Reverse engineering

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Reverse engineering is the process of studying a piece of technology to learn its operating priciples, generally by taking it apart and examining its structure. The objective is to learn to reproduce technology that you can not currently make.

Examples in real life

  • The German Panzershrek anti-tank rocket launcher is a weapon based heavily on captured American bazookas.
  • The Soviet Tupolev Tu-4 bomber is reverse-engineered duplicate of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
  • Both American and the Soviet Union based their first jet fighters off of the designs of captured German ME-262s.
  • American and Soviet rocket technology was heavily based on the German V2 rocket (the chief designer at NASA being Wernher Von Braun).

Examples in Science Fiction

  • In the Stargate franchise, humans have managed to use captured alien technology to develop and build starships such as the F-302 and the Daedalus-class battlecruiser.
  • In the Halo franchise, UNSC developed energy shields for the MJOLNIR armor from captured energy shields used by Covenant Jackals. However, they could only manufacture the shields, along with armor, in limited quantities.
  • In the Mass Effect franchise, the Systems Alliance reverse engineered Prothean technology that was found on Mars.

Reverse Engineering in Debates

While reverse engineering can accelerate technological development, it does have its limitations. For example, if an M1 Abrams main battle tank was dropped in Rome in 25 BCE, and Augustus decided to take it apart to duplicate it, he would be unable to do so because the Romans lacked the industries to produce high enough quality steel for the vehicle, let alone be able to produce the engine, the fuel, electronics, optics or the Chobham armor.

Nevertheless, in versus debates, people who are fond of the no limits fallacy tend to overlook the limits on technological understanding and industrial capacity, assuming that any captured enemy technology will be dissected, duplicated and put into production within weeks regardless of the breadth of the technology gap.