Just another brain-dead techie with views on everything under the sun!

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Wired 11.06: "If We Run Out of Batteries, This War is Screwed."

A good article on how technology aided Donald Rumsfeld's theory of swarm tactics. Following are a few interesting excerpts from it.

The history of warfare is marked by periodic leaps in technology - the triumph of the longbow at Crécy, in 1346; the first decisive use of air power, in World War I; the terrifying destructiveness of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, in 1945. And now this: a dazzling array of technology that signals the arrival of digital warfare. What we saw in Gulf War II was a new age of fighting that combined precision weapons, unprecedented surveillance of the enemy, agile ground forces, and - above all - a real-time communications network that kept the far-flung operation connected minute by minute.
Now Mims draws a bunch of small circles spread out on the page. This is Rumsfeld's theory of swarm tactics. Because technology allows soldiers to keep track of each other, even when they're out of one another's sight, they can now move in any formation. "We may not always know exactly where the enemy is," Mims explains, "but we know where we are. When the enemy engages us in this spread-out fashion, we send air cover to protect the unit until the support forces arrive."

Swarm theory holds that you move fast and don't worry about securing the rear. The benefits to this are many. First, you need fewer troops and less equipment. War becomes cheaper. Second, it's harder for the enemy to attack a widely dispersed formation. Third, units can cover much more ground - they aren't forced to maintain the wedge by slowing down to accommodate lagging vehicles. Fourth, swarming allows you to go straight for the heart of the enemy's command structure, undermining its support from the inside out rather than battling on the periphery.

Swarm theory is also moving online - into chat rooms, an application Mims is pioneering for military purposes. When a problem develops on the battlefield, a soldier radios a Tactical Operations Center. The TOC intelligence guy types the problem into a chat session - Mims and his colleagues use Microsoft Chat - and the problem is "swarmed" by experts from the Pentagon to Centcom. Not only is the technology changing the way we maneuver, Mims notes, it's changing the way we think.
Quite an interesting theory!! And not just a theory since we've already seen it pass the gruelling test in the recent war in Iraq, with flying colours.
"What's funny about using Microsoft Chat," he adds with a sly smile, "is that everybody has to choosean icon to represent themselves. Some of these guys haven't bothered, so the program assigns them one. We'll be in the middle of a battle and a bunch of field artillery colonels will come online in the form of these big-breasted blondes. We've got a few space aliens, too."
ROTFL!! Well at least their sense of humour was intact in the heat of the war!!

And finally...
In the war to change the way war is fought, the techies seem to have won the first battle. Despite the heat and the glitches and the holes in the communications network, Rumsfeld's great experiment is being hailed a success. The revolutionaries now have plenty of ammunition for their drive to change the military. But the success papers over the uncertainties that remain. The next enemy - North Korea? Syria? Iran? - may be better prepared and better equipped, and will certainly have learned from Saddam Hussein's experience. Perhaps more likely, the next enemy won't be a nation-state at all but an adaptable terrorist organization much less vulnerable to swarming tanks and missiles.
Quite true !!


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Sameer/Male/27. Hails from India/Maharashtra/Mumbai/Prabhadevi, speaks Marathi, English and Hindi. Spends 60% of daytime online. Uses a Faster (1M+) connection. And likes Reading/Computers.