On the phenomenon of senility. Or a further story of the New Model Forces. Part 2 (a fragment from “Wojna w kosmosie. Przewrót w geopolityce”)
Ultimately, the phenomenon of senility enhances geopolitical change by giving advantage to one side and taking it away from others.
Suppose, for example, that a rocket carried by an individual soldier is invented, which is very cheap and very effective at destroying enemy tanks. Let’s also assume that the development of these weapons does not require an advanced industrial base meaning that they can be mass-produced by less developed countries. As was the case with computers: invented in the United States, but now mass-produced – for example – in Malaysia.
What would be the geopolitical consequences of developing such weapons? Smaller nations with a disciplined elite and a productive-innovation force could produce the modern means of waging a very modern war. In this way, countries such as Israel, Poland, Turkey, and Singapore can become quite powerful.
The numerical development of the army in recent centuries has posed great challenges to the echelons of command in their entirety. How to command and control troops when they are out of sight? This management problem was made even deeper with the introduction of indirect fire weapons, such as a howitzer, which fires at high speed (the so-called “lob”), from beyond the vision of the artillery battery commander. This caused an intelligence crisis that affects all armed forces to this day.
Despite the appearances that everything is visible everywhere today and everything is clear, the Clausewitzian fog of war has increased exponentially on the modern battlefield in the face of enemy countermeasures, and the pace of actions and decisions has also increased. The introduction of airplanes made commanding an almost real-time decision-making process, and the battlefield became as large as planet Earth. What is needed to manage it is, simply, outer space. How can a commander be sure what he sees is real? How can he be sure that it remains true the moment he learns it by reconnaissance, especially when he commands forces that he cannot see and hear?
These questions are actually philosophical in nature, but the solutions must be based on technologies that generate on the battlefield a stable, resilient network. This is the heart of the battlefield on planet Earth. Many things are required to achieve this, but the key is space-based systems that are not burdened by the constraints of the Earth’s curvature. If we can see the target, it means we can strike safely without putting soldiers’ lives at risk. We are entering a time when weapons fired from one continent will aim themselves at a target on another continent in a few minutes and at a minimal cost. Hyper-intelligent, hypersonic, low-cost, and intercontinental weapons are just around the corner. Where guns were rather inaccurate, the new shells will be super accurate.
Interestingly, the new weapons will limit war in terms of both the scale and the destruction of non-war civilian targets. The era of total war is over. Literally in the space of a few years – from 1967 to 1973 – first at sea, then on land and in the air, new types of weapons proved their worth in battle. Still in a very primitive form, new intelligent weapons faced the old platforms and proved their worth. In three places and at different times – near Port Said in 1967, North Vietnam in 1972 and Sinai in 1973 – a new culture of war had emerged. A new age was born.
On 21st October 1967, at around 5:20 p.m., two Styx missiles were fired by Egyptian Soviet-produced Komar-class patrol ships. The target was the Israeli destroyer Eilat on a course not far from Port Said. In fact, the missiles were fired from inside the Port Said anchorage, some 15 nautical miles from the Israeli destroyer. They were fired in its direction and initially climbed to a height of 150 metres. About 7 nautical miles ahead of the target, the missiles activated their radars and located the destroyer. Shortly thereafter, the ship burst into flames almost immediately on impact, and three hours later sank after being hit by another rocket. For the first time in history, a ship had been destroyed solely by a ship-to-ship missile system.
On 27th April 27 1972, 12 F-4 Phantom fighters from the (US) 8th Tactical Fighter Wing based in Thailand were ordered to bomb the Thanh Hóa Bridge south of Hanoi. This bridge connected the seaports and railways of North Vietnam with South Vietnam. Had it been destroyed, North Vietnam would not have been able to replenish logistical supplies in its war with the south. Since 1967, hundreds of American planes had tried to destroy this bridge and it was still standing. On 27th April, only 12 planes were enough to destroy it. Eight of them carried 2,000-pound bombs, and the other four carried containers of jamming material in order to deceive North Vietnamese radars. Their goal was to protect the remaining aircraft from enemy surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns on the bridge. The explosives in the bombs were no different from those used before. Except that after being dropped, they were not subject only to the force of gravity. They were smart bombs that could improve their course as they descended towards the ground. Using a laser and an electro-optical guidance system, the Phantom Aircraft Weapons Officer aimed the bombs at the targets. Twelve aircraft were spectacularly successful, while previously hundreds could not impact the target. The Thanh Hóa Bridge was destroyed. Although too late to influence the outcome of the war, this remained a clear signal of the changing nature of warfare.
The revolution in land war began on the afternoon of 8th October 1973, in the northwest of Sinai, a place where, from antiquity, armies had been marching from East to West and West to East for thousands of years. When Egyptian forces crossed the canal, the next day they were already occupying most of Israel’s Bar-Lewa line in the Sinai. The Egyptian attack was a brilliant success, but the general feeling in the world was that the Egyptians had no chance of staying on a bridgehead beyond the canal. After all, they were up against one of the most capable armies in the world – the Israeli Tzahal. The result of the coming battle was described by Chaim Herzog as follows: “Towards noon, the Israeli forces approached the canal and were attacked by Egyptian troops: tanks and infantry clearly visible behind the fortifications.” The left-flank brigade battalion was attacking along the Firdan road and had almost reached the Israeli fortifications along the Suez Canal. At this point, hundreds of Egyptian soldiers emerged from behind the dunes around the fortifications and began firing anti-tank missiles at a fairly close range. The battalion commander was immediately wounded, and the battalion itself retreated, leaving 12 burning tanks behind. After 15 minutes, another part of the Israeli brigade was under fire from anti-tank missiles. The subdivision on the frontline reported that two of its tanks had been destroyed and that the deputy battalion commander was dead. In addition, concentrated rocket artillery fire constantly blocked the progress of enemy Tzahal tanks. Tank crews could no longer see more than a metre away due to the smoke and dust covering the entire area. When the tanks were almost 800 metres from the water table on the canal, volleys of anti-tank missiles fell on them. Israeli tanks exploded one by one. Out of the entire unit, only four of them were able to withdraw from the hell they had entered. In short, the 190th Armoured Brigade attacked the infantry positions and was destroyed. A new era was born.
These three events mark the end of the era of blast projectiles. Guns were, of course, much better than arm-force projectiles such as the javelin or the bow, but they were inaccurate. The solution to this problem was the mass armies of the 19th and 20th centuries.
In Port Said and Sinai, a gun mounted on a combat platform met a new weapon that was highly accurate, initiating a new military culture and a new way of waging war. Before that, for two centuries, war had been an endeavour that required the involvement of the entire society and its economy, drawing on the wealth of entire continents. Countries smaller than the US or the Soviet Union were simply not big enough — they had too few people, minerals and factories to put up the troops necessary for modern warfare.
In fact, in the industrial war, the battlefield grew so large and expansive, devouring resources, that the fuel and food for the military itself became a logistical spectre, and the military’s logistic group became larger than its combat portion. All this way of fighting has already been included in the senility process. It still worked or, as some believe, it still works, but at a huge economic and organisational cost. Even the Russians have figured out that the old model is untenable and have consequently carried out reforms since 2008 under Serdyukov and Shoygu, so that now they have a completely different army than in the 20th century.
Suddenly, rockets that are carried by a small ship or a few planes, or even by infantry, are capable of destroying powerful behemoths on the battlefield — giant ships, huge tanks, powerful bridges — with relatively simple and inexpensive weapons. The era of total war is over. The era of a new type of war, a new generation of war, often resembling the so-called cabinet wars before the time of the mass army introduced by the French revolution. Additionally, there is now competition in cyberspace, information warfare, competition in the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. navigation war, and various activities resulting from the impact on the daily strategic flows. This contributes to the minor impact of the new generation war on the mass consciousness of society, while at the same time having a huge impact on the way a modern state and economy function. This new kind of war, reminiscent of the old cabinet wars, requires a much greater understanding of its mechanisms by politicians and, given the pace of events resulting from the IT revolution, requires their direct participation, understanding, and even actions that are not so much reactive as anticipatory. The civilian sphere is mixed with the military, and the activities concern the entire broadly understood state immune system, where military kinetic activities are only a component.
Firearms dehumanised war due to their range, scale and inaccuracy, resulting in the killing of many bystanders. They were fired without seeing what and whom they were hitting. There were many victims and they were often not seen. With the advent of precision weapons, the victims are also invisible (except for information warfare), but there will be fewer of them. This important event in human history, especially after the tragedy of total wars — from the Napoleonic era to both world wars and later revolutions — is nothing new in military matters. For example, the invention of a composite bow consisting of wood and tendons around 2000 BC allowed soldiers to fire projectiles further and more accurately. Armed archers, chariots, or horseback archers became a formidable force on the battlefield and became the basis of the power of the Persian Empire. Another revolution was needed for heavily armed Greek hoplites organised in a phalanx formation to stop the Persians at Marathon.
The weak horse-chariot and archer system over time began to generate challenges and costs, and there were terrain restrictions for horse fighting and the use of the chariot. Other weaknesses emerged as more advanced methods of warfare were introduced. Likewise, the limitation of human vision and ballistic missile range imposed the logic of sight on tanks. Once broken, the tank loses its utility unless it finds a new role as simply an effector in the distributed battlefield system in the detection and fire network.
Expanding the depth of the battlefield thanks to sensors and effectors renders the tank gun in the line of sight an obsolete weapon. The sensor revolution that took place in the 1980s as part of the Reagan Star Wars made the tank too visible, and therefore too vulnerable, and therefore too expensive to survive on the battlefield. Now it is quite difficult to permanently hide a tank (especially a larger armoured unit in motion) and its thermal emission, which can be seen from space. Of course, you can use camouflage, including meshes that reduce thermal emission.
A vehicle so large and warm, set in motion that would make it effective on the battlefield, in the event of a confrontation with a modern enemy with satellites and sensors in the air, will be noticed by one of these sensors anyway. If not even by a satellite in a low orbit time window, then by a communication or electronic monitoring platform in space (COMMINT or ELINT). The options for tracking the enemy on Earth are various: imaging visible light transmitted by electro-optical systems; light amplification systems that increase the visible light a thousandfold, making it visible almost in the dark; laser – a narrow beam of visible light that is used to mark the point at which missiles are heading, and which obtains approach angle and distance data and other information on the target’s condition; infrared observations by locating the heat source; SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) reconnaissance – used by some satellites and reconnaissance planes to locate tanks that are hidden or entrenched, millimetre wave radar (L-band) that can recreate images of objects invisible to the human eye – especially indicated for circulating ammunition or precision missiles that aim at targets that are invisible at the time of launch. Finally, acoustic sensors targeting the sound of the tank’s engine. Incredible layers of data collected by numerous sensors and in various ways are available to the side that is modern and wants to destroy the enemy tank. The only question is how to use all this data to destroy the tank.
Let’s consider such a scenario. A low-orbit satellite using radar reconnaissance moves in orbit over the assigned area and, as a result, identifies the area of concentration of tanks. This information is transmitted via a relay satellite to a theatre commander who orders aerial drones to travel over the battlefield 20,000 metres above the ground. They are equipped with a whole set of sensors of various types: optical, infrared, radar recognition. The drones scan the Earth’s surface and transmit data to a communications satellite traveling high above the Kármán Line, which then passes the data through a number of relay satellites to a command station on Earth located several hundred kilometres from the battlefield. Analysts and computers identify a battalion combat group moving towards combat contact with infantry and special forces operators. The commander in the theatre of operations, having several options for selecting the effectors, selects a cruise missile fired from a submarine, which after launch confirms its position in flight thanks to the GPS signal from a satellite in a medium Earth orbit. The missile receives a dataset including the target’s coordinates and accelerates towards the target’s location. As it approaches the attack area, the cruise missile releases circling sub-ammunition and changes course to an airport several hundred kilometres away. Sub-ammunition shells scan the area, locate tanks, maneuver in the striking direction of the tanks, and each shell has a more than a 50% chance of destroying a tank.
All this time, the tank is not able to threaten the missiles that are flying towards it to destroy it. And at the very end, it may only try to dodge or possibly have a very expensive Active Defence system, but it may be defeated by the direction, scale and number of attacking projectiles. A tank can only defend itself, but it cannot destroy the entire offensive system that is about to destroy this tank. The offensive system in question is an end-to-end network system several thousand kilometres wide, deep and high, connected by data flows between space and Earth, air and space, between satellites and drones, between sensors and command centres.
When the Americans announced the creation of the US Space Force in December 2019, President Trump spoke a lot about space domination. Americans want to dominate the orbits above the Kármán Line and become the “guardians” of the new World Ocean, and therefore its military hegemon, the arbiter of the rules of using strategic flows of data, people, goods, raw materials, technology, investments and knowledge. This will happen in parallel with the transformation of the battlefield on Earth described above. From mass to precision, from the necessity to concentrate forces to information dominance and dispersion. The breakthrough comes thanks to the presence in outer space and the control of this convenient position towering over the Earth’s battlefield.