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On a digital battlefield

Ayon Tarafdar
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Soldiers fighting in Iraq were experiencing for the first time in the history of warfare, a highly digital approach, which was largely untested in practical grounds.

Way back in 6th century BC, a Chinese tactician Sun Tzu had said, “Know the enemy and know yourself: In a hundred battles, you will never know peril.” The hunger to know hasn’t yet been fully quenched. Even though the contemporary battlefields haven’t figured out exactly how to know the enemies ‘mind’, they have undoubtedly done most of the other things required to know the other’s territory. Capitalising on the well-pronounced edge in information and communication technology, there has been every attempt by the US to get an exceptional view of the prospective battlefield. Other than ‘victory’ as the outcome, this has definitely amassed some critical questions, specifically on the heavy emphasis on technology to execute war.

What made the difference?
Many of the technologies used or in use for warfare in Iraq have been actually available for years. Global Positioning Systems, precision locations, satellite imagery interpretations, 3 dimensional modelling and wireless communication were seen in the Gulf war too in 1991.

The emphasis of Pentagon is actually on a different shade. It claims that what is different now is the massive interlinking of all these techniques into a common platform and an easy distribution of this data to the appropriate field person. This war amalgamated this critical mass of technologies into a digitally networked battlefield.

The main antithesis that arises on this front is that heavy dependence on technology has its own unwanted implications too. A few highlights of the assertions and realities follows.

The technical claims
A number of strategically defined digital and technical processes have been claimed of in this warfare. However the utility of every of its components are yet to be totally clarified. A few key differences were –

State of the art communication kits
GPS, mobile connectivity, laptop/computers were disbursed strategically at different levels of operations. Fully equipped field soldiers behind enemy lines supposedly located targets using laser binoculars and GPS devices. He supposedly calculated coordinates for the target areas and transmitted the coordinates back to his commanders and the US Joint Operation Center in Qatar-via communication satellites.

Satellite-enhanced digital maps
Available with various hierarchies of battle front operators. Predator drone flying nearby, with a better view of the target, supposedly captured live video of the settings and transmitted it backto battlefield commanders and Qatar – via a communication satellite.