Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Ban on Fitness Tracking Apps?

            Over the weekend it was discovered that the fitness app Strava has potentially revealed sensitive information regarding military bases in the Middle East. The company released a heat map detailing the activities of millions of users all over the world. Among these users are active duty US service members operating at these bases. What’s the big deal? It’s pretty easy to spot a military base from satellite imagery. The locations of these bases were already known. This map is probably just telling our enemies something they already know. However, it’s not that fact that they can locate these bases that matter. It’s the fact that they can now see the hallways and thoroughfares that soldiers are using to traverse the base. They can piece together the layout of the base and pinpoint the most important areas. Because this heat map has trillions of data points, a virtual blueprint can easily be created.

            How does this effect current counter-insurgency operations? It doesn't. What group would be able to actually use this discovery to their advantage? They might learn new locations of bases, but they couldn't get inside it. This has more serious implications against foreign governments, not insurgency or terrorist groups.

            So, should the US military just put in place a complete ban on fitness apps that track location? There’s a strong argument in favor of a ban but in reality it all depends on each situation. Military command would need to determine if allowing soldiers to use fitness tacking apps poses a threat to each individual base. For instance, most domestic bases in general probably wouldn’t have too many threats related to fitness tracking apps. However, bases in an active operational area, like the Middle East, would certainly have some related threats.

            Perhaps what the US military needs to do is leave it up to the commanding officer of each base. They would have the most understanding of the situation at their particular base and the best grasp on operational security there. They could assess their individual situations and accurately determine if a ban on fitness tracking apps would be necessary.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

How Arabs Could Win Wars

     Arabs are not very good at winning wars. That article is rather old by this point, but it nevertheless stands that many Arab states have a major problem which kills their effectiveness: culture. Senior officers neither trust nor empower their junior officers, who neither trust nor empower the enlisted men to complete missions. For their part, the enlisted men do not trust the officers to watch out for them. Each group hates the other, and both are more concerned with preserving their own safety than the mission. The Arab states cannot simply buy their way out of this problem.

     The solution to this problem is to remake the culture of the military in the Arab states. If there is any degree of class system present in the state, the government should establish the military as an elite, selective class.
  1. Improve the material conditions of the military. The enlisted men should be fed well, paid on time and not treated like incompetent cannon fodder (this will take longer to achieve than the first two.
  2. Develop a culture and traditions within the military separate from the rest of society.
  3. Launch an advertisement campaign to romanticize life in the military and increase volunteer rates.
  4. If possible, be selective when accepting recruits. The military should be both desirable and exclusive.
  5. The military should develop the belief within itself that it is an elite class in society.

     If the citizenry views the entire military as an elite class, it is possible that the officers would view the enlisted men less as peasants or cannon fodder and more as soldiers to be trusted. If the military was a better long term profession for enlisted men, we should see more soldiers stay in past the initial enlistment or conscription period, which would help to establish an NCO corps. Of course, the Arab states would need to take more steps to empower junior officers and NCO’s which might not be initially solved by such a cultural shift.

     Presently, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Eremites are attempting to build a better civil society. That is an incredible task and it could also indirectly improve military performance. However, there is a strong chance that they will not succeed; a more focused approach would be better. This suggestion would not be easy; however, it is the best solution to a problem that cannot be solved with money alone.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

BattlefieldWiFi: Connected, Secured

Battlefield WiFi: Connected, Secured

Just as our own lives are plagued by the frustrations of lagging or insecure WiFi, so too is the US Army. Battlefield communications have evolved quickly and are forced to constantly adapt in order to be one step ahead of the enemy's capabilities, while also needing to be as mobile and efficient as possible.

In fact, the only conceivable difference between our personal connectivity problems and that of the troops is the battlefield environment it's being used in. And perhaps a few other minor intangibles.

The US Army released a statement last week that it successfully tested a new WiFi-based communication network for the battlefield. The trial run occurred in November of 2017 at Fort Irwin (CA)'s National Training Center and was conducted by the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry division. In general, the officer reporting on the test seemed very pleased with the performance of the new network system, Secure WiFi.

He cited the fact that the network was available within minutes of every post change, a good sign for its mobility, and also its better speed and security. These factors (better mobility+speed+security) equals better survivability. This is particularly true when in conflict with enemies of comparable technological capabilities. It also boasts secure voice, video, and data exchange and can be used on over 60 unclassified computers and 100 classified computers. The trial had at least 60 users at one time without issue.

The search for a new, better battlefield communication network began back in September when the Army announced to Congress that it would stop using its current/previous system, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, due to weaknesses in terms of mobility and operational flexibility; both problems are remedied by Secure WiFi. Since orders for this older system's equipment are still being delivered and used, the phase-out will likely take until 2021, and the Army hopes to implement whatever the final, decided system is by 2022.