4 ways tech changed the fight

New information artillery has transformed warfighting since FCW began in 1987

Information is no longer a commodity. It is now a force multiplier and, increasingly, it’s a warfighting domain, said David Ozolek, executive director of the Joint Futures Laboratory at the Joint Forces Command.

Ozolek and other military information technology experts have identified four technologies and techniques that have changed how U.S. military forces wage war today compared with 20 years ago.
1. Networking and collaboration

The Defense Department’s ability to harness Internet technology has fundamentally changed the way the military forces operate. In network-centric warfare, every piece of the armed forces is becoming interconnected, said Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s chief information officer.

The Army’s networking strategy is simple, Boutelle said. “The more things you connect together, the more value you get.” People, platforms, gizmos and gadgets all converge on the network, creating exponential growth in military capabilities, he added.

In addition, networks have changed the way the Army fights by flattening the traditional hierarchy of command and control. Orders now flow from a variety of sources and are multicast to many people.  “It’s accelerating the decision-making process,” Boutelle said.

The Internet allows the military services to collaborate worldwide. Operations no longer are linear in any traditional sense, Ozolek said. “Through networking, we’re able to distribute operations through time, space and function,” he said.

Meanwhile, another effect of networking and collaboration is a shift from owning information resources to accessing information. “You don’t have to own an asset to be able to employ it,” Ozolek said.

2. Global Positioning System

By using smart weaponry to launch precision strikes, the military can achieve greater effect with fewer or smaller strikes. That development, and the addition of precision maneuvering to the military’s arsenal, has profoundly altered warfighting operations.

The Global Positioning System, along with Blue Force Tracker, the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System, and other advanced communications systems enable the military to conduct operations that Ozolek described as noncontiguous maneuvers. That means allied forces don’t have to see one another to coordinate their operations.

Controlling white space, a military term for areas that warfighters don’t physically occupy, is another revolutionizing trend, Ozolek said. For example, GPS-directed unmanned vehicles patrol where soldiers cannot.

Some experts say GPS has inverted the way officials think about military forces. In the past, air power cleared the way for ground forces, said Philip Coyle, senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information. GPS now empowers ground troops to select targets and call in air attacks from miles away. Troops used that capability in early battles in Iraq.

GPS supports other advanced military capabilities. For example, precision- and laser-guided weapons, integrated with GPS, enable forces to attack behind the lines, before the enemy knows the fight has begun, and limit collateral damage in civilian areas, Coyle said.

3. Embedded computers

At the same time, the use of embedded computers has transformed U.S. military equipment. For example, in the new F-22 fighter aircraft, computers blend data from the fighter’s sensors and radars. In another example, computer technology embedded in small artillery rounds reports on the shells’ success at hitting their targets. The technology transmits data until impact.

Technology “is literally in everything, just as it is in our everyday lives,” Coyle said.

Miniaturization and solid-state devices are specialized and powerful enough for large-scale military use, said Ted Postal, professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The trend in weaponry is toward embedded computers that enable weapons to coordinate their actions autonomously, Postal said.
Another benefit of the military’s use of computers is more realistic testing and training. Supercomputers, for example, provide the muscle to model and simulate the diplomatic, social and economic factors of combat. “It’s enabling us to really understand complex situations,” Ozolek said.

4. Information operations

Finally, the ability to instantly distribute global information is changing warfare because everyone with access to the Internet or TV can be a party to the battle, military experts say.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, insurgents’ sniper attacks, abductions and improvised explosive devices rarely hurt the operational ability of the U.S. military, but they affect people’s will and perceptions, Ozolek said. 

The aim of military tactics in the information domain is to control people’s perceptions. “This is where the decisive battle is taking place,” Ozolek said. To gain greater influence over Iraqi and Afghan hearts and minds, the military has begun testing concepts such as the Communications Strategy Board, which merges information operations, intelligence and public affairs into one integrated function.

The importance of information operations “is the fundamental change in the conduct of warfare and the direct impact of the IT revolution,” Ozolek said. U.S. enemies are more comfortable and more effective at influencing perceptions than the United States is, he said, adding that “we’re in the process of adapting right now.”

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