Weapons that create and shape perceptions

Modern war is fought over strategic influence more than territory. Win the first and the second is gained easily. In this struggle, we are battling over perceptions and in the hyper-communications environment today, facts do not matter. We risk tactical and strategic success as we rely on a lawyerly conduct in war resting on finely tuned arguments of why and why not. Human nature in a crisis doesn't care about the finer points that exist further up Maslow's pyramid, human nature falls back on the quick response of emotions and are vulnerable to rumor and simple distortions, especially those reinforced over time.

Sharon Weinberger at Danger Room noted the government's concern over the potential for the Active Denial System in the war of ideas.

Not only did Pentagon officials refuse to send the controversial weapon to Iraq, they blocked a request that came as late as December 2006. The big concern is clearly the public fallout from deploying a microwave weapon.

Senior officers in Iraq have continued to make the case. One December 2006 request noted that as U.S. forces are drawn down, the non-lethal weapon "will provide excellent means for economy of force."

The main reason the tool has been missing in action is public perception. With memories of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal still fresh, the Pentagon is reluctant to give troops a space-age device that could be misconstrued as a torture machine.

"We want to just make sure that all the conditions are right, so when it is able to be deployed the system performs as predicted - that there isn't any negative fallout," said Col. Kirk Hymes, head of the Defense Department's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

As revolutionary as it is, the Active Denial System is not a sea-change in warfare. It's simply a hi-tech water cannon. There is, however, a sea-change in warfare coming that is not being accompanied with an equivalent discussion over the impact on perception, even though potential impact and repercussions are several orders of magnitude greater than the ADS.

It's interesting because my work on this sea-change does use much of the same branding principles found in a recent RAND report. No real details now because I don't want take away from a report-in-progress I presented as a working draft at a workshop a few weeks ago...