James Millar is producer and director of the Ground War episodes Firepower and Command and Control.
I didn’t work on those series so it’s difficult to say how different in detail this series is. But Ground War had to cover a much greater expanse of history and a massive, complex subject matter. So by necessity we had to leave lots of stuff out. There are a lot more demonstrations and experiments in Ground War than Warship or Warplane and I would say that it’s faster-paced and punchier. But that’s how we had to cut our cloth. We’re taking the viewer through some 4,000 years of major technological developments and having to explain the historical context as well as how these changes affect the tactics that commanders use in war.
Describe the video production crew for a project like this.
Myself, my assistant producer, a cameraman and sound recordist was the crew. There was a series production manager as well and a production co-ordinator, both of whom were office based. In certain countries like Syria and Israel we also had a local fixer that we hired. We had just a basic lighting kit really and wherever possible did interviews outside. Shooting the series in the northern hemisphere winter though meant we did have to do quite a few interior interviews.
Ground War takes you to a number of different countries, terrains and battlefield sites. Which sites made the greatest impression on you?
Craq de Chevaliers in Syria, a very impressive medieval castle on a mountain top from the Crusader period of history, was a breath-taking location. Also the extraordinarily intact underground fortresses that made up the Maginot Line in France. And Fort McHenry in Baltimore had a kind of beautiful symmetry to it.
What was the most unexpected thing you learned while making Ground War?
That Fort McHenry, the famous defense of which inspired the writing of America’s national anthem, was a fortress based on the designs of a brilliant French military engineer. Without Sebastien Vauban (a man I imagine is not exactly a household name in the USA!) there would be no “Star-spangled Banner.”
Did you find that the future of Ground War technology rested with private institutions, government research, universities, or some sort of combination?
Yes a combination. But it’s private companies like BAE Systems that are the main drivers in research and development.
Did you run into classification limits regarding which technologies you were allowed to see?
Yes. We weren’t for instance allowed to see inside the interior of the N-LOS cannon artillery system that we filmed at a military testing facility near Yuma, Arizona.
These technologies have obviously had an effect on the way wars are fought. What’s the broader historical/cultural significance of “the way wars are fought?”
The immediate impact of war is becoming more and more detached from the actions of individual soldiers on a battlefield. Technological advances mean that devastating firepower can be brought to bear over huge distances with incredible accuracy. There are of course still short range firefights in Afghanistan and Iraq, as we see on the TV news. But modern artillery and tanks are shooting over vast distances and so the people delivering the firepower rarely see up close just how destructive the forces are that they unleash. The development of artillery for instance has led soldiers to become slowly more divorced from the act of killing.
What’s the next project you’re working on?
I’m doing an archaeological series for broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK called ‘Time Team’. It’s basically
following a team of archaeologists and a presenter who have three days to excavate a site. It could be anything from a neolithic village to a World War Two gun battery.