The 20th centurys industrial warfare has developed into the 21st centurys war amongst the people. Tactics and technology need to adapt as a consequence. Giles Peeters, ex-MoD and NATO satcom subject matter expert, and Defence Sector Director at Blue Force Tracking Specialists, Track24 Defence, considers the paradigm shift and the commercial implications for militaries around the world.
Let us consider how war has changed. A linear approach to the subject provides a good stock of examples and allows us to focus on three major events.
The first Great War was fought between states. Sovereignty was at stake and there was fierce industrial warfare between developed Western nations. This defined a war between states.
s The Second World War marks the point in history linked to the shift in paradigms between industrial warfare and war amongst the people: The atomic bomb. While WWI had been almost entirely played out between states on the battlefields of Europe and the Mediterranean and North Sea, WWII saw the first attack on the people in the modern Western World. It was still very much a state-versus-state conflict, but there was also a clear element of the state-versus -the-people to consider.
The Luftwaffe bombing London during the Blitz, for example, was a direct attack on the people as opposed to the state; this tactic however, was epitomised by the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Within the first four months of those attacks, around a quarter of a million Japanese civilians died. Such a monumental strike against the people led to Japan banning the possession and manufacture of nuclear weapons as well as their introduction into Japanese territory. This was the turning point for warfare and the advent of war amongst the people. It also moves us onto the third prominent marker in the transition: September 11, 2001.
Up until this point in time, war recognisable to us had been conducted by states; sovereignties looking to gain land or defeat rival armies on a battlefield. However, 9/11 demonstrated how warfare had evolved into the people attacking the state. Nations that had fought industrial wars for centuries were now given the clearest signal that a latent threat had become a patent one, and this new enemy was playing by a different rule book.
Ever Evolving Threat
A decade later, we now find ourselves facing the same dilemmas. Al-Qaeda isnt interested in playing by our rules. Why would they be? They are technologically inferior and will never have even a tenth of the resource our Western forces enjoy. They will not engage in heavy artillery shelling, helicopter dog fights, or tank battles. In fact, the last tank battle was in the Arabian Desert in 1974.
The confrontation in this case is clear, a war against 21st century terrorism, but the conflict is not. Winning the hearts and minds of the population in Afghanistan while reinforcing local democracy and eliminating terrorist groups, for example, will bring stability and long-term viability to the area. However, it is very much a war amongst the people; while the terms of the confrontation may appear straightforward, employing resources developed during industrial warfare against an enemy that has fine-tuned its own form of guerilla warfare, is not.
This neatly brings us onto the point of this article: Militaries born from industrial warfare are suffering because of their inability to rapidly evolve resources. Why did U.S. forces complain about having to reinforce their soft skinned back line vehicles with scrap metal in 2004? The answer is the vehicles were designed to transport officers stationed behind the front line in a typical industrial battle. Where is the front line in Afghanistan? If you look hard enough, you might see it in the sand as you pass through the front gates of Camp Bastion.
War amongst the people nullifies traditional markers and instead requires constant intelligence and feedback to assess and maintain the state of the enemy. This is not a case of listening for the thunder of an armoured division moving up your flank, more a small boy complaining of a strange smell coming from a nearby house.
The best tactic against an industrial force is not to mass against it. Guerrilla warfare dictates small cells of fighters and dispersed resources. While the U.S. and U.K., for example, may want to bring their technological advantage to the fore because it has proved effective in the past and cost billions to develop, the tools of industrial warfare are just not suitable for war amongst the people, and have not been for some time.
It is clear, therefore, that the technology employed needs to evolve to suit the circumstances. To defeat a states armies on the battlefield in the past would have led to a completion of a main objective linked with the war and a collapsing of time scales associated with victory. Fighting two men on motor bikes in the desert is no less a battle, but a much smaller influencer on the overall objective and outcome of the war. These smaller conflicts are often indicative of a much longer confrontation and one in which different tactics should be employed, including a heavy focus on two of the most important operational elements of a timeless conflict, communication and interoperability.
A nation state in the 21st century is unlikely to engage in a war amongst the people without the backing of a multi-state organisation such as NATO for example, as much due to the budget required to fund such a long confrontation, as its hostile implications. The timescales and multiple parties involved necessitate a level of interoperability unique to this new type of war, and place an increased emphasis on communications. However, let us first consider the level of communication necessary in a war amongst the people.
Importance Of Allies
Communications during industrial warfare were based on the fact that a nation owned and controlled the ground and the battlespace. If a commander could not see where the platoon or armoured tank division was, he could more than likely contact them via VHF/UHF radio.
However, in modern day war amongst the people this is not always possible and certainly not consistently so. Take Afghanistan as an example: The Camp Bastion HQ is hundreds of miles away from villages being patrolled by ISAF troops. A country with spectacular scenery but an austere landscape does not lend itself to VHF/UHF transmissions and instead requires beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communications capability.
Because of ISAFs origins in industrial warfare, a very simple problem becomes a serious issue. The technology and concept of operation is slow to be adapted and accepted, and the solutions have not evolved to suit the conflict as a consequence.
A platoon that has to enter a mountainous region may boast the latest high-tech Battlefield Management System (BMS) that employs voice and data communications, providing command and control and situational awareness capability, but may find it rendered inoperable due to its reliance on line-of-sight radio a system still of use in a war amongst the people, but primarily developed for industrial warfare.
Consider smaller conflicts again. Because the enemy wont mass, it makes it impossible to achieve the objectives of the confrontation with a single conflict, thus extending the time taken to win the war. The best chance a force has to win a war amongst the people is to win over the hearts and minds of the people themselves. In order to do this a force must create local allies in the communities with which they are engaged.
In Afghanistan, the only way to remove foreign troops from the battlefield is to empower local authorities, such as the police force, to maintain order and help the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan achieve effective and consistent governance. To do this you need to be able to equip them with technology that allows them to communicate with your forces, and is simple and affordable for them to maintain themselves. A multi-billion pound BMS is not suitable for this function as it was designed for a nation state engaged in an industrial war.
Note I mentioned a singular nation-state. Another presiding communications factor that has so far been featured in war amongst the people is the requirement for high-level secure interoperability, due to the 21st century multi-nation approach to confrontation. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan consists of nearly 150,000 troops from 48 different countries; a resultant issue from day one has been the ability to effectively and affordably communicate with troops from all these different armies: each industrial force boasts different systems.
Take the following as an example: A new military force arrives in Afghanistan to take over from outgoing personnel who have served their time. This new coalition partner has brought its own vehicles to enhance NATOs capability, including urgently needed heavy lift helicopters. Under ISAF command, the recent arrivals have been told that it is mandatory to have Blue Force Tracking (BFT) capability. These systems send a GPS positional report at pre-determined intervals into the NATO Common Operating Picture, providing real time situational awareness, reducing friendly fire incidents.
When the new force requests BFT capability for its vehicles and helicopters, it is informed that there are only a limited number of systems available, due to the expense the new force is only allocated a minimal number for its 100-vehicle fleet and told there is no such capability available for the helicopters. Furthermore, these systems are required to be permanently hard-wired into vehicles with the appropriate data security protocols, often meaning the bureaucracy of implementation ends up denying critical capability.
This may sound like a ridiculous scenario, but unfortunately, it is all too common. Fit for purpose capability that is interoperable, secure and available requires an intuitive communications approach to counter the war amongst people, allowing multiple allies to quickly and easily configure and operate recognisable platforms.
Where Do We Go From Here?
How is flexibility achieved when delivering BMS and BFT, or any other type of communications capability? Most militaries have a tradition of trying to solve communications capability gaps without re-evaluating the evolving information exchange requirement. For example, large projects are commissioned with long lead times that often provide cutting-edge technology, for a problem that no longer exists by the time it is ready to be used.
If it were possible that resources could be allocated to individual confrontations in an order-to-type manner, then we probably wouldnt have fighter-bombers patrolling no-fly zones in Iraq and Bosnia, or multi-billion pound aircraft carriers being built for a state-to-state confrontation that may never happen. In fact, it stands to reason that you cannot develop resources for a confrontation and its subsequent conflicts unless you understand what you are fighting against in the first place, and then regularly review this.
Logically a force needs to carefully consider its purchasing options and not fall into the trap of buying more of what won the last industrial war decades ago and abiding by the same purchasing principles today. For large projects such as aircraft carriers, it is understandable that the build time is susceptible to the fast changing environment of conflict. However, for communication capability, there is no excuse for not providing a flexible procurement strategy to fulfil requirements when there are suitable commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions.
A military organisation needs to adopt a flexible contracting mechanism in this communications arena, at the least, where the information exchange requirement, not the procurement process, determines the critically-needed solutions.
More info at www.track24defence.com
About the author
Giles Peeters spent 19 years working as a communications specialist for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, before moving to the private sector to consult for organisations such as NATO, on Blue Force Tracking requirements. Now Defence Sector Director at Track24 Defence, Peeters is the driving force behind the launch of the companys new, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) blue force tracking solution, Situational Command & Control (SCC).
About Track24 Defence
Track24 is a leading global provider of security tracking and crisis management solutions, providing tracking hardware and software to enable organisations to track personnel, vehicles, aircraft and maritime vessels. At any given time, the company is tracking thousands of people across and around 40 countries. The company originated during the post-Iraq war reconstruction effort when its founders realised that they could help improve the risk management of commercial contractors and security companies in Iraq by introducing technology that would allow them to see where their vehicles were in the country and also send alerts if they were in distress. By introducing tracking and emergency alert systems using satellite technology all linked to a secure online risk management platform most organisations operating in Iraq experienced a significant improvement in their ability to respond quickly to incidents. Panic alarms have been pressed in earnest over 600 times and many lives have been saved as a result of receiving a faster response.
Track24 describes the market sector they are in as the Security Tracking and Risk Management Sector (STRMS). This is in order to distinguish the distinct requirements of the STRMS from tracking companies operating in the fleet management or logistics sectors. Track24 is a leading global player in this sector and has leveraged this experience and technology to develop the capability for the defence sector. The Company operates with, and supports, clients on a global basis, operates seamlessly with many devices and communications networks, providing high levels of system security, durability and reliability, with excellent customer support, and can deliver an online platform specifically designed for security risk management.