Thursday, October 26, 2006

Connectivity Lowers Price of Battlefield Info

Concerns about WMD proliferation are just one bit of a larger effect of globalization: Barnettian connectivity and market based efficiency in offer and delivery of off-the-shelf technology will have some interesting ramifications in the coming decades. Indeed, the Israeli-Hezbollah summer war was probably an example of this, more than merely an example Iranian state backing. The price of non-WMD weapons systems and related technologies is likely to fall -- and their accessibility to rise. Just how much we're potentially talking about is illustrated by a very interesting new Defense Tech column, written by Nicholas Weaver:
In the past, military technology might have consistently outpaced civilian gear. Not any more. Civilian electronics, manufacturing, and development cycles have radically shortened and improved. The computer which runs the F-22 is an absolute design marvel for its time, for example: 700 MIPS (Millions of Instructions per Second), approximately 300 Megabytes of memory, and some 20 billion DSP [digital signal processing] style operations. Yet its time was the late 80s and early 90s, when much of the hardware was finalized. Today, a Playstation 3 meets or exceeds this performance, for $600 instead of perhaps $30,000,000. (Of course, the F22's avionics are considerably more robust and presumably more reliable.)

Weaver's concrete example is the development of a networked multipath radar, based on cheap single components, with an extremely resilient structure as a result. Moreover, this radar can have some even more far-reaching characteristics:
If multipath radar is deployed by adversaries or potential adversaries, it could greatly affect US operations. Stealth aircraft based on scattering the signal are simply not stealthy to multipath radar. Worse, the transmitters are no longer co-located with the receivers and electronics. Thus anti-SAM and anti-radar tactics will need to be restructured, as simply blowing up the transmitters destroys valueless targets and an adversary could simply build more $500 transmitters than the US has anti-radiation missiles.

Finally, the same DSP processing and antenna infrastructure which forms a multipath radar also enables the defender to track radio sources, by detecting unique sources and using timing to triangulate their locations. Simple traffic analysis, knowing where your opponents are, can be invaluable for military strategists. Radio silence protocols would need to be strictly enforced and enhanced, which could also affect proposed "system of systems" technologies. A new technology can change the world. Multipath radar might change how the US military needs to operate, both in the air and on the ground. And the building blocks are in catalogs, now.
But perhaps one should make distinction between the price of weapon sysems and the price of weapons related systems. Here, on could speculate that the price of the former might not fall drastically (except in the case of some simple missile designs, but that sees to have been the case already), while the latter - because of the more typical dual-use origin of the components - might see a much bigger shift. One globalization driven consequence in this area would be a drastically lowered price on information, meaning that the C4ISR 'revolution' might not yield more than a slight advantage -- simply because the price of networked information collection and sharing will be so low that resilience grows to a point where it cannot be taken out. Which strategic implications would have to be drawn from such a change? More aggressive tactics?

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