Thursday, August 6, 2009

Remote Controlled Mayhem Doesnt Win Wars

Remote-controlled mayhem does not win wars.

by Williams S Lind

Van Creveld’s book Technology and War, a historical survey, concludes that very few wars have been decided by technology. Boyd sums up the reason: “Weapons don’t fight wars, people do, and they use their minds.”
One consequence of this fact is that most high-tech weapons systems have simple, low-tech counters. A classic example comes from the “McNamara Line” in the Vietnam War, a collection of high-tech sensors in the jungles that was supposed to pick up any Viet Cong movements. One sophisticated sensor was designed to detect human odors. The VC countered it by hanging buckets of urine in trees.
The Taliban’s most successful counter to the Predator is of similar simplicity. They make sure that when they gather and thus provide a good target, they have plenty of women and children around. In effect, they say, “Go ahead, make my day.”
Because complex weapons are expensive, they are usually in service for a long time, sometimes decades. Soon after their introduction, most if not all of their operating characteristics are known, especially in the age of the Internet. Our opponents can invent and deploy generations of simple countermeasures during the lifetime of one high-tech system. They are “outcycling us,” in Boydian terms: they can go through many cycles of observing, orienting, deciding, and acting against our systems while the systems go through only a single cycle. Boyd argued that there are few more certain prescriptions for defeat.
In contrast, simple systems, such as those our Fourth Generation opponents rely on, can go through many Boyd cycles in a comparatively short time. We see this face on display in Iraq and Afghanistan with the deadly weapon we face, the Improvised Explosive Device. Our opponents continually and rapidly invent and deploy new generations of IED, with new warhead designs, triggering mechanisms, and camouflage techniques. The U.S. has a multibillion-dollar top-priority program to counter them, most of it focused on high-tech solutions. (Again, think budget justification.) It has had small successes, but if you ask many of our troops what their mission is, they reply, “Driving around and waiting to get blown up.”

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