Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Information as a Weapons Program

Information is the new queen of battle, a throne previously occupied by airpower and artillery. Particularly as armed forces retool to become lighter and more mobile, information takes the place of numbers and armor. Enabling systems and warfighters to pass useful information in a timely way is the most important capability a military possesses. In war, information gaps are typically plugged by casualties and materiel. Uncertainty is countered by attrition and loss. Requiring forces to cover too much ground or perform too many tasks because the enemy's dispositions and intentions are unknown risks making them unresponsive and ineffective. On the other hand, accurate information about an enemy translates into superior planning, command and control, target engagement, and likelihood of victory. Information is also the best means to protect friendly forces. The ability to deploy, protect, and assure information networks is a force multiplier of the highest order.

It is not a surprise that some of the foremost military programs are information rather than system or platform based. Prime examples are the US Army's Future Combat System and the UK's Watchkeeper programs. The former is an ongoing effort to develop a network-centric architecture for land combat forces, while the latter is a battlefield intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability that relies heavily on networks of sensors carried by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In both cases, the customer set out a list of requirements and desired capabilities without specifying much in the area of platforms. Said an industry official involved in the Watchkeeper program: "Watchkeeper could have been a truck if we had shown that it would have been the best approach."

The most important avenue of technological progress today is integration rather than in specific sciences or disciplines, such as materials, optics, or computers. This is not to say that progress does not continue to be made in all areas related to military technology. Certainly, there are notable discrete technological developments that promise greatly enhanced capabilities, such as in the fields of imaging-infrared sensors and electronically scanned phased-array radar. However, the palette of technologies available to Western -- and increasingly Eastern -- military establishments is essentially the same. Advantage is found in how these technologies are integrated and packaged and then networked together with other systems. The ability to integrate new and existing technologies into networked systems of systems is far and away the most important means of achieving superiority on the battlefield.

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