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Vulnerabilities of high-tech warfare

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    The Inherent Vulnerabilities of Technology: Insights from the National
    Training Center's Opposing Force

    by Colonel John D. Rosenberger, U.S. Army


    Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

    To the 2,500 troopers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing
    Force (OPFOR) at the U.S. Army's National Training Center (NTC), it came as
    no surprise to watch the 3d Serbian Army march back into Serbia virtually
    unscathed by the relentless attacks of NATO air power during the Kosovo
    conflict this past year. Moreover, it came as no surprise to see the Serbian
    Army employ a wide variety of physical and electronic deception techniques,
    remain tactically well-dispersed, and hide their combat systems in the
    infrastructure of cities and villages to preserve their combat power.

    This is old news to the combined-arms team of the NTC's Opposing Force.
    These same Serbian adaptations have been learned and employed successfully by
    the OPFOR at the NTC since 1994-adaptive countermeasures critical to
    preserving combat capability at the tactical level of war against the
    impressive array of intelligence collection and attack technologies employed
    by America's joint team. Moreover, this is only one of several insights the
    OPFOR can provide into the limitations and vulnerabilities of the current
    warfighting technology that underpins America's style of warfare in the 21st

    Limitations and Vulnerabilities of Air Power and Reconnaissance Platforms

    (Slide 2)

    In the past six years, the NTC OPFOR has exposed many limitations and
    vulnerabilities inherent to the warfighting technologies our joint services
    are currently pursuing. Moreover, they've learned to defeat them just like
    any adaptive and savvy opponent will do-just as the Serbian Army did this
    past year. In my view, these vulnerabilities that we have exposed are
    compelling, not simply to make smarter technological investments in the years
    ahead, but equally important, ensure we do not forfeit combat effectiveness,
    the ability to deter, or the ability to quickly defeat our enemies at both
    the operational and tactical levels of war in the years ahead.

    To begin with, we have learned that active and passive force protection
    measures are vital to preserving combat power against asymmetric
    technologies, asymmetric in this case meaning some technological capability
    that provides a decisive advantage over an opponent in combat. For example,
    cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs, satellite reconnaissance systems, high
    altitude reconnaissance aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles have provided
    us an asymmetric combat advantage over all our opponents this past decade.

    In response to these capabilities, we have learned that thermal deception,
    vehicle and unit dispersion, decoys of all types, camouflage, concealment,
    and electronic deception are vital means and ways to protect and preserve our
    ground combat power. Furthermore, the OPFOR has learned that air power and
    overhead intelligence acquisition systems have significant limitations and
    are inherently vulnerable to deception-even in desert and mountainous
    terrain. And by extension, even more so in densely forested areas and
    jungles, not to mention complex and urban terrain.

    Take fixed-wing attack aircraft. It is not difficult to survive against the
    existing suite of joint close air support aircraft (F-16, F-18, A-10, and
    equivalents), attacking at altitudes above 15,000 feet, even in the desert.
    Given the target acquisition capability and the speed in which these aircraft
    fly, target acquisition and target recognition at these altitudes is
    difficult at best. We have learned that if we limit our movement, don't
    create dust clouds, remain tactically dispersed, use camouflage, and employ
    decoy equipment, we will absorb few losses to fixed wing attack above 15,000
    feet-the same methodology of force protection the Serbian Army and
    para-military forces employed in the dense forests, cities, and villages in

    By using a combination of these force protection techniques, the
    effectiveness of high-altitude, fixed-wing attack against ground forces can
    be limited and thereby endured. Moreover, this ability to eliminate the
    effectiveness of high-altitude fixed-wing attack, in turn, places an even
    higher value on overhead target acquisition platforms like satellites,
    JSTARS, and unmanned aerial vehicles. And as we have learned, these
    overhead intelligence collection systems-the operators and analysts-are
    inherently easy to deceive.

    Take reconnaissance satellites in low earth orbit. Given our experience, it
    takes about 18 hours to complete the targeting process using these
    sensors-from acquisition, to imagery analysis, to integration into the ATO,
    to effective attack. Consequently, we've learned to move critical combat
    systems every 10-12 hours to protect them and keep them in the fight.
    Frequent survivability moves, in small packets of vehicles are an essential
    technique to employ to preserve combat power.

    Or take JSTARS. This impressive Air Force reconnaissance system, providing
    both Moving Target Indicator data and Synthetic Aperture Radar images, is
    able to acquire and track moving vehicles within a 10,000 sq/nm area,
    depending on weather and terrain conditions. Under the right conditions,
    this formidable capability can provide commanders at many levels a near-real
    time appreciation of the enemy's size, strength, composition, movements, or
    the array of forces throughout a Joint Forces Commander's battlespace.
    Mountainous terrain and weather degrade its capability, but it still remains
    an invaluable instrument of war for both tactical and operational commanders.
    However, we have learned how to deceive the operators and analysts behind
    the JSTAR screens, and leverage them to set conditions for success.

    Since JSTARS cannot reliably acquire and define the composition and types of
    vehicles in a column of vehicles, the OPFOR routinely organizes
    battalion-size truck columns, perhaps led by 2-3 armored vehicles, all
    dragging 20-30 ft. lengths of concertina wire. This column, easily acquired
    by JSTARS, is then employed along an expected route of march towards the
    enemy. This imaginative technique is aimed at deceiving the enemy commander
    as to our intended point of attack or main effort. Being told that this is
    an armored column by his JSTAR data analyst, the enemy commander will
    typically react and shift targeting assets, or his mobile reserves to
    interdict the advance. This technique in offensive operations can be used
    to create a weakness in the enemy's defense permitting rapid penetration and
    exploitation. Employment of this technique has set conditions for OPFOR
    tactical success several times in the past.

    The other technique that works to defeat JSTARS is infiltration-the movement
    and concentration of a large mobile organization by moving it in small
    packets of vehicles along multiple routes, seemingly without any
    pattern-concentrating forces over time.

    The Serbs used similar techniques to preclude effective air attacks against
    their ground combat forces and deceive NATO forces of their actual strength,
    disposition, and location. Even more ingenious, they used the appreciation
    of this vulnerability to lure NATO attack aircraft, cued by JSTARS, into
    attacking organized columns of civilian vehicles, then exploiting the scenes
    of carnage via the international media-information warfare at its best,
    designed to attack the solidarity of the NATO coalition.

    In short, against a savvy opponent, JSTARS acquisitions have little
    intelligence value to tactical and operational commanders unless the data or
    images are confirmed quickly by another real-time imagery system such as a
    UAV, AFAC, or a well-trained reconnaissance team that has the capability and
    optical resolution to discern the exact composition and type of vehicles

    The same goes for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In response to the
    presence of UAVs on the battlefield, we have developed several techniques to
    deceive and defeat its capabilities. We use a combination of physical and
    thermal decoys to deceive the UAV pilots and image analysts, and thereby
    nullify the effects of indirect fires while preserving our actual combat
    systems and crews.

    For example, we will construct deception fighting positions and in them place
    tank decoys made of fiberglass turrets, gun tubes made out of steel/PCV pipe,
    and other materials to create a realistic physical image. Furthermore, we cut
    55 gallon barrels in half, and place them where the engine compartment of the
    tank is located, then we fill them with burning charcoal to create a
    realistic thermal signature. Flying at an altitude of 2000-5000 feet, and
    looking through the narrow field of view to achieve resolution, a UAV image
    analyst, unless very experienced, cannot tell it's a decoy. From these
    altitudes, they look just like tanks. We also use vehicular decoys made of
    fabric and wood frames, just like the Serbs employed. They work.

    Finally, we have become adept at conducting air defense ambushes to destroy
    UAVs. We place actual unmanned, usually inoperable combat equipment, such
    as an armor or air defense system, into a position where the enemy would
    expect to find them. We will throw in a blanket of smoke to attract their
    attention and really draw them in. We ring this equipment with multiple
    organic air defense radar and missile systems, camouflaged well with engines
    cold. Basically, we lure UAVs into an area. Once we visually or
    acoustically acquire the UAVs-which can be easily acquired by their sound-and
    determine they are within range, we unmask and fire. Using this technique,
    we routinely destroy 50%-75% of UAVs employed against us during the course of
    an NTC training exercise. In case you're wondering, we employ systems that
    accurately replicate ZSU-23-4s, SA-18s, SA-8s, and SA-9s. By the way, the
    hand-held, shoulder-fired S-18 air defense missile is our most effective ADA
    system against both rotary wing and UAV capabilities.

    Vulnerabilities of Information and Communications Systems

    Another important lesson we've learned is this.the key to defeating forces
    equipped with sophisticated collection, targeting, and situational awareness
    technologies is to quickly gain information dominance in the initial phase of
    the operation. We have learned that if we focus reconnaissance assets and
    lethal/non-lethal fires to acquire and destroy or disrupt the enemy's ability
    to move information across the battlefield, then we can quickly level the
    playing field, negate this asymmetric advantage, and thereby set conditions
    for success. Against the Army's current situational awareness, information,
    and communications systems, fielded or in development, it is not a difficult
    task given the capabilities we possess.

    Take the Army Tactical Command and Control System (ATCCS), a suite of 5
    different software systems (MCS, ASAS, AFATADS, FAADC3, and CSSCS), designed
    to provide critical combat information to commanders and staffs at brigade,
    division, and corps level.

    These information systems, in various stages of development, employ a
    line-of-sight communications system called the Mobile Subscriber Equipment
    (MSE) system, as the means to move information across the battlefield between
    commanders and staffs from battalion to corps level.

    Based upon mission requirements, the MSE system operates at multiple
    frequency ranges from tactical VHF to SHF ranges above 15 GHz using a digital
    communications signal. We have learned that the electronic signature is a
    relatively easy target to acquire and jam, using a technique we call dual
    harmonic jamming. Basically, the MSE signal frequencies lie above our
    ability to jam with the systems we have, but we have learned that by taking 2
    jammers and jamming 1/3 of the primary carrier wave and of the primary
    carrier wave frequency simultaneously, the combination of these attacks
    affects 5/6 of the carrier wave therefore most of the transmission is not
    received. No MSE transmission, then no ATTCS-no ATTCS, then no situational
    awareness from brigade to corps level.

    Furthermore, because it is a stationary, line-of-sight system, the MSE system
    is limited in its positioning to easily predictable terrain locations and the
    node centers present a large physical signature. They can be easily
    acquired by aerial and ground reconnaissance teams and have very little
    security, if any, surrounding these sites. They will be one of the first set
    of targets we attack.

    In short, destroy the brigade MSE node complex with indirect fires or direct
    attack, and you stop the flow of information and sustainment of both friendly
    and enemy situational awareness. In other words, by attacking this
    vulnerability, the OPFOR has learned how to level the playing field very
    quickly and eliminate its opponent's asymmetric information advantage.

    Or take the Army's Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system, FBCB2,
    the Army's flagship information technology designed to create common
    situational awareness between crews, leaders, and units on the battlefield
    below brigade level-a "tactical internet" for the Army's combined-arms team.

    FBCB2, the Army's tactical internet currently in development, employs two
    line-of-site communications systems as a means to move digital information
    across the battlefield between computer systems mounted in combat vehicles
    and headquarters. More specifically, the situational awareness information
    created by computer software, internal to crews and platoons, is carried on
    a backbone of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS
    SIP), operating in the VHF band.

    At platoon leader/platoon sergeant level and above-all the way up to the
    brigade commander-the situational awareness information is carried on a
    backbone of the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS), a UHF
    radio. Both operate in the frequency-hopping mode.

    Of the two radios, EPLRS is the primary means of moving data across the
    battlefield and creating icons on computer screens that reflect the current
    location of every combat vehicle/crew on the battlefield. In other words,
    it is the principal means of creating both friendly and enemy situational
    awareness throughout a brigade task force. Information is transmitted via
    data transmissions through a network of stationary base stations-5 per
    division and 1 per brigade-positioned on high ground within a division's area
    of operations. Furthermore, it has an embedded relay system. This provides a
    jam-resistant, robust, high-speed, high-volume communications network to
    multiple, simultaneous users. In fact, the OPFOR's current legacy IEW
    systems are unable to electronically acquire and locate these systems on the
    battlefield. Of note, however, some current commercial off-the-shelf
    electronic warfare systems have the capability to track and capture the
    limited hop-set group of frequencies in EPLRS, and through the use of
    wide-band barrage jamming techniques and multiple jamming systems,
    transmissions can be blocked or severely disrupted.

    However, the OPFOR has learned to attack EPLRS's principal vulnerability, the
    physical signature of the EPLRS base station; a group of vehicles, antennas,
    and generators normally co-located with MSE node sites adjacent to the
    brigade tactical operations center. The location of these stationary, and
    relatively immobile communication node centers is easy to predict, given a
    line-of-site analysis within an area of operations. There are a limited
    number of accessible positions where comprehensive line of sight
    communications can be established and sustained.

    Find the MSE communication sites and you'll find the EPLRS base station.
    Accordingly, the OPFOR tasks both its division and regimental reconnaissance
    teams to find these large, easily identifiable communication sites during the
    reconnaissance phase of an operation, then we attack these sites with
    accurate long-range artillery, rockets, or fixed-wing assets during the first
    phase of offensive or defensive operations-to include persistent and
    non-persistent chemical strikes. This stops the flow of digits, quickly
    levels the playing field, and eliminates the asymmetric advantage afforded by
    the technology. As a side note, the JSTARS downlink, the Common Ground
    Station, is also co-located with the brigade tactical operations center.
    Successful attack of this complex will also eliminate JSTARS feed to the
    brigade commander.

    The second piece of the system, the SINCGARS tactical VHF radio, is a
    line-of-sight radio easily disrupted by hills and mountainous terrain, unless
    continually supported by multiple aerial or ground retransmission stations
    positioned within the brigade's area of operations. Furthermore, it is even
    more limited, if not ineffective, when fighting in cities; a lesson
    painfully-learned by the Russians in Grozny, Chechnya in 1996 and again this
    past year. While they struggled to maintain FM communications to control
    operations, the Chechnyans used cellular telephones and commercial satellite
    communications to coordinate their defensive operations within the city.

    Although invulnerable to our current electronic warfare systems, the OPFOR
    has discovered that the range of the SINCGARS radio is cut almost in half
    when placed in the frequency-hopping mode. Consequently, in order to sustain
    communications, operators will switch to single-channel mode to extend the
    range of the radio and re-establish communications. A SINCGARS radio,
    passing digital packets of information in the single-channel mode, is the
    easiest communications signature to acquire, locate, and jam with our current
    suite of jammers. We can quickly block the transmission.

    Although we have not been permitted to jam FBCB2 yet, we have become very
    adept at acquiring and jamming similar information systems employed by our
    Army's fire support team-TACFIRE, IFSAS, and AFATADS-thereby precluding the
    execution of fire support during battle. It follows then, that our FBCB2
    system, when fielded, will be similarly vulnerable to disruption.
    Furthermore, there are available commercial off-the-shelf systems that can
    capture and track the SINCGARS hop-set, thereby making the system vulnerable
    to disruption by barrage jamming, using multiple jammers. If you can disrupt
    transmissions through barrage jamming, then the SINCGARS radio loses system
    synchronization. Once synchronization has been lost, the operator is
    required to re-enter the net in the single channel mode, a mode easy for us
    to acquire, locate, and attack. Equally important, disrupting
    synchronization stops the flow of situational awareness information from the
    computer system.

    On the ominous horizon, we foresee the proliferation of GPS jammers-small,
    effective, and inexpensive jammers that will block GPS signals eliminating
    GPS navigation and precision guidance capabilities within an extensive area
    of operations. For $40,000 today you can buy an effective lightweight,
    portable GPS jammer from the Russian firm AviaConversia-in fact they make
    four different variants. These GPS jammers have an output power of 4-8
    watts-making them very tough to acquire-and can effectively block GPS signals
    out to ranges of 150-200 kilometers, depending on terrain, even more if
    mounted on a UAV. I understand that business is picking up.

    By the way, the SINCGARS radios supporting FBCB2 depend on GPS signals to
    sustain synchronization and sustain situational awareness. Take out GPS
    signals-no SINCGARS-no SINCGARS-no FBCB2 or situational awareness internal to
    platoons and companies.

    For a joint force that has become GPS-dependent for its style of warfare and
    effectiveness, this is a classic asymmetrical response that will level the
    playing field, perhaps eliminating the dominating capabilities our technology
    has provided us the past decade. We plan to introduce GPS jammers in our
    Opposing forces in the near future. It's increasingly clear that we learn-or
    re-learn-how to fight without GPS capability.

    No Substitute For Ground Reconnaissance Teams

    (Slide 3)

    Finally, the we have learned that there is no substitute for well-trained
    ground reconnaissance teams in warfighting at the tactical level of war.
    Despite all the intelligence and information technology provided to our
    brigade task force commanders over the pasts 6 years, the OPFOR regimental
    commanders, using 1960s-1970s technology and unaided by any overhead
    reconnaissance systems, have always had better, near-perfect information
    about the strength, composition, location, and disposition of their
    opponents. Their opponents, on the other hand, have remained and continue to
    remain relatively blind despite the bloom of technology.

    This ability to see the battlefield better than their opponents, despite the
    introduction of sophisticated technologies, is provided by our division and
    regimental reconnaissance teams, undoubtedly some of the best trained
    tactical reconnaissance teams in the world. The indisputable fact is that
    well-trained observers (reconnaissance teams) in sufficient number to
    establish observation throughout the depths of the battlefield, armed with
    effective, secure communications, easily offset the supposed asymmetric
    advantages of overhead reconnaissance platforms in the business of close
    combat at brigade level and below. Moreover, from a practical perspective,
    overhead reconnaissance platforms cannot classify a bridge and determine if
    it will support the movement of forces, find and determine feasible fording
    sites across rivers or streams, find minefields or bypasses, or provide any
    accurate information about enemy strength and dispositions within cities, the
    most likely battlefields in our future.


    In conclusion-if the insights provided in this presentation cause you to
    question the direction, design, and investments we've made in trying to
    create information dominance at the tactical level of war, that's good. If
    these insights foster a change in your perspective about the practical value
    and utility of technology by exposing its limitations and vulnerabilities,
    that's good, too. If it drives our joint team to pursue more prudent
    technological investments in the future, or drives the creation of better
    organizations, equipment, doctrine, tactics, and techniques for employing
    technology in the future, that's even better. If it convinces you that we
    should keep teaching our Soldiers and marines how to read a map and navigate
    with compass in hand, or keep teaching artillerymen how to survey their
    firing positions, or teach our staffs what to do when the screens go blank,
    that's icing on-the-cake.

    Finally, if it convinces you that our Opposing Forces at our combat training
    centers can provide critical insights into the limitations and
    vulnerabilities of technology, informing our judgment to ensure we wisely
    adapt and dominate our threats in the 21st Century, then my objective has
    been accomplished. One thing is for certain. If we ignore the lessons and
    successful countermeasures our Opposing Forces have made and continue to make
    against technology, then we ignore the work of these great Soldiers at our
    peril. Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you today.
    Attn to ALL my opponents:

    If you sent me your turn and after 24 hours, you still did not get anything from me, please be sure to post in the forum to ask for what is going on.

    Remember, I ALWAYS reply within 24 hours, even if I do NOT have time to play my turn, in which case I will at least send you email to tell you that I will have to play it later, but I DO receive your turn.

  • #2
    That was a very interesting discussion. The vulnerabilities highlighted can be almost panic-provoking considering the importance placed on technology by many Western nations. Systems are basically obsolete the moment they are introduced. For every one person working on a particular technology, there are ten working on countermeasures. The desire to survive usually can defeat technology. Man is smarter, and can adapt to any situation on the battlefield. So it would be foolish to rely solely on technology to win a war.

    However, that doesn't mean technology is useless. The enemy would have a difficult time defeating all the systems available to the modern commander. In most cases, one countermeasure leaves you vulnerable to another threat. The enemy commander would need a very good understanding of our systems and intelligence gathering procedures to begin the countermeasure process. He would then have to apply the appropriate response in the right place and time. Doing all this while trying to defeat a fast moving army could be a tall-order, though not impossible.

    IHMO, FRY succeeded because NATO was not committed to the operation from the beginning. They underestimated the Serbs, and spent most of their time debating the crisis. The chain of command was so twisted and confusing, it became FRY's silent allie. If I'm not mistaken, target lists would have to be approved by almost every NATO member. Avoiding casualties was more important than defeating the enemy. Thus, pilots found themselves trying to attack individual targets from 15,000ft above, with little or no assistance from the ground or intelligence. The horrible weather over Kosovo and Serbia only made matters worse.

    FRY defeated our sensors by using infantry and not concentrating their forces. They didn't need to anyway. It wasn't until the last week or so that we fixed the Serbs and did some serious damage. This occurred because the Serbs were forced to re-establish logistical support. In addition, rebels in Kosovo, supported by Special Operations Forces, launched a major offensive. This forced FRY out of hiding and into the open.

    I don't believe technology was the problem. NATO just didn't employ it properly. I always thought the lack of ground forces was a serious mistake. NATO didn't need to invade Kosovo. The presence of a large ground force on it's borders would create such a threat the Serbs would have been forced to move into defensive positions. This would have fixed FRY in one concentrated area where we could pound the daylight out of them.

    (I also believe the threat of a ground war would have aided the humanitarian aspect of the operation. We just looked on as one of the greatest atrocities against man was committed by the Serbs. The ground force might have forced FRY to abandon genocide to defend it's borders.)

    At any rate, the discussion highlighted the vulnerabilities in our technology. This should be viewed as a reminder that man still dominates the battlefield. No technology can truly defeat the resourcefulness of the human species.
    "As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."-Christopher Dawson - The Judgement of Nations, 1942


    • #3
      I agree technology has its limitations. However if the enemy has to keep their weapons hidden all the time they can't use them on the battlefield.
      "There is no great genius without some touch of madness."

      Seneca (5 BC - 65 AD)


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