Editor's Desk | Technology's limits

Thomas R. Temin

Watching the suspended war between Israel and the terrorist organization operating out of Lebanon ought to have U.S. military leaders reviewing their net-centric warfare doctrine. They should be a little less optimistic and way more skeptical about what the doctrine can deliver strategically.

An underlying assumption in the build-out of applications and communications for net-centricity is this: Technical superiority is a trump card in warfare.

But there are two problems with over-reliance on technology. First, what if governments rely so much on technology that planning and attention to basics suffer? And what if the enemy can also acquire technology sufficient to neutralizing one's own?

And then there's the wild-card element: What if the enemy's doctrine and tactics are such that your own technical superiority doesn't matter? For example, quartering gunmen and rocket launchers among civilians precisely for the PR effect of the CNN cameras?

The resilience shown by terrorists in southern Lebanon in the face of Israel's bombardment and tank assaults has been enhanced by sophisticated network communications. Besides their rockets and armor-piercing weaponry, they also have distributed, networked communications tools and superior knowledge of the terrain.
In Iraq, it almost seems as if the enemy allowed the broken-field dash to Baghdad in 2003 so that the highly networked insurgency, with its high-powered explosives, could pounce on our rather thin forces.

Products and services for computing and communications are increasingly commercial and cheap, which means that anyone can buy them, even'and especially'terrorists. So everyone on both sides has them.

Thus the slogging quality of both conflicts, which neither the U.S. nor Israel anticipated.

To fight and win the nation's wars, the Defense Department needs to keep technology, and what it can deliver, in perspective. Don't oversell it, and don't presume it can somehow neutralize the basics.


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