Networks at War

Being something of a military buff, I’ve been following trends in warfare during the past decade with a great deal of interest. Particularly fascinating is the application of networks to the ways in which wars are fought. Here, the term “network” has a couple of meanings: the human network in which information is rapidly disseminated and acted upon, and the technologies and strategies that enable this coordination.

With regard to the latter, entire military doctrines recently have been formulated around the notion of using networks to fight wars. Enabled by increasingly sophisticated networking technologies, leaders in the U.S. Armed Forces began to develop the concept of network-centric warfare in the late 1990s. It quickly gained support in the United States and the militaries of its Western allies due to its potential to revolutionize battlefield operations.

The reason it caught on so quickly is the fact that most 20th-century wars involving developed countries were characterized by massive armies — as well as air and sea forces — clashing on battlefields that covered hundreds of square miles. Because of limited communications and logistics abilities, the results were often messy, with uncoordinated assaults that caused wanton destruction of military machines and infrastructure and unnecessary high losses in military and civilian lives.

Network-centric warfare offered something different: Precision weapons, speedy logistics, omnipresent battlefield intelligence and advanced communications rolled together in a unified network could act as a “force multiplier.” This enabled a relatively small but cohesive military unit to concentrate on strategic…



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