As impressive and fascinating as military technology can be, the stories that drive the innovations are often just as compelling. The interplay between history and technology is at the heart of Military Channel’s new series Combat Tech, premiering tomorrow night.
I talked with John Terp, executive producer of the show, to find out more.
“Technology genres and history genres — they’re almost always treated as two separate entities,” Terp explains. “Where technology shows are all about the whiz-bang, marveling at cool technologies, the historical shows are the story of what happened in the past. I think what we’ve done — and why we’re so excited about this — we’ve figured out a way of bringing those together in a way that better tells both the technology and history stories.”
Combat Tech will premiere three episodes for now, with an eye to continuing with more in the future. The first episode “Bombers” explores the initial development of aerial bombardment technology and some of its peak points along the way.
“The B-2 Stealth Bomber is the most-advanced, most top-secret aircraft ever devised,” Terp offers. “We certainly developed that [story] and get into the whats and whys. The B-52 might be the most perfect bomber ever created. It is the most dominant aircraft in the sky today, as it was 50 years ago. And the only way that you discover that is through the situations where it was used, whether you look at the Persian Gulf War, or if you’re looking at Vietnam — or even further back. So once you have a sense of a conflict, the challenges — all of a sudden you get this picture of technology that is really surprising and I think revelatory in a lot of respects, because the greatest technologies are not necessarily the highest-tech technologies.”
But as Terp says, it’s far more than just about the nuts and bolts. Combat Tech is deliberately positioned at the intersection of technological development and historical necessity, because their stories are consistently of the highest-stakes kind.
“The history of warfare is the greatest life-and-death conflict,” he says. “In terms of drama, the stakes are never higher than they are in warfare, both on the grand scheme of things and from the perspective of individual soldiers. What we’re telling, in many respects, are the highest-stakes technology stories — how these technologies have been applied, why they were devised; the challenges that we were facing on the battlefield that necessitated their invention. You get the full story. You get a lot of surprises. … You don’t get that with an iPad.”
Combat Tech will follow up the “Bombers” pilot with a pair of episodes exploring ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicles) and armor technologies. According to Terp, the “ROVs” episode will be of interest to anyone who’s seen The Hurt Locker.
“You know just how dangerous the job of ordnance disposal is, combating the threat of improvised explosive devices,” he says. “Navy Bomb Disposal happens to be one of the primary users of ROV technology. Robots, rather than humans, are often the ones in harm’s way. Think about that job in the World War II era through Vietnam, where everything had to be done manually — where, because you’re on the battlefield and it’s not practical to wear protection, you’re literally doing this job fully exposed in a minefield. And so suddenly a job that is very dangerous today becomes near-suicidal in the past.”
As for the future, Terp and his colleagues are hoping that Combat Tech generates enough interest that they’ll be able to tell some of the more elaborate stories they have in mind — some of which are pretty tantalizing.
“Ultimately, one of the areas that we may want to get into is the technology of specific battles and conflicts,” he suggests. “Look at something like D-Day, where you have on one hand, the Nazis have devised the greatest defensive network ever created. It reflects the highest level of technology. Then on the other hand, you have the Allies, who have amassed the largest amphibious force in the history of warfare. We have the greatest technology out at sea with battleships, and we’re going to pummel those defenses with aircraft and troop carriers. It’s a story that pits technology against technology; it pits soldiers against soldiers, and ultimately the outcome is defined by all of those elements together.”
Combat Tech premieres March 21 at 10pm ET/PT.