to use the Junction to maintain the equivalent of "ready reserve forces" at Trevor's Star. It is, in fact, an arguable weakness in Manticoran strategic thinking -- even that of Hamish Alexander-[spoiler -Ed.] and his [other spoiler -Ed.] -- that the entire Star Kingdom has a defensive bias in its basic strategic assumptions. Despite having demonstrated a flair for offensive operations, despite Operation Buttercup, and despite the successful offensives White Haven carried out even before the podnaught revolution, there is a constant thread throughout the Star Kingdom's military planning which is very tightly focused on the absolute necessity of defending the home system, because for centuries, it's been the only system the Star Kingdom had. And it might also be worth noting here, that this is a bias with which Grayson is entirely comfortable. In fact, it's one Grayson shares, in no small part because of its lengthy history of cold war and hot war with Masada and the Faithful.
Bearing in mind the fact that the Junction and the home system absolutely had to be defended (remember all those Junction forts at the beginning of the series?), and also bearing in mind that they couldn't pull huge numbers of trained personnel out of the merchant marine without risking damage to the economic engine which was the only thing that was going to make their survival possible, and bearing in mind the fact that all those elements together, coupled with the sheer size (if not efficiency) of the Havenites' industrial structure, it was obvious to Manticore from the outset that it could not win against Haven if the capability of the smaller number of units it could build was not significantly higher than that of the more numerous opponents they would face. In short, qualitative superiority was absolutely essential to them because they could not attain quantitative superiority.
This means that the government of a star nation which was already heavily biased in favor of innovation and technological advancement in the private sector found itself confronting a situation in which it was essential not simply to maintain its technological advantages over the other side, but to increase those advantages as expeditiously (and ruthlessly) as possible. The Star Kingdom of Manticore wasn't looking for a fight between "a good little one, and a good big one;" the Star Kingdom of Manticore wasn't looking for a fight between "a stature-challenged ninja assassin on amphetamines and a big barroom drunk." For the better part of seven decades, the Star Kingdom of Manticore has been deliberately pursuing a policy of pressurized R&D which has received the support of very heavy funding, lavish physical resources, and the assignment of the best possible people. Indeed, R&D in the Royal Manticoran Navy has been given a priority at least equal to the physical construction of warships.
That was its policy before the war with Haven actually began, and the entire course of that war only confirmed the wisdom of that prewar policy. The Manticorans saw pragmatic proof that the time they had spent worshiping at the altar of technological improvement was the only reason they had survived. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Janacek Admiralty was so confident of its technological superiority was that the inherent arrogance of the Conservative Association (and its unsubstantiated faith in the mysterious superiority of its membership simply because of who they'd chosen as their parents) fed on the demonstrated prowess of Manticoran technology. Just as the "magic" of their "good blood" was the basis for their inherent and natural superiority to all of the "little people" of the Star Kingdom, the technological edge of the Star Kingdom was the basis for its inherent, permanent, and unchallengeable superiority to the "backward" Peeps. And even though they screwed up by the numbers in their estimates of what Havenite technology had become capable of doing, they continued to fund their own research efforts. That's one reason that Mistletoe and Apollo were possible in At All Costs, but the fact that they were continuing to fund their own R&D despite their God-given superiority to the Republic, only made them even more confident that that superiority could never be overtaken by Haven.
(E) But if all of that explains why Manticore actively pursued R&D with a sort of semi-mystic near-fanaticism, why didn't anyone else (that we've seen in the series, at least)? Well, let's look at that.
Haven knew it was technologically inferior to Manticore, but it didn't realize how badly. As I've noted elsewhere, the Havenite intelligence services under both the Legislaturalists and the Committee of Public Safety tended to think in political terms, not technological terms. Naval Intelligence was much more aware of the disparity between the People's Navy's capabilities and those of the Star Kingdom, but not even NavInt realized just how broad the gap was. Manticore had a better idea than the Peeps did, but even Manticore was taken a bit aback by its degree of superiority in certain areas. The point here is that Haven was a huge, ramshackle interstellar edifice with a very poor educational system, and with the entire economy (and academia) operating under the heavy hand of a deeply entrenched bureaucracy to whom change equaled threat. Given the size of its numerical superiority, and its failure to appreciate the true width of the technological gap between its capabilities and those of the Star Kingdom, and in light of the fact that its homegrown R&D capability was so limited (both economically and by the quality of the researchers its gelded educational system provided), it's hardly surprising that Haven was decidedly not an innovator. It bought off-the-shelf hardware from other star nations, especially from the Solarian League, and it tended to buy into the Sollies' own estimate of the League's technological superiority to the rest of the known universe. So it had only a very weak internal R&D capability and felt no huge pressure to improve the technology it had, anyway.
The Andermani were more aware of the need for technological innovation, and their intelligence services were better aware of the fact that the Manticoran tech base was steadily out reaching that of Haven and, by extension, that of the Empire, as well. However, despite the excellence of the Andermani intelligence services in many ways, they were up against the fact that Manticore, just as it recognized the necessity of pursuing its own research endeavors, also recognized the matching necessity of maintaining secrecy about the applied military hardware arising from those endeavors. In other words, one of the reasons why Haven was so ignorant of the advances in the RMN's capabilities was that the Manties had maintained near fanatical operational security. (A good analogy from our own World War II history would be the Japanese navy's successful maintenance of security on the true capabilities of the Long Lance torpedo. The United States didn't have a clue as to the actual range, speed, and warhead size of the Long Lance, which proved extremely expensive in the first couple of years of the war.) But the same security measures directed against Haven also served to prevent the Andermani from penetrating the secrets Manticore wanted to keep. The Andermani did much better at it than Haven did, but that should not be taken to mean that they did well at it. Better than "pitiful" doesn't necessarily mean "good." The basic platform of Andermani military capabilities at a period say 10 years before The Honor of the Queen was well within shouting distance of the Manticorans. (The Manties themselves tended to overestimate Andermani capabilities slightly, because in many cases they were mirror imaging their own efforts and assuming that Andermani technology was better than it actually was.) Andermani stealth technology was quite good. They also did quite well in terms of fire control generally. But they didn't have a clue that the Manties were about to introduce FTL communications capability, or any of the Ghost Rider hardware. For that matter, the Alliance's research into and introduction of the new pods and the MDM came at them just as cold as it came at Haven.
In other words, the huge burst of applied technology -- the actual hardware coming out of the "investment account" of decades of R&D by the Manticorans -- hugely widened the gap between the prewar Andermani's capabilities and the deployed capabilities of the RMN. So the Andermani found themselves in the position of playing catch-up, just as much as Haven did. But the Andermani didn't have the clandestine conduits to Solarian technology which the Committee of Public Safety managed to maintain. They couldn't bootstrap their native-grown technology the same way that Haven could, but they had a better homegrown R&D capability, which they put to work. Without the advantage of captured specimens of Manticoran hardware or the impetus of imported Solly technology, they had to develop their own applications of the new weapons systems, and the inherent limitations of their technology base caused some of their applications to be less than optimum. Their single-drive missile technology was substantially improved, for example, but at the expense of building bigger single-drive missiles. When they got ready to build their first-generation of MDMs, however, they ran into the problem that they could duplicate neither the Manties' new micro fusion plants nor the Manties' superdense capacitors. Indeed, the capacitors they could build were actually somewhat bigger and clunkier than those the Havenites could build, since Haven had recognized the need for major improvements in that area of technology and had bought the best their sources with them the League could provide (always remembering that they had to have the capacity to build the things themselves). Hence the problem that at the beginning of AAC, Andermani MDMs are only about as capable as Manticoran Mark 16 dual-drive missiles. Which, be it noted, however, are still enormously superior to anything the Solarian League Navy has deployed, even now.
It's also significant that the Andermani, while accustomed to thinking in long-range strategic and imperial terms, and so aware of the threat which the People's Republic of Haven ultimately posed to their own Empire, did not see that threat as immediate. The Andermani reasoned that Manticore would have to be taken down before the Peeps could turn their attention in the Empire's direction. Moreover, the Andermani also estimated (correctly, as it happened) that the Peeps were much less interested in attempting to conquer the Andermani Empire than they were in picking off the more profitable of the Silesian systems. Haven's strategic planners had always recognized that the Andermani would be a tough nut to crack, and in the short term, the return on picking off first, Manticore (and the wormhole junction) and then the juicier targets in Silesia, would be vastly greater than paying the price to militarily defeat and conquer the Andermani. That didn't mean it wouldn't have happened eventually, and it didn't mean the Andermani didn't regard the Havenite threat to their own imperial, commercial, and strategic interest in Silesia as a serious one. It simply meant that the Andermani's mindset was not as concentrated on Samuel Johnson's threat of hanging as the Star Kingdom's was. They figured that they had time, and as they watched the construction of the Manticoran Alliance, they recognized that they were witnessing the construction of an in-depth buffer zone to protect their own frontiers and interests. This is one reason why the Andermani were so persistently "neutral in Manticore's favor" during the period of the first Havenite war. It's also why they didn't build a bigger navy prior to the first Havenite war. Now, once the first Havenite war ended, and especially given the way that it ended (i.e., Operation Buttercup, the revelation of the effectiveness of the pod-layers and the MDMs, the command and control advantages of the grav-pulse com, the new LACs, etc.), the Andermani began a much more vigorous program of new construction, which reflected their own R&D efforts and what their intelligence services had managed to steal -- er, borrow -- from the Manticoran and Grayson technology which it had managed to penetrate. This is where the first Andermani podnaughts came from, and also the improvements in their compensators, the first tentative steps towards the development of their own MDMs, and all of that hardware. It's also where their larger building programs came in, because the Royal Manticoran Navy -- which had always been their traditional, if essentially peaceful, rival in Silesia, as well as the limiting factor on Andermani ambitions there -- was enormously larger and more powerful than it had been before the first Havenite war. In essence, the Andermani concluded (much as the Manticorans -- or, at least, the High Ridge Government -- had concluded) that the Republic of Haven was no longer a viable military threat. Which meant that the Andermani reverted to their pre-Havenite war diplomatic, political, and military stances, which, in turn, meant that the Star Kingdom of Manticore had moved once more from the status of "valuable buffer zone" to "traditional rival," and their own military stance and capabilities had to be adjusted accordingly.
We should probably also take a quick look-in at Grayson while we're in the neighborhood. Grayson's pre-Alliance tech base was primitive, but large. More importantly, one should not confuse "primitive" with "not innovative." The very existence of the Doctrine of the Test keeps Graysons continually pointed at "testing" for better ways to do things. A Grayson's instinctive reaction to a problem is to look for a better solution. This is a major factor in the Faustian dynamism, the synergy, which resulted from letting Grayson researchers fully inside the Star Kingdom's technological candy store. Graysons ask questions. All the time, everywhere, about basically everything. And they're not at all concerned about seeming silly if they ask a question which has already been answered by someone else. They simply take that answer, examine it, and if they find it sound, incorporate it into their own conceptual toolbox, and keep going. But what the Manticorans discovered is that frequently the different perspective which a Grayson brings to a question provokes Manticoran researchers who have, perhaps, become a bit too close to "accepted" theories, answers, and approaches into taking a new and novel look at things themselves. Thus the Graysons opened the door to the new compensator technologies, but they lacked the inherent technological capabilities to develop the new potentials. Manticore, on the other hand, had never considered those potentials in the first place, since they hadn't asked the right opening question. But once the potentialities had been brought to their attention, they most certainly did have the technical infrastructure to develop them quickly. This, in fact, has arguably been the greatest boon to Manticore to come out of its alliance with Grayson. So many of the newer innovations of the Royal Manticoran Navy have come out of, been accelerated by, or simply pushed into deployment sooner by Grayson initiatives that one could legitimately argue that those innovations have been more important -- up until the present situation, at least -- then the far from insignificant warship reinforcement which the Grayson Space Navy itself has represented.
Now, what about the Solarian League?
Well, we already know from my earlier postings -- or, at least, I certainly hope we already know -- why the Solarian League navy itself has such a huge institutional blind spot where its own traditional supremacy is concerned. The League as a whole, however, suffers from a very serious case of arrogant (and unmerited) confidence in its own superiority. This is not merely a phenomenon limited to the entrenched interests in the SLN, either. The League has simply been so big, so powerful, and so wealthy, for so long that it literally cannot conceive of anything which could change that.
Individual corporations, shipping lines, financiers, etc., may get exercised about the Star Kingdom's merchant fleet and domination of the League's carrying trade, but the vast bulk of the League's citizens -- and the bureaucrats which run the League -- are about as concerned about what Manticore might be doing, or the implications of Manticore's maritime superiority, as the average current day American is over the balance of trade with China. Americans, as a group, generally don't spend a lot of time agonizing over the size of the trade imbalance with the PRC. Most American consumers see that they are getting cheap products, which works well for them as individuals, and that's about the size of it. Members of the American workforce who see jobs (including their jobs) disappearing because of our trade relationship with China -- or believe they see that, at any rate (believe me, I have no desire to get into taking sides in that battle of perceptions!) -- are much more exercised over the trade imbalance. They want protective measures, despite the fact that these will cost other consumers (and they themselves, for that matter) more for the goods currently being produced more cheaply in China.
Most Sollies who actually think about the extent to which Manticore has invaded the carrying trade within the League think of it as a good thing. Why? Because Manticoran freight rates are among the lowest in the entire galaxy. In order to compete with Manty shipping lines, Solly shipping lines are forced to reduce their rates, as well, which means that transportation costs come down, which means that the cost of the transported goods comes down. Because of this, Manticore is regarded as a particularly useful neobarb star nation by a large percentage of the League's citizenry. That doesn't mean they necessarily think well of Manticore, any more than the fact that an American citizen buys a teddy bear for his child with a "made in China" sticker on it means that he approves of Maoist communism. It simply means that Manticore is regarded more in terms of its utility than in terms of the threat it poses.
But that's typical of the Solarian League's attitude towards the galaxy in which lives. Because of its enormous size and economic and industrial power, the League lives in a "safe" universe. It knows, with absolute certainty, that no one can threaten its security or its position of primacy among all of the star nations of the human-settled portion of the galaxy. And so long as it remains politically (or, at least, bureaucratically) intact, it's correct. Yet that same sense of safety and inherent superiority translates into a far greater degree of complacency, of satisfaction with its achievements, than is the case of a smaller star nation -- like the Star Kingdom of Manticore -- especially when that smaller star nation finds itself in a position in which it most certainly is not safe from the aggressive tendencies of its neighbors.
In many ways, one could envision the Solarian League as the Honorverse equivalent of 17th and 18th Century China. After a period of very real technological and imperial expansion, it has become a basically satisfied entity, convinced of its own cultural and technological superiority to all of the "barbarian states" outside its own borders and sphere of interest, regardless of any technological "tricks" those barbarian states might happen to demonstrate.
The analogy shouldn't be taken too far, of course, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, the Sollies are not actively disengaged from continued technological advancement. For another, if only through the agency of OFS, the borders of the League are continuing to expand with a sort of ponderous inevitability. Where the analogy applies is in the sense that most of the League is content to do things in ways that work, without necessarily looking for ways that work better. Technological innovation for the sake of technological innovation is not currently a Solarian character trait. Solarians tend to look for specific applications to address specific problems; they are the types to charge ahead looking for problems which haven't suggested themselves yet. And because they are the "Middle Kingdom" of the Honorverse, they feel an almost sublime, subconscious confidence that the way that they do things must be the best way to do them. They, after all, are the Solarian League, the greatest, biggest, wealthiest, most powerful, most advanced, most whatever, polity in the history of the human race. Which means that they don't look closely enough at how the "neobarbs" may do something to realize that they are doing it better than the Sollies themselves are.
However, as I have stressed before, the Solarian League is nowhere near as monolithic as its own citizens believe. There are fracture lines, many of which are currently invisible to the League's inhabitants. And while many of the League's planets and star systems luxuriate in that smug sense of inherent, natural superiority, not all of them do. Beowulf, for example, despite its position at the very core of the League, maintains a vital, progressive attitude towards basic research. It's most notable in the biosciences, but it is also a definite factor in other areas. And it should be recalled that Beowulf has had the closest look at the new Manticoran military hardware of any of the League's star systems. The fact that Beowulf has not chosen to pass a great many of those observations on to the rest of the League may (or may not -- tum, te, tum, te, tum) indicate anything about Beowulf's attitude towards the rest of the League. I wouldn't know about that.
Nor should it be forgotten that the huge interstellar corporations of the Solarian League are profit-making enterprises. They may not be interested in research for research's sake, although obviously many of them are going to be, since advanced technology is going to be their basic stock in trade. But almost any of them is going to be interested in any possibility which comes their way of increasing profitability. In some cases, that will take the form of deciding against innovation -- by leaving production lines where they are, and continuing to sell a product which is selling well but which costs less to produce than something which might to do the same job a little better, for example. Or by deciding that the startup costs for a new production facility will depress profits or earnings in the short term, and that the new facility isn't really necessary at the moment, anyway, because what they are now producing and marketing is competitive with anything else out there. In other areas, like information management technology, there's been a basic maturity -- a plateauing effect, similar to that which could be found in applied military hardware prior to the first Havenite war -- which has led to a sort of "tinkering" with or "fine-tuning" of existing technology rather than pursuing fundamental advances.
There are planets and star systems and multi-stellar corporations threaded throughout the League which are R&D dynamos. Very few of them are as dynamic as the Star Kingdom of Manticore would have been even without the pressure of the Havenite threat. (However, it should be remembered that that's a pretty high bar to clear, given that the Star Kingdom has always been aggressively committed to the improvement of its technological base.) And when the threat of war with the People's Republic, and the nature of the Manticoran government's response to that threat, are cranked into the equation, the Star Kingdom is in the position of a jet fighter barreling ahead at full afterburner while even the best of the Solarian planets and star systems are advancing under the equivalent of maximum dry thrust. They simply don't have the survival-imperative incentive that has driven Manticore for the last 70 years. They haven't needed to make the commitment to maintaining and improving their technological advantages over a vastly larger and more powerful opposing star nation, which means they've allowed some of that same effort and focus to be expended on other objectives and concerns.
You may recall from The Shadow of Saganami that at least two multi-stellar corporations operating within the League were very decidedly interested in acquiring specimens of first-line Manticoran military technology. Not only that, but they were clearly much better aware of what the Manties have been up to than mainstream Solarian League public opinion generally, or the Solarian League Navy, in particular, have been. They were not, one might note, especially interested in passing that knowledge and awareness along to the rest of the League. I have no idea at all why they might have been disinclined to do that. ;-) However, it should be noted that not all Solarian corporations and planets are simply letting the grass grow under their feet while Manticore races ahead with new technological innovations. None of them are as well placed as Haven to recognize what Manticore and the Manticoran Alliance have been up to in a technological sense, but many of them have better than a vague intimation of what's coming over the horizon in terms of military hardware. Some of them are currently working very hard -- although, for the most part, still without that sense of urgency instilled by the Star Kingdom's awareness that it's very survival hangs in the balance -- at figuring out what Manticore and its allies are already capable of and how to duplicate and, if possible, improve upon those capabilities. Only time will tell which planets and corporations fall into this category, and how successful they have (or haven't) been.
Now, about the question of why the Manties are always the innovators.
First of all, they aren't. They are more often than not, but let's look at some of the other innovations. There's the Graysons, who have actually taken the lead in developing and introducing innovations in ship design, and quite often in tactical applications and and doctrine. -- as in the case of the Katanas. There's the Havenites, who found themselves initially so far behind the Manticorans in terms of basic hardware capabilities that there was no real possibility of their being able to do more than respond to Manticoran innovations as best they could. They had to somehow improve their hardware until it was at least in shouting distance of Manticore's before they could begin considering the introduction of operational and tactical innovations which might require Manticore to dance to their piping for a change. However, if you'll note what Pat Givens has to say about Bolthole in At All Costs, you may observe that she's of the opinion that Bolthole originated with the Legislaturalists, not with the Committee of Public Safety. In other words, at least as long ago as The Short Victorious War, the People's Republic was already hard at work on a long-term project designed to equalize its basic capabilities with those of the Star Kingdom of Manticore.
And then you need to look at what Shannon Foraker and her staff have accomplished since Saint-Just's overthrow. Most of the tactics and operational concepts which they've adopted have been cruder than those Manticore has adopted. That doesn't mean, however, that they've been less innovative. It's simply meant that they had to do their innovating with a less capable toolbox. In fact, in quite a few ways, Shannon and her people have been more innovative than the Alliance. The Manties have tended to do their innovation by producing new weapons and new technologies and then taking advantage of the capabilities inherent in them. Shannon and her crew have shown a remarkable talent for taking lemons and making lemonade. Rather than coming up with shiny new super tools to solve their problems, they've had to sit down and work out techniques to match Manticoran capabilities with less capable hardware.
It would be a serious mistake to equate operational and tactical innovation solely with new weapons and new hardware. Haven has been forced to find solutions in numbers and mass, by applying brute force to some problems, by figuring out ways to sidestep other problems, or by taking a different approach to the accomplishment of the same basic objective. That's innovation, people. And in quite a few ways, I think it's more impressive than, for example, Alice Truman's ability to work out LAC tactics and doctrine with new LACs of marked superiority and greatly enhanced capabilities.
As far as the Manty tendency to introduce new weapons just as Haven begins catching up, I can only say three things. First, it's a consistent pattern which results from the basic parameters I set up for the Star Kingdom, on the one hand, and the Republic of Haven, on the other. Second, it's part of the dramatic dynamic of the series. Third, both sides have been introducing "new weapons" ever since Tom Theisman and Shannon Foraker found themselves in charge of the Republican Navy.
It's been a consistent pattern from the very first book. Manticore, because of the commitment it's made to research and to the application of new hardware, is the ground breaker and trendsetter in this particular confrontation. Manticore also has, even now, the superior educational system, the far better established and more powerful meritocracy tradition, the "research mindset," and the greater financial and physical resources for research and development. In many ways, it's like comparing the ability of the United States of America to produce innovations in military and war-fighting hardware to the ability of the People's Republic of China to do the same thing. Even if you had equally gifted, equally well-trained researchers on both sides, the PRC hasn't had the supporting infrastructure to translate their theoretical advances into practical hardware. And each generation of practical hardware becomes the foundation upon which the next generation of theoretical advances depends. Which is the reason that the PRC is still buying other people's hardware, while the United States is designing and building its own, which is basically far more capable than anything China can produce or, for that matter, than it is going to find it easy to buy from anyone else.
Moreover, I would argue that in almost every instance -- including Apollo and Mistletoe -- the systems being introduced by Manticore are logical, consistent progressions from technology we've already seen being used. I introduced you guys to the beginning of the grav-pulse com as early as The Honor of the Queen. I introduced you to the missile pods as early as The Short Victorious War. I introduced the early generations of the new LACs in Honor Among Enemies. I gave you early-generation Ghost Rider, increased bandwidth on the FTL coms, the MDM, etc., etc. All of this has been a progression, moving along a technology tree which has been pretty clearly established. And despite the undoubted advantages which each new major innovation provides over someone who doesn't have the same technology, the technology itself is almost always answerable in some fashion. There are limitations built into it, there are ways to counter it, there are superior systems which can be devised to replace it, etc.
When you already have the lead, virtually across the board, in applied research -- when you have more money, better researchers, a more advanced technical and industrial infrastructure to translate new concepts into practical hardware -- and an awareness that your national survival depends upon doing so, you have a distinct advantage in maintaining your lead. The only way that Manticore could actually lose the lead in technology to Haven would be to surrender it, probably through pretty fundamental stupidity. (Please note that even Janacek found that difficult to do.) The Star Kingdom simply has too many advantages over the Republic when it comes to crunching the numbers and designing the new hardware. There may be somebody inside the Solarian League who could do the same job better than the Star Kingdom under the same circumstances; the Republic of Haven literally can't, and the hypothetical Solly planet or corporation who could doesn't have the same degree of incentive. So, for the foreseeable future, the Alliance in general -- and Manticore in particular -- is going to remain the trendsetter in new weapons. And the existence of new weapons is automatically going to require the development of new doctrine and new tactics. It's going to require that development on the part of the people who have the new weapons, so that they can get the maximum utility out of them, and it's going to require it out of the people who don't have the new weapons, because they're going to have to find some way to counter those weapons. So, on the one side, you have Sonja Hemphill -- leading the way, coming up with new weapons, suggesting new tactical possibilities based upon them -- while on the other, you have Shannon Foraker -- devising defensive doctrines to blunt the other side's advantages, looking for tactical and doctrinal innovations to allow less capable weapons to strike effectively at the other side. Sonja produces Apollo and Mistletoe; Shannon produces Moriarty and "the donkey." Obviously, Apollo, in particular, is a genuine trump card (although it is not quite as all-capable and godlike as some of the comments Richard has relayed to me from the Bar might seem to suggest), but the fact that the Manties have introduced it doesn't make what Shannon has introduced one bit less "innovative" than Sonja's new toys.
As far as people who copy and imitate the new tactics being introduced by Manticore and Grayson, that's the way it works. When one side figures out a better way to do something, then the other side has to adopt the same techniques. Or, at least, a technique which will produce equivalent results. That's what Shannon Foraker excels at. The thought of what Shannon could do if she also had Sonja's basic research establishment and technological capabilities is, frankly, rather frightening. And it should probably be noted that Honor has no qualms about observing what the Havenites do and then "slavishly" borrowing the same techniques and improving upon them where her own better-equipped ships can do so.
I suppose someone might argue that the books would be somehow "better" if I allowed the lead in the introduction of new technologies to seesaw back and forth between Manticore and Haven. If the two sides had remotely equivalent capabilities in the areas of basic research, I might agree. Since they don't, then introducing a seesaw battle back and forth between superior items of technology would require, in my opinion, a considerably greater suspension of disbelief than having the Manties consistently introducing new hardware to solve their current generation of tactical problems and the Havenites consistently coming up with clever ways to blunt the Manties' latest advantages.
Apollo and Mistletoe are not the only ways in which Manticore might have countered the numbers and the new techniques available to Haven. It's certainly possible that a novel in which they found some other solution, or in which Haven didn't possess a Secretary of War like Thomas Theisman, would have been equally or even more interesting. Personally, I felt that this was the most reasonable progression from what we've seen in the earlier books, and I found that giving the two sides different technological menus provided a better and richer source of dramatic possibilities. You may not agree with me on that. Unfortunately, I've got to write the books the way that feels right to me. And to me, not having Manticore take the weapons mix to the next level -- especially since all of the elements required for that "next level" had been put in place and demonstrated in the last couple of novels -- would have seemed far more contrived than the storyline I followed in the actual novel.
Anyway, that's the (somewhat extensive) post I decided to put together as a gift to Richard. I hope it clears up some of the questions. I'm sure that if it doesn't, it will at least fertilize the debate. :-)
Take care, David