21 February 2017

** A Glimpse Of Warfare’s Future, Today


WASHINGTON: Building seamless ties between US and allied forces is a dream long held and oft delayed. Allowing a friendly foreign commander to call in pinpoint US airstrikes simply, reliably and quickly with a phone is exactly the kind of military miracle science fiction and military visionaries have dreamt of since at least the late 1990s.

The current edition of PRISM, the official publication of the National Defense University’s Center for Complex Operations offers this intriguing example of what will doubtless become the future of warfare, for us, our enemies and our competitors:

“The Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Ground Force Commander surveys the farmland in front of him. His unit of ISOF soldiers has just captured two ISIL Commanders (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) at a house 50 kilometers from Baghdad—far enough away to put this unit in danger of being overrun if ISIL fighters respond quickly. He knows that his enemies must have received the call to arms only minutes ago, and are on the way to his location.

“He commands his soldiers to be prepared for contact at any moment while he pulls out his cell phone. As cell phones go, this is a good one. He holds one of the newest Samsung Galaxy Note phones, but it is more than just a phone for this Commander—his device is securely linked back to U.S. special operations advisors. He quickly pulls up the MyTrax application and types out a quick message to his Operations Center: ‘Jackpot,’ he has captured his high value targets for this mission. As soon as he hits ‘send,’ he hears the staccato pop of gunfire to his left.

ISIL has arrived with what sounds like at least 20 fighters. Taking cover with his phone still in his hand, he taps a location for the enemy force and hits “share.” An enemy infantry icon pops onto the screen on his phone, as well as every other connected phone that his subordinate leaders are carrying. The operations center receives this icon too, and the American special forces soldiers advising this mission in Baghdad start preparing for a close air support request. The Iraqi Commander taps the screen on his phone again to bring up the 9-line air support request form, quickly entering the data for the enemy force and sending it immediately to his American advisors in the operations center. Fifteen minutes later, a Coalition F-16 arrives and drops multiple bombs directly on the target—all remotely and thoroughly coordinated by Coalition special operations advisors and fires elements. With the brief respite, the Iraqi Commander gathers his force, packs up his detainees, and returns to Baghdad before more ISIL fighters can arrive. His mission is a success.

“Only 10 years ago, this brief vignette would have been consigned to the pages of science fiction or futurist military thrillers, but it is now the reality on the ground in Iraq. Similar scenarios play out every week with U.S.- and Coalition-advised ISOF troops taking the lead in combat operations using cellular communications systems that link them back to their Coalition advisors.”

The article was written by Majors Christopher Thielenhaus and Eric Roles, both Special Forces officers at the Naval Postgraduate School, and William Traeger, a retired Special Forces sergeant major now the chief of technology operations at Special Operations Command Central. So they know whereof they speak. While their focus is, understandably, on the immediate benefits of the communications and network technologies combined with US kinetic capabilities, it is only a matter of time before Hezbollah, the Quds Force and others cobble together similar gear and use it to bring in their own — so far — inferior kinetic assets. A luta continua.

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