War has changed since Dad flew a Navy PB-4Y over the Pacific. Then, although the radio operator sometimes had contact with a base, you were still largely on your own. Now, in Afghanistan and other hotspots, there is a narrative scroll.
In WW2, more than any other war, soldiers and seaman just disappeared. When we were kids, sitting around the supper table, Dad used to tell us stories about flying over the ocean, and about how important it was to know where you were and where you were going. Even today, losing radio contact with a plane or ship is a serious thing. However, with the rise of UAVs and differential GPS that has been changing. In a recent article on the Michael Yon blog called Spitting Cobra, he makes a passing reference at the end to medics who sit in their base cafeteria and react instantly to the “narrative scroll” when a firefight starts. Narrative scroll? If you Google that, you get stuff about Chinese art… what is he talking about? Glad you asked.
He’s talking about netcentric warfare. Basically, this is making every soldier part of an integrated, on-demand communications network which leverages all that everyone knows about the battle in order to fight better. Hence, those medics sipping coffee in their command post were watching battles unfolding in real time on a computer display (made possible by wireless mesh networks, UAVs and satellites). When a squad commander reported engagement and casualties, they didn’t need an order– they were already sprinting to the helo pad and powering up before their superiors could react. Another aspect of this real time communications network is Mr. Yon’s description of artillery shells that use differential GPS to land on a parked car from 20 miles away. A third example is the upcoming virtual minefield. Instead of covering an area with buried mines, Metal Storm “prints” a grid onto the area by shooting a mesh network of sensors which link back to it and to each other wirelessly. If anyone steps into the grid, the base (using signals from the sensors) quickly lobs a mortar onto the target. In production versions, this can be done almost continuously, and can be tied into other networks to anticipate and attack more distant threats. Finally, in the more distant future, airborne solid-state lasers will be able to use all kinds of remote sensors and targeting systems to destroy ICBMs in the boost phase (when they are still going slowly) and thereby provide the first truly effective defense against conventional nuclear attack.
Beginning to sound like Star Wars, isn’t it? The fact remains, however, that warfighting effectiveness will always depend most on the quality & bravery of the soldiers on the field. Technology might give us more power, and history is full of battles won through a technological advantage. Victory, however, will always come from the Lord. May we as a people never forget this. With that in mind, remember to pray for our pilots, seaman and soldiers fighting wars far away.