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Technology vs grunts

13 November 2017

War in the 21st century is a far cry from the battles of WW1 and WW2.

The 20th century's wars were waged at a huge toll in human lives and relied very heavily on a sheer weight of numbers to overwhelm the enemy.

It wasn't until the nuclear bomb and the rise of air-power that technology became a deciding factor in armed conflicts.

Today, most of the wars being fought by developed nations (such as the USA) are more like a computer game for many of those involved.

Drone pilots sitting in an air-conditioned porta-cabin somewhere in the continental USA can surveil the battle-field, identify targets and obliterate them without breaking a sweat. What's more, they can be calmly sipping on a coffee throughout the entire process and take out dozens of enemy "insurgents" without spilling a drop of the tasty brown liquid.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

One could argue that the sanitisation of killing, through the use of technology, makes war an even more evil action.

For those who engage in combat whilst safely reclined, half a world away, there is no smell of blood, acrid charred flesh, no screams, no real awareness of the outcome of their button-pushing.

Remove those "human" elements of war and you have just a fancy computer game where you clock in at 8am, play the game and then clock out at 5pm.

Where is the empathy? Where is the humanity?

Of course there are also up-sides to such a hi-tech approach to war.

Far fewer of "the good guys" (apparently that's the side we are on) have their own lives placed at risk and the chances of being killed or subjected to the effects of post-traumatic stress are greatly reduced. The modern hi-tech combatant is more likely to suffer a paper-cut when filing his "end of mission report" than he is to be struck by a glancing bullet or fragment of shrapnel.

Given the success of the USA's hi-tech engagements with low-tech enemies, I wonder if they're not getting a little too cocky however.

I wonder what would happen if a low-tech enemy with large numbers of "grunts" (boots on the ground) was able to launch an effective EMP attack against gathered US forces and technology.

Would a few strategically placed nukes, designed specifically to "take out" the sophisticated and relatively vulnerable hi-tech systems on which the USA's armed forces increasingly rely, might even the odds rather dramatically.

If China were bought into conflict with the USA for instance, might their first move be to obliterate key American military satellites, effectively knocking out secure lines of communication -- and then deal critical blows to the defense infrastructure by detonating nukes over key locations -- perhaps tens or hundreds of Km above the ground. The resulting EMP could do massive damage to even the most well-protected electronic systems.

Without its hi-tech advantage, the USA could find itself incredibly vulnerable to a good old-fashioned "force of numbers" attack by a suitably populous nation with active conscription and a cache of WW2-era weapons. Hell, even Kimmy could have a go -- if he had enough food to keep his soldiers from fainting.

Of course we know that the ace-card up the USA's sleeve is its fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. Safely shielded by many metres of salty brine, the onboard systems in these craft would probably survive even the most aggressive EMP strike. However, their missiles would suffer greatly reduced accuracy, due to the loss of GPS signals and a reliance on inertial navigation systems. Then again... with a nuke, you don't really need pinpoint accuracy do you?

Ah... war. Mankind is so creative in finding ways to kill each other.

Today's question: Is hi-tech warfare a good or a bad thing when compared to the trench warfare of WW1 and the relatively low-tech battles of WW2?

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