Information superiority?

The Western nations enjoyed many advantages in most of the past decades' wars. Initiative, technology, air superiority - sometimes even superior numbers.
Two advantages were added in the past two decades; information superiority and minimal dispersion of some bomb and artillery shell types.

But what's information superiority?

The mainstream perception seems to be that our superior sensors and our ability to exploit air superiority for reconnaissance removed a great deal of the fog of war for us while the enemy remains almost blind.
Well, this point of view has merits, but great advantages provoke strong reactions/countermeasures.

It won't be so simple when we ever have to fight a competent opponent. The art of camouflage, concealment and deception was well-used by the Serbs in 1999 and reduced the tactical air strikes' effects (forget the contemporary reports about NATO successes; the majority of destroyed "tanks" and "artillery pieces" were likely decoys).

Many important reconnaissance and surveillance assets might be much less survivable in major war than they seemed to be so far. AEW and SAR/GMTI radar planes can be hunted with extreme range SAMs and AAMs of Russian origin and they could be sabotaged on their base (they're especially susceptible to light mortar fire). Overflight reconnaissance drones like the Predator/Reaper family and gunships (modified transport aircraft) have only marginal survivability even against outdated air defenses. They cannot persist, instead would be limited to the same time windows as strike packages (fighters/bombers/wild weasels) at most.

But our advantages don't only provoke countermeasures that diminish these advantages - we are also prone to carelessness.

The whole networking approach of ground forces requires a lot of radio traffic, whereas phone lines and couriers aren't used much.
There's no way how we could reliably prevent that this radio traffic compromises many of our positions and movements, though. The necessary sensors to locate electro-magnetic transmitters (radar sensors, radio comm and respective jammers) are entirely passive and can use temporary phone lines to transmit their findings without compromising signatures (classic SigInt).

Another problem is that ground forces who enjoy air superiority historically never cared much about camouflage and concealment against observation from air. They don't see a need to do so 'because the enemy won't be able to attack them from the air anyway'.
This could be a deadly mistake in combination with often rather weak field anti-air firepower (also a result of trust in Western air superiority).
The opponent could use small, low-tech UAVs for aerial photography. Many developing countries can design and build such cheap craft with cameras - only infra-red or radar sensors are challenging components. You cannot really shoot down small UAVs with machine guns - and it would be futile to jam their radio link if they are flying on auto-pilot and can transmit their sensor data after recovery. We can also not expect our fighters to engage thousands of cheap UAVs at 1,500 ft altitude - our fighters were simply not built or optimized for this and would likely not be able to counter 20-minute saturating waves of small UAVs.
Even if our fighters attempted to deplete the enemy of small UAVs - older AAMs would be unreliable against these small aircraft and new AAMs are typically not available in huge quantities. Production of small UAVs can be extremely cheap (if in quantity production and not gold-plated) - their quantity might render the fighter's efforts futile.

More examples can be imagined; like NVG-equipped infantry sometimes doesn't use other methods to sense the opponent other than their night sights anymore or unfavorable terrain (hills, forest, urban) that in itself diminishes our sensor's and radio's utility.

It might happen that the information asymmetry is much less favorable than usually expected once we confront really competent opponents who adapted their capabilities to counter ours.

Sven Ortmann


  1. What total horseshit! That's English for pferdescheisse.

  2. I prefer another level of conversation, Mister courageous.

  3. Mr. Courageous12 May 2008 at 19:26

    You don't have much of a choice, as nobody else reads your gibberish, Mr. Blowhard.
    But keep on with your writing, it is certainly very amusing.

  4. I feel better informed about my site and e-mail traffic than you are.

    Keep in mind that this is just a blog, not a collection of comprehensive papers. Inadequacies are unavoidable and some things are lost in translation. I only poke at one point at a time, ignoring most others for once.