August 19, 2010: It was only a decade ago that the U.S. military was making big plans for the coming age of "network centric warfare." The Internet was becoming big, but the military geeks were thinking more along the lines of a non-commercial network. But while they were thus distracted, the Internet was taking over the world (of networked communications), and then September 11, 2001 happened. Suddenly there was a war, with urgent needs, and plenty of money and talent to create the new tech the troops demanded.
All this created a reality that the planners had not anticipated. First, it wasn't all that difficult to get a battlefield data network up and running. There were glitches, but these were easier to fix than other, unanticipated, problems. For one thing, getting the right data into the network was a headache. The data most in demand on the battlefield was video from UAVs overhead. Next there was useful leads and warnings from intel database systems. The problems here were manifold. The video data was more abundant than anticipated, and there was never enough network capacity (bandwidth) to give everyone what they wanted when they wanted it. With the other data, it turned out that big databases, carefully massaged by powerful new software (and cheaper supercomputers) did not always provide needed stuff on a timely basis. In other words, the network was easy, the content was hard.
But it got worse, sort of. Overall, the Internet, and networks on or off the battlefield, were very popular, and quite useful. They were also more vulnerable than anticipated. The experts are still trying to work their way out of that one. In general, battlefield networks proved to be another new tool, like so many more before it (repeating rifles, smokeless powder, machine-guns, tanks, radio and bulletproof vests). For those who can afford the new stuff, there is an advantage to be had. But there are unexpected (usually human) costs, and the key factor becomes not who has the new tech, but who makes the most of it. For the battlefield Internet, that remains to be seen.