Information Warfare: May 17, 2004

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Cell phones have revolutionized communications, not just for civilians, but for soldiers as well. Unfortunately, the military has found that the cell phone revolution can have deadly consequences. The problem with cell phones is that they were not designed with the battlefield in mind. Oh, cell phones will usually continue functioning during combat, but thats not the problem. Cell phones, unlike military communications, can easily be eavesdropped on, thus allowing the enemy to get inside information on what you are up to. 

Nations where most of the adults have cell phones have found that their armed forces are full of troops who carry their cell phones with them at all times, even when going into combat. Now its no secret that cell phones can easily be tapped by anyone with a fairly low tech monitoring equipment. Most armed forces have rules that prohibit cell phones during combat operations. And in most cases, the troops ignore the rules. The reason they get away with this is because cell phones are just so convenient for combat, and non-combat operations. That, plus there has not yet been a case of the enemy listening in on cell phone calls to obtain useful information. That may have changed. A recent string of battlefield successes by Palestinian terrorists against Israeli troops is suspected to be, in part, due to Palestinians eavesdropping on Israeli troops using cell phones. 

Israeli troops are not supposed to take their cell phones with them on combat missions. Officers are issued special cell phones with built in encryption (transmissions are scrambled and you have to be part of a special cell phone network to be able to understand those calls.) But even officers can be seen using their own cell phones because they are so convenient. The Israeli army allows troops to use their cell phones for non-combat army business, and the troops hate to give up that convenience especially when they are going into combat. 

If it is proven that the Palestinians gained a combat advantage by listening in on Israeli cell phone messages, and killed Israeli troops as a result, there will be a crackdown on cell phone use by soldiers in many nations. Even with all that, it will be hard for the troops to give up cell phones on the battlefield. Not only are cell phones used by the majority of young troops, but the features in cell phones and PDA (Personal Digital Assistants, like the Palm Pilot) are merging. This means declining sales for PDAs, but increasing use of cell phones with PDA features.

Ultimately, what will eliminate the problem is the arrival of combat cell phones for all troops. The United States is getting this kind of technology ready for use, and the Israelis could do it now as well, except for the cost. And that fact that the troops really dont need their cell phones in combat. But the things are so damn convenient, even if you risk your life in using them.

 


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