Winning (and Losing) the First Wired War

[wikilike_img src=|align=thumb tcenter|width=295|caption=|url=] writes on a digital divide, of sorts, that has put a strangle-hold on the theory that with communication, command and control tethered via digital networks, the armed forces of America would be more effective at conquering soverign states. Such is turning out not to be entirely the case. Most of the command units are able to make use of these networks, but evidently their effectivity plummets because units taking care of firing and dodging bullets and IEDs are off the grid, largely. And yesterday I heard a news story about two armored fighting units that could not communicate with each other — despite the fact that they were only a few meters away. Why? Incompatible communications gear. The radios were literally incompatible. Boggling, but maybe not so much considering the proprietary nature of so much of the gear.

To the US Forces pre-breakup AT&T, the insurgency is playing John Draper aka Cap’n Crunch.

Winning (and Losing) the First Wired War:

This war in Iraq was launched on a theory: That, with the right communication and reconnaissance gear, American armed forces would be quicksilver-fast and supremely lethal. A country could be conquered with only a fraction of the soldiers needed in the past.

During the initial invasion in March 2003, this idea of “network-centric warfare” worked more or less as promised — even though most of the frontline troops weren’t wired up. It was enough that the commanders were connected.

But now, more than three years into the Iraq conflict, the network is still largely incomplete. Local command centers have a torrent of information pouring in. But, for soldiers and marines on the ground, this war isn’t any more wired that the last one. “There is a connectivity gap,” a draft Army War College report notes. “Information is not reaching the lowest levels.”

And the insurgency has taken on a hacker sensibility:

And that’s a problem, because the insurgents are stitching together their own communications network. Using throwaway cellphones and anonymous e-mail accounts, these guerrillas rely on a loose web of connections, not a top-down command structure. And they don’t fight in large groups that can be easily tracked by high-tech command posts. They have to be hunted down in dark neighborhoods, found amid thousands of civilians, and taken out one by one.

Why do I blog this? Institutions like the military, while barely prone to the social practice adoptions that one finds in democratic formations, in many ways test some of the directions that open society social practices can go under particular situations. Could this be an indicator of how net neutrality plays out if networks get all gummmed up with non-open standards and proprietary protocols?

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