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Land Warfare in the Information Age

September 7, 2004

Change is all around us. Today, it is perhaps unparalleled in terms of the scope, scale and rapidity it has taken in many areas. Change is and has remained a fundamental characteristic of the conduct of land warfare in recent times. The advent of information technologies in the late 20th century has certainly blurred the lines of distinction between the strategic, operational and tactical levels of Land Warfare. It has also truncated the amount of time taken to reconnoiter, gain situational awareness, assess, pass orders and execute even the most complex of tasks. As information continues to pervade our environments in all of its varied dimensions, the question of constancy and relevancy of ground capabilities in the land domain of warfare has been raised.

While many aspects of land warfare are changing, some things remain constant. The following discussion is an attempt to highlight what we consider to be the three enduring elements of land warfare and then to explain how various aspects of the conduct of land warfare are changing within these elements. From our perspective, and arguably, the three primary elements of land warfare are the Algebraic, the Cognitive and the Moral. We will attempt to provide a more comprehensive discussion of these three elements in recent times and then address the impact of the information age on these particular areas.

The Algebraic or scientific, the Cognitive or psychological and the Moral or emotionaló these are the driving aspects of land warfare in the information age. In the Algebraic realm, mathematical calculations, such as those used in military road marches, artillery, engineering, communications and logistical factors, are a great strength of a conventional, well-resourced military. In the information age they are enhanced by information technology (IT), such as Global Positioning Systems, computers and the software that automates them. The Cognitive realm relates to the labyrinth of knowledge involving individual and social psychology, motivation, leadership and psychological operations, which are at constant play during land combat. Finally, there is the Moral, emotional and visceral element, how a Soldier feels or reacts to combat while in military units or while having his or her mettle tested. That element also includes the presence and influence of leaders in battle and in the important preparations for war.

Assuming that these are the enduring elements of warfare, but taking some time to define and discuss them further, are there significant changes in todayís information age that affect these three elements, especially where mass communications and other information capabilities Strategy . . . and tactics . . . seemed only points of view from which to ponder the elements of war, the Algebraical element of things, a Biological element of lives, and the Psychological element of ideas. T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph1 2 can generate a wide variety of activities and consequences? If so, what are the implications or insights to be gleaned from such a review? Is it possible that information itself has come to dominate land warfare to the exclusion of other factors? Could it be that information is merely the fabric of the tapestry or the soil for the seed? Or could information be one of the imperatives of its age, the missing factor in unifying and describing the nature of land warfare? Could information be, in fact, a principle of war in this new age? If so, what are the new rules or guidelines that emanate from such an insight? Does decentralization become more important than centralization? Is sharing information the key to success in land warfare?