Information Warfare: May 29, 2003


Instant messaging and chat rooms have become a major battlefield communications tool. Chat rooms were pioneered by navies, particularly the British Royal Navy (which was an early user of the technology, not just for within a ship, but for communications between ships in the same task force.) American warships, particularly aircraft carriers, were quick to install PC based networks and then use email and chat rooms to eliminate the hassle of getting supervisors and commanders together for meetings. It was also easier to exchange technical and operational data via email, and chat rooms that were left up permanently. During the 2003 Iraq war, the ground troops got into chat rooms in a big way, as well as using Instant Messaging. There were some problems. There were hundreds of chat rooms, and sometimes discipline broke down. Internet users have a tendency to ignore rank and authority. You can't do that in the military, especially in a combat zone. New rules for chat room use are being developed. This is nothing new. When radio was widely first used by the American military (in the 1930s), the same phenomenon was encountered. "Net discipline" had to be figured out and enforced. Instant messaging also ran into problems, as you had to know screen names to send a message. This may be changed so that all you have to do is click on a unit icon on your computer display and a message will be delivered to that vehicle or unit. Another problem is security. The Blue Force Tracker system used in Iraq was on a laptop type computer in vehicles and needed passwords when it was booted up. But if a vehicle was captured intact, with the engine still running, the enemy would see where all U.S. units are within the region by using the Blue Force Tracker. This is being redesigned. Instant messaging was not designed for such a powerful use. In fact, instant messaging was invented before email and was used by network technicians to send administrative messages to each other. Out of that developed email and chat room. This was only thirty years ago. Now Internet technology is a military weapon.


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