Losing the Wired War: Net-Centric Warfare Military v. Global Guerillas

No Comments


Noah Schachtman of DefenseTech is always a persistent source of great information regarding the technology and equipment that is used in today’s battlefields. (Via Op-For) In PopularSciences, Schachtman and David Axe write on “Winning—and Losing—the First Wired War“: “U.S. forces in Iraq are waging a pivotal campaign in modern warfare—combat on the first “networked” battlefield. One problem: the enemy has a few networks of its own ”

Schachtman and David Axe go to the heart of the issue in Iraq:

“But now, more than three years into sectarian conflict and a violent insurgency that has cost nearly 2,400 American lives, an investigation of the current state of network-centric warfare reveals that frontline troops have a critical need for networked gear—gear that hasn’t come yet. “There is a connectivity gap,” states a recent Army War College report. “Information is not reaching the lowest levels.”

This is a dangerous problem, because the insurgents are stitching together their own communications network. Using cellphones and e-mail accounts, these guerrillas rely on a loose web of connections rather than a top-down command structure. And they don’t fight in large groups that can be easily tracked by high-tech command posts. They have to be hunted down in dark neighborhoods, amid thousands of civilians, and taken out one by one.”

Net-centric Warfare v. Global Guerillas
Net-centric Warfare defined in a monograph at DODCCRP (same folks who published “Shock and Awe”):

“We define NCW as an information superiority-enabled concept of operations that generates increased combat power by networking sensors, decision makers, and shooters to achieve shared awareness, increased speed of command, higher tempo of operations, greater lethality, increased survivability, and a degree of self- synchronization. In essence, NCW translates information superiority into combat power by effectively linking knowledgeable entities in the battlespace”

As Schachtman and Axe noted, NCW is layman’s term the “Walmart-ification” of warfare. (Indeed the monograph of the excerpt above, goes into great detail analyzing the logistical success of Wal-Mart and Dell and other corporations.) But what does NCW look like on the battlefield, Schachtman and Rose describes the following:

“The air-ground collaboration is one of dozens of different ways that network-centric tools are slowly starting to rejigger the military’s hidebound hierarchies. In the Gulf War, the various armed services didn’t talk to one another much, except at the highest levels. That’s partly why there was a six-week air campaign and then a ground attack. During the 2003 invasion, the air and ground assaults struck at once.”

But one of the most powerful tools in battalion command posts like these, notes Garstka, the network-centric theorist, may be one of the simplest: a Web browser, so junior officers can log into secure online forums. There captains and lieutenants can swap tactics, well before they appear in printed field manuals. This is critical in a place like Iraq, where insurgents’ strategies change almost daily. ”

With exception of advance weapon systems and resource intensive efforts like building a Carrier battle group, it is John Robb’s “Global Guerillas” which are best suited to adopting and adapting to technology. For more information on “Global Guerillas”, I strongly suggest reading John Robb’s “THE Bazaar of Violence in Iraq” and “THE Bazaar’s Open Source Platform “. It is required reading in my book.

The US Military and Global Guerillas are both fighting as net-centric agents, but the US Military is after all a hierarchal system, a tool of the nation-state and thus structurally it is slower to adapt. Meanwhile as decentralized and organic entities, “Global Guerillas” naturally evolve into ever more sophistication: the weaker insurgent groups get killed and captured, while the more successful groups sharing and help others replicate their success.

The advantage of the US military (or conventional militaries in general) is its ability to focus its resources into a certain direction in a more coordinated fashion, while the “Global Guerillas” can afford to use a slower trial-and-error method – attrition is not as much as a concern for them.

John Robb’s “Global Guerillas” will always be more nimble and faster that traditional nation-state militaries. The state and its military are by definition more slowly moving, more hierachial and more bound by policies and laws – then numble, adapting, loosely networked, nimble and Global Guerillas. Its not so much that the Global Guerillas are networking better than the US Military, its that the Global Guerillas can afford to adapt more quickly.

Net-Centric Warfare – Myopic Pipedreams
Setting aside the “Global Guerilla” issue, NCW has great limitations. When reading defense experts and their whitepapers/monographs on “Net-Centric Warfare” and “Effects-Based Operation”, we see terms phrases like “information dominance” and “complete situational awareness” and the like.

But the case-studies such war studies experts like to review – Amazon.com, Wal-Mart and Dell – are a world aware from an actual, fluid and “fog” ridden battlefield. There are collecting and analyzing information from a relatively static “battle space” so to speak.

Planning, preparing, executing and adjusting to the changing and fluid battle-space of fourth generation warfare is utterly different than keeping an excellent inventory over your retail logistics network – basically what the Wal-Mart, Dell and Amazon.com case studies are all about. It’s a joke to assume that future soldiers will be equipped with electronic devices to depend on a full host of communication and information share – where will the electricity come from? Are these devices anti-virus proof or even from protected from rough use?

The “Fog of War” will always be a factor that will be foolish to underestimate. Thus, the premise of complete “information dominance” and complete “situational awareness” is a false hope. Net-Centric Warfare is one of the new components of warfare, but it won’t be the last nor the only.