Warfare is probably as old as the human race, but it’s changed dramatically over the 10,000 years of recorded history. The earliest wars took place on land, probably with simple hunting weapons at first. Later, as clans and tribes were replaced by nations, more sophisticated military weapons and armor appeared. Then boats, which had been used for fishing and trade, were pressed into service. The first known naval battle took place in about 1,210 BC, between the Hittites and Cypriots. By the first century, the Romans controlled the entire Mediterranean with the power of the Classis Misenensis, the Fleet of Misenum. Based in the Bay of Naples, where the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet is stationed today, it was Rome’s quick reaction force. Later still, a powerful navy let Britain, a small island off the coast of Europe, dominate over a quarter of the world and build up a global trading network.
In the First World War, aircraft started to play a role and, by the 1940s, air forces had become the new way to project power. At sea, the guns of battleships were replaced by carrier-launched attack planes. On land, bombers let commanders devastate targets hundreds of miles beyond artillery range. In the following decades, air power was the west’s go-to weapon for quick, sharp attacks.
But already war was moving into space, with surveillance satellites giving unheard-of knowledge of the enemy and ballistic missiles exploiting the vacuum to achieve global reach. From a field in the US Midwest, or a submarine in the deep ocean, a missile could hit almost any point on Earth inside half an hour.
Each time war expanded into a new sphere, it needed new technology, new tactics and usually new force structures. That’s why we have navies, air forces and the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command. But now, war is moving into the information sphere, too, and that’s going to mean even more changes – if military leaders have the foresight to make them.
The internet evolved from ARPANET, a late 1960s US military project designed to create a secure and robust data network, but it now connects almost every aspect of our lives. Everyone from governments to banks and utility companies now use the internet for electronic communications, and in the space of a couple of decades it’s swallowed large parts of the phone and TV networks and become, literally, the backbone of our society. If the internet stops working, all kinds of other things will stop working too. Most dangerously of all, cyber attacks launched through the internet can cause immense damage – and several potential adversaries, including Russia and China, are already investing heavily in cyber warfare.
In fact, Russia has probably used its offensive cyber capability already. In 2007, a series of attacks almost paralyzed the Baltic nation of Estonia. At first, websites were altered and denial of service attacks launched. Then government phone lines were blocked by continuous auto-ringing. Finally, the banking system was attacked and parts of the phone network shut down. The economic damage was considerable; the implications for national security were worse. It’s impossible to prove that Russia was behind the onslaught and the only person arrested so far is an Estonian citizen – but they’re an ethnic Russian.
The west itself has used cyber attacks to both harass and degrade enemies; the UK hacked an al Qaida website and replaced all the bomb-making instructions with cupcake recipes, while the USA and Israel used the Stuxnet worm to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. But we haven’t invested anything like as much money and resources as Russia and China have, and we could already be trailing badly in a dangerous new arms race. Worries about cyber attacks are so serious that they’re being used as an argument for not renewing the UK’s Trident system, in case they can be hacked. (The Royal Navy have pointed out that they’re not actually stupid enough to connect a ballistic missile submarine to the internet – or any other network.)
Still, the UK is worried about cyber war; it’s widely rumored that internet warfare capabilities are part of the role of the Army’s new 77th Brigade, which also includes psychological operations. So far the US military doesn’t seem to be as interested. Last week, the Chief of Naval Operations and USMC commandant rejected proposals to form a new service branch aimed at building an integrated cyber war force. That may be short-sighted. The USA developed the internet, but if cyber operations are fragmented and hampered by inter-service rivalry it may risk losing control of it in the early stages of a future war.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.