Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article that stated Shiite insurgent groups were hacking the video signals of US drones. It’s nothing new. It happened in Kosovo too. People who scanned satellite signals were able to watch live feed video from drones. The Pentagon’s known about this problem for years, but decided that the threat of enemy exploitation was minimal.
It is, admittedly, unlikely that insurgents could use the real-time video to make tactically decisive movements on the battlefield, especially in the remote mountain areas of Pakistan where terrain association is difficult. One can only imagine the, “Hey, that’s us!” moment before a Hellfire missile strikes the sneaky extremists.
America’s enemies are trying to exploit any weakness they kind find in her armor. Iran, North Korea and China employ fully devoted cyber warriors whose mission is the penetration of military databases, financial institutes, power grids and industrial combines.
While it’s easy to be dismissive of small time hackers and even state sponsored cyber attacks, a look at the recent war in Georgia should remind us that professional hackers will play a larger role in the wars of tomorrow than most would care to admit. In Georgia, Russian cyber attacks on various government websites disrupted communications.
The US Army has responded by developing a new “Electronic Warfare Specialist” MOS. Though most of the responsibilities of this new MOS will be targeted at ground operations and tactical situations, there are rumors that the soldiers will receive some training in hacking as well as be issued small computers. One can’t help but think of the “cyberdecks” in William Gibson’s post modern sci fi novel, Neuromancer.
Neuromancer presents some very interesting ideas. Humans “jacking into the system” and using thought controlled graphics to manipulate programs and administer virus, stealing information, even controlling remote devices. There were of course consequences. Black Ice, or retributive programs were sometimes employed by corporations or the military. These programs were capable of injuring or even killing the hackers.
I don’t think cyber warfare will ever reach the levels of Neuromancer. Were corporations or military combines threatened by armies of advanced hackers to the point where they could no longer properly protect themselves, they would simply remove their data bases from the net. Granted, this would be a huge nuisance. Communication would be stilted. Still, it would be better than the other options.
What I do believe is that America’s enemies will continue to attack our weaknesses, not our strengths. We’ve seen the difficulties presented even a powerful army in areas like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the media is now part of the battlefield, and to some extant determines a fight’s outcome. Russia and China in particular have no qualms about thinking outside the box. I believe in some ways, that our conventional superiority has stunted our flexibility.
The electromagnetic spectrum presents more vulnerabilities. China has developed a family of “Assassin’s Mace” technology, or technology that is designed to mitigate the technical superiority of a foe. Electro Magnetic Pulse Weapons, scrambling devices and satellite killers are the order of the day.
Our foes must find inexpensive ways to deal with our exotic weapons. As long as the Pentagon keeps this in mind, and knows that war is about people, not gadgets, America will remain the king of the battlefield. Politicians and fantastical dreamers may long for bloodless war, but we know from history that merely destroying infrastructure and military equipment is not enough to bring victory. Berlin lay flatter than a shadow but the Nazis fought on. Only when the Russians entered the city–a Red swarm extracting a terrible vengeance– did the regime crumble. It’s a sad truth that with a butcher’s job comes blood–and lots of it.
Let us believe for a moment that future warriors will not wear muddy boots and kevlars, but virtual reality helmets and Vans. They may pilot drones of extraordinary capabilities, or perhaps robotic walkers or tanks, from thousands of miles from the battlefield. They may control satellites that rain destruction. First these robots will have to meet the enemy’s robots. Should the enemy’s equipment be destroyed, they will then begin the hunt for humans. Idealists will say that they’ve already won the battle, since the enemy’s capability to wage war has been destroyed. But if history is a lesson, we know that without human pain, there is no victory in war. The robots could be directed at enemy nerve centers, such as the areas that the cyber warriors work and control their deadly tools. However, since these command and control areas are likely to be well hidden and probably underground, it’s more likely that the only way an army could apply enough pain would be to attack civilian populations.
The soldier plays the Voodoo doll for his country. Instead of needles, he absorbs bullets. The physical pain he experiences is transferred as psychic pain to the civilians. When the soldiers take enough bullets, the countrymen crumble with the war fighters.
When there are no soldiers–no Voodoo doll–there is only the civilian upon which to unleash the horrors that only a soldier knows.