Dohiyi Mir
    In Which NTodd Says His Peace

Monday, August 11, 2003
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C4I vs. 4GW


Ha'aretz reports today:

Although the Israel Defense Forces' decision of March 3, 2003, did not make waves in the public, it was indicative of an important turning point. On that date, the IDF established its C4I Directorate, which includes the spheres of communication, computers and information technology, headed by Major General Yitzhak Harel. The new directorate will lead the IDF's digital revolution.

In the first stage of this revolution, the IDF ground forces are supposed to be integrated into the world of communications and computers. To this end, infrastructure for communications systems will be built - first and foremost, a central command and control system. This system will be developed and built in the framework of the ground forces' digital project, which will link all the field corps - the armored corps, the infantry, the engineering corps and the artillery corps. The project, in which more than NIS 1 billion will be invested, got underway about a year ago.

In the second stage, this ground forces system will link up with the control and command systems of the intelligence corps and the air and naval forces.
...
In several western armies, the computer and communications wing is known as C4I. The "C" stands for command, control, communications and computers, while the "I" represents intelligence or information.

One of those western armies is ours. We have our own C4I group(s), and I remember reading in the spring about the much-ballyhooed 4ID being our first wired division:

The US Army has finally caught up with the video gaming world. Whilst armchair generals have been sitting at home for years hurling legions of German, Martian, Elven or Roman troops into battle with full knowledge of their enemy's whereabouts, the poor old American GI hasn't had that luxury. But now the Army's first "Digital Division" has just finished its maiden exercise. For perhaps the first time in the history of warfare, soldiers went into action confident that they had access to all the information available.

Troops from the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) were apparently successful in a 14-day exercise designed to test the capabilities and usefulness of a distributed tactical Internet. The wireless network permits all force elements to instantly communicate every piece of changing tactical information and intelligence. Juts like the maps that are commonly used in video game interfaces to let the player keep track of enemies his troops have "sighted", the commander of a tank would be made aware of an opposing force around the next bend in the road, even though the rival troops had actually only been eye-balled from a jeep two kilometers away.

Truly impressive. Maybe the computer revolution is necessary, and what Israel and US are doing seems like it will make our militaries more effective in conflicts with other states, but as a March paper from the Strategic Studies Institute notes:

[A] range of factors will make large-scale, state-on-state war rare or even obsolete. Put simply, the costs and risks of traditional, cross-border armed aggression will mount to the point that most states will not consider it. This trend is reinforced each time the United States trounces an opponent decisively. At the same time, ambiguous, protracted, nondecisive armed conflict in complex environments, often involving nonstate participants, is likely to become even more common and strategically significant now that an enemy tiny in size can generate massive effects.

How will C4I help Israel end the intifada? How will C4I help us win the war on terrorism? In assymetrical, non-conventional warfare, I'm skeptical of the utility. A lot of this reliance on spiffy technology and advanced weaponry reflects the Rumsfeld Doctrine: use small forces to achieve great effect. Yes, we can topple the Taliban and Saddam Hussein very quickly, but we forget that in the aftermath we still require boots on the ground. Steve Gilliard observes:

We're clearly moving into an era of peacekeeping where actual infantry is needed. The US is man short in Iraq because of our incredible investment in technology. We have armor everywhere and troops used to working with armor instead of foot patrols.
...
The problem...is that US troops have scant idea of how to patrol and survive. Many of the troops are unskilled in foot patrols and rely on either fragile humvees or large, noisy Brads...

Now, they want to rebuild the Army without seeming to admit that the role of the US Army is going to change. Infantry warfare is coming back and you need men, not robot planes and armored cars. There is a great temptation to take the lessons of SpecOps and spread them throughout the Army. And some of them are applicable. But others, especially those which maximize weaponry over actual infantry are risky at best. American troops need to learn to work with people, establish a foot presence and to lose unfounded fear of the locals. More machines cannot do this. Only men can.

I wonder how much this C4I going to buy us in the age of 4GW*, in an age where we need more of a focus on people and not fancy hardware. Defense and the National Interest subscribes to Colonel Boyd's notion of "People, Ideas, and Hardware":

"In that order!" the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences. Modern history offers few counter examples to his trinity of effectiveness. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and the Intifada all followed his pattern. Discouraged by the Pentagon's emphasis on machines over people and ideas, our best warriors and commanders are leaving in unprecedented numbers.

You know me: I don't dig warfare. That said, I'm pragmatic and realistic, and understand that I benefit greatly from our defense apparatus. But if a military is going to be forced on me, I'd like it to be one that will actually enhance our nation's security. It seems to me all the fancy "transformation" that's going on in our armed forces is creating exactly the wrong kind of military--one that can't fulfill its new role as peacemaker and peacekeeper and meet today's unconventional threats. I've got a bad feeling about this.

ntodd

* I blogged about "Fourth Generation Warfare" in Iraq several weeks ago.

[Update: edited for flow.] 
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