Murphy's Law: October 11, 2003


The much talked about Revolution in Military Affairs and the arrival of Information War and Netcentric War are touted as major changes in the way combat is conducted. But this is all largely marketing hype. Revolutions in Military Affairs have occurred frequently in the past. But all of them were the result of  remarkably more effective troops,  not as the result of technology. These "revolutionary"  armies were composed of troops who were better selected, trained, organized and led. Remember that until the 19th century, military technology changed very slowly, yet there were still numerous "Revolutions in Military Affairs." But technology is more attractive and easier to report on than the more mundane and troublesome topics like training and recruiting. Technology is sexy, personnel matters are, well, boring.

Information War goes way back. Ancient commanders like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar recognized the need to control the news, and both produced written and oral  news for the folks back home in such quantity and quality that much of it survived to this day. But at the time, Alexander and Caesar were intent on controlling public opinion. They did, and that was a large measure of their power. There have been many other examples since then (including Edward III of England in the 14th century and Napoleon Bonaparte). 

Netcentric Warfare? There have already been four communications revolutions in the last 150 years century. First came the widespread use of telegraph in the American Civil War. Then there were telephone networks used in combat during World War I. Two decades later, radio technology had become cheap, reliable and portable enough to equip entire armies. World War II was the first "wireless war." Now, the military is taking the Internet to the battlefield. Oddly enough, in all the books written about World War I and II, there is little talk of revolutionary communications developments changing the way wars were fought. And for good reason, as anyone who studied the campaigns of the Mongols seven centuries earlier knew that the Mongols conducted the most impressive mobile warfare operations in history without the use of radios. Telephones and radios changed the way armies and fleets operated, but not to the extent that anyone considered it a revolution. It was just another new bit of new technology to use. 

The current hype about Netcentric Warfare and Information War is more marketing hype than anything else. The military wants to buy expensive new, satellite based, communications equipment, and the companies that manufacture the new radios and satellites want to sell. So everyone markets. But the new equipment and networking software do little more than make it possible to send more of the same data more reliably. There's no revolution, it's evolution. Those who keep looking for a revolution risk losing the lessons of the past, and repeating the errors.


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