Information Warfare: Wi-Fi For Tanks

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October 21, 2010: Russia is in a hurry to update its military, and is following the American example of using commercial technology. In this case, they are adapting Wi-Fi and WiMax wireless networking type tech for battlefield use. This will include the use of satellite links to tie it all together across Russians vast spaces. Most nations have resisted adopting Wi-Fi for military use, because of security vulnerabilities. But Russia has some of the best Internet engineering and cryptography talent on the planet. If they can apply that to their military wi-fi, they may have another hi-tech export.

The military wi-fi effort is being paid for by this year's decision to increase annual defense spending by 60 percent (to $66 billion) over the next two years. During the last two years of global recession, the Russian defense budget was cut by 15 percent. Everyone got cut except the nuclear weapons units. Despite Russia's huge size (17 million square kilometers, the largest nation in the world) and long borders (20,000 kilometers worth on land, another 37,000 of shoreline), it's primary means of national defense is its nuclear weapons. The army is a ramshackle force, smaller than the U.S. Army, and much more poorly equipped. Most of the million troops in the Russian armed forces are paramilitary forces working for the Interior Ministry and other branches of the government (like the FSB, which controls border guards.) These forces get by with assault rifles, machine-guns and low tech land transport, patrol boats and aircraft.

The Russian army is in desperate need of new weapons, especially armored vehicles, and that means new communications gear as well. The navy needs new ships and the air force needs new aircraft. All three services are getting by with rapidly aging Cold War era equipment. An example of the extent of this problem can be seen in what happened to the Cold War era Soviet tank force. Russia recently cut its tank force again, from 22,000 to about 6,000. Sixty percent of these 6,000 will be in storage. The remaining 16,000 tanks will be scrapped. Twenty years ago, the situation was quite different. At the end of the Cold War in 1991, Russia had about 53,000 tanks in service (about 40 percent of them relics from the 1950s, or earlier). Over the last two decades, some 30,000 tanks were scrapped. Back in 1991, about half of the tanks were of questionable serviceability and usefulness, but that still left the Russians with 25,000 modern tanks, ready to roll west. No more. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, 80 percent of the five million troops were sent home, and, in the next decade, only a few hundred new tanks were purchased. New communications gear and concepts was not even on the radar.

The current tank fleet has about 260 T-90s and 1,200 T-80s (a third in storage). These are roughly equal to early model U.S. M-1s. Most of the current Russian tanks are late model T-72s, some of them upgraded with excellent electronics (fire controls systems and thermal sights). It would be relatively cheap to equip the tanks with militarized Wi-Fi gear.

 


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