Information Warfare: January 18, 2005


: On StrategyPage, we treat current events as history, not journalism. That accounts for much of the difference between our descriptions of events, and what you see in the mass media. Take the war in Iraq. Politicians and journalists see events there as potential voter issues and hot headlines. We see it as history in the making, and describe events more like they will be reported in future histories. Because of this, we spend more time on trying to describe what is actually going on, in the historical sense, rather than reporting exciting news stories. History can be exciting, and much popular history is. But the historians are trained to examine and explain. However, historians have to eat, and thats why popular histories read more like journalism, including the need for exciting headlines and scoops. But thats mainly for entertainment. History you can learn from tends to be rather more dry. Lots of facts and figures. On StrategyPage, we try to do the analytical history in a more readable fashion. We use snappy headlines, but the text has facts and numbers that get the points across. Fortunately, writing for the web demands brevity (otherwise people wont read it.) So each item has to be under a thousand words. But in those individual pieces you get a piece of important information, along with an explanation of why it is important and how it fits in with larger events.

This approach sometimes hits people the wrong way. Several times a week we get feedback messages along the lines of, how could you warmongering idiots support whats going on in Iraq. What we write isnt to support anything, except a better understanding of whats going on. The mass media reports every car bomb that goes off as if it were another senseless tragedy. That goes without saying, but we will report on how the bombs are put together and put into play. We report on what is done to try and stop them, and what effects the bombs have. Actions have consequences, and car bombs are more than loud explosions and the personal tragedies of the victims. This leads us to reporting things that are rarely mentioned in the popular media. For example, the American use of Operations Research and criminal investigative techniques (we called it CSI: Baghdad) is largely responsible for making some 90 percent of the roadside bombs being ineffective, and reducing the number of car bombs that get made, or mitigating the damage they do. We also give a lot of coverage to the use of the Internet and computers by the troops. These technologies have led to a fundamental change in the way wars are fought. This is largely unreported, although many journalists have noted such stories on StrategyPage, and gone on to do stories in the mass media on those subjects. But most journalists assigned to combat zones have no military experience, and less knowledge of military history. They take for granted that company commanders will go into battle with laptop computers, and that platoon leaders will be carrying a PDA, and a rifle. But these new tools are creating radical changes in how battles are fought. In one case we reported this in terms of how radio had revolutionized combat during World War II. That was a major change, which only military historians really covered in any detail. Communications has always been a critical part of combat, but is not the sort of thing popular histories will dwell on. 

UAVs are another radical new technology, just as air reconnaissance itself was when it first appeared during World War I. UAVs speeded up the use of air reconnaissance, making it a real-time tool for the first time. A company commander can look at real time video from a micro (under ten pound) UAV overhead, and tell his platoon commanders exactly where the enemy is, even though the platoons are over a hundred meters away, and out of sight of the enemy. Infantry commanders never had this kind of asset before, except for those rare instances in the past where there was someone around with a radio that could talk to an aircraft overhead, and the pilot happened to notice something he thought he should pass on to the guys on the ground. Now the infantry units have their own air force of UAVs, sending back real time video. 

JDAMs (GPS guided smart bombs) are another major breakthrough. No need for the bomber pilot to see the target. No need for a laser designator (which requires the target be in sight). If the infantry commander sees something on the UAV video feed, he gets the GPS coordinates, transmits them to the bomber, a JDAM is released, and the enemy gets hit before they even know American troops are closing in on them. This changes tactics, and puts the force without UAVs and JDAMs at a tremendous disadvantage. 

If one understands these changes, and you do if you read StrategyPage, you have a pretty good idea of how a battle like Fallujah is going to turn out. That said, we also pointed out that American troops, as far back as World War II, had used new technologies and innovative tactics to gain an enormous advantage in urban combat. A reporter wont know this, a military historian will. Thus we will report things that you wont see in the evening news, or your local newspaper. 


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