Better tech isn't always the answer

See Noah's post earlier this month on NavSec Winter's comments at the DARPATech:

...he just informed the 3,000 geeks gathered at the DARPATech conference in Anaheim that all their gee-whiz gadgetry may not help at all in the war on terror. 

There’s a tendency to view Islamists as backwards barbarians, Winter said.  This image is “misleading and very dangerous.”  The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”

Growth in commercial computing power has “eroded” America’s Cold War “technical edge,” Winter said.  The same – or even better – gear gets out to kids worldwide, before soldiers ever see it.  “The playing field has thus been leveled.”  Just look at how Iraqi insurgents have been able to the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda. And check out the network-like "command and control" structures that these guys are using, compared to our old military hierarchies. 

There is more here than command and control, it goes to understanding the value and purpose of technologies. Without an R&D budget that exceeds the GNP's of many countries as well as the entire defense budgets of many of our allies, we look for the magic bullet in technology, an American tradition.

There is a "global bazaar" of ideas is spot on in showing how collaboration, informal or not, leads to innovation and refinement of tactics, training, and procedures to create best practices of sorts in local regions. However, understanding the mechanics of the bazaar is only a small part of the solution. Understanding why it works leads to the solution.

But after six years of fighting a variety of enemies conveniently (to keep it simple for US domestic politics) lumped together, we have yet to really grasp how they grow and gain strength let alone operationalize methods and tools to counter and reverse their success. We still fail to understand and identify the core attractiveness that makes them sustainable operations. It isn't their ability to innovate, but the propaganda they generate from their actions as if playing to stock holders or more appropriately constituents. These groups, while collaborating on one level, are in competition on other levels, even those participating in AQ's franchise model.

The implicit, if unacknowledged point of the SecNav's comments is the enemies understands the holistic value of its projects and applies its limited budget appropriately. It doesn't (and of course there are exceptions on both sides) seek products for the "domestic" wiz-bang but for their value in their fight, a fight over perceptions. Perceptions have the power to modify tactics and policies, which in our case, has the potential of turning into a death spiral of reduced effectiveness if we don't pay attention (see IEDs as Weapons of Strategic Influence for more, but incomplete, discussion on this point). 

When deploying new technologies, are we looking at how they will play in the information sphere? How they will manipulate perceptions and public opinion? Both are measures of the real effectiveness of the weapon in current and future conflicts that under massive influence from propaganda.

On a lighter (and related if tangentially) note, check out the new gear the kids are getting before the soldiers.  

15_AF_Oper_06Major Mac and Captain Cliff are a legendary team in the annals of Mighty World’s Armed Forces. Now that they have the very latest in high-tech battle gear at their disposal, that legend is sure to grow. Mac and Cliff’s newest gadget is an RDS (Robotic Defense System), a multi-purpose weapons system that can track incoming missiles and blast them from the sky just as easily as it can defend against land-based threats.

The RDS operates alongside soldiers in the field and can be sent into insecure areas to tidy up before troops follow. More dexterous than a human arm, and faster than a speeding bullet, the RDS can go places and do things unthinkable just a few years ago. Equipped with a highly flexible 6 wheel independent suspension and a multi-purpose weapon mount, it’s virtually unstoppable in even the roughest terrain and truly versatile.

For more, see Mighty World™ - Special Operations Unit

Don't forget this post as the holidays get closer...