E-weapons: Directed Energy Warfare In The 21st Century

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E-Weapons: Directed Energy Warfare In The 21st Century

by Leonard David, Senior Space Writer   |   January 11, 2006 07:01am ETenergy weapons such as lasers, high-powered microwaves and particle beams are in development by the us.

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico -- There is a new breed of weaponry fast approaching--and at the speed of light no less. They are labeled "directed-energy weapons" and may well signal a revolution in military hardware--perhaps more so than the atomic bomb.

Directed-energy weapons take the form of lasers, high-powered microwaves, and particle beams. Their adoption for ground, air, sea, and space warfare depends not only on using the electromagnetic spectrum, but also upon favorable political and budgetary wavelengths too.

That's the outlook of J. Douglas Beason, author of the recently published book: The E-Bomb: How America's New Directed Energy Weapons Will Change the Way Wars Will Be Fought in the Future (Da Capo Press, October 2005).Beason previously served on the White House staff working for the President's Science Advisor (Office of Science and Technology Policy) under both the Bush and Clinton Administrations.

After more than two decades of research, the United States is on the verge of deploying a new generation of weapons that discharge beams of energy, such as the Airborne Laser, the Active Denial System, as well as the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL).

"History has shown that, without investment in high-technology, fighting the next war will be done using the last war type of technique," Beason toldSPACE.com. Putting money into basic and long-range research is critical, Beason said, adding: "You can't always schedule breakthroughs."

A leading expert in directed-energy research for some 26 years, Beason is also Director of Threat Reduction here at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) - noting that his views are his own and do not represent LANL, the Department of the Defense, nor the Department of Energy.

Ripe for transformation?

Though considerable work has been done in lasers, high-power microwaves, and other directed-energy technologies, weaponization is still an ongoing process.

For example, work is on-going in the military's Airborne Laser program. It utilizes a megawatt-class, high-energy chemical oxygen iodine laser toted skyward aboard a modified Boeing 747-400 aircraft. Purpose of the program is to enable the detection, tracking and destruction of ballistic missiles in the boost phase, or powered part of their flight.

Similarly, testing of the U.S. Army's Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) in White Sands, New Mexico has shown the ability of heating high-flying rocket warheads, blasting them with enough energy that causes them to self-detonate. THEL uses a high-energy, deuterium fluoride chemical laser. A mobile THEL also demonstrated the ability to kill multiple mortar rounds.

Then there's Active Denial Technology--a non-lethal way to use millimeter-wave electromagnetic energy to stop, deter, and turn back an advancing adversary. This technology, supported by the U.S. Marines, uses a beam of millimeter waves to heat a foe's skin, causing severe pain without damage, and making the adversary flee the scene.

Beason also pointed to new exciting research areas underway at the Los Alamos National Laboratory: Free-electron laser work with the Navy and a new type of directed-energy that operates in the terahertz region.

Niche for new technology

While progress in directed-energy is appreciable, Beason sees two upfront problems in moving the technology forward. First of all, "convincing the warfighter that there's a niche for this new type of weapon," and secondly making sure these new systems are not viewed as a panacea to solve all problems. "They are only another tool," he added.

Looming even larger is the role of those that acquire new weapons. "The U.S. could put ourselves in a very disastrous position if we allow our acquisition officials to be non-technically competent," Beason explained.

Over the decades, Beason said that the field of directed-energy has had its share of "snakeoil salesmen", as well as those advocates that over-promised. "It wasn't ready for prime time."

At present, directed-energy systems "are barely limping along with enough money just to prove that they can work," Beason pointed out. Meanwhile, huge slugs of money are being put into legacy-type systems to keep them going.

"It's a matter of priority," Beason said. The time is now to identify high-payoff, directed-energy projects for the smallest amounts of money, he said.

Unknown unknowns

In Beason's view, Active Denial Technology, the Airborne Laser program, the THEL, as well as supporting technologies, such as relay mirrors--are all works in progress that give reason for added support and priority funding.

"I truly believe that as the airborne laser goes, so goes the rest of the nation's directed-energy programs. Right now, it's working on the margin. I believe that there are still 'unknown unknowns' out there that are going to occur in science and technology. We think we have the physics defined. We think we have the engineering defined. But something always goes wrong...and we're working too close at the margin," Beason said.

Step-wise, demonstration programs that spotlight directed-energy weapon systems are needed, Beason noted. Such in-the-field displays could show off greater beam distance-to-target runs, mobility of hardware, ease-of-operation, battlefield utility, and other attributes.

Directed-energy technologies can offer a range of applications, from botching up an enemy's electronics to performing "dial up" surgical, destructive strikes at the speed of light with little or no collateral damage.

Beason said that one blue sky idea of his own he tagged "the voice from heaven". By tuning the resonance of a laser onto the Earth's ionosphere, you can create audible frequencies. Like some boom box in the sky, the laser-produced voice could bellow from above down to the target below: "Put down your weapons."

Relay mirrors

Regarding use of directed-energy space weapons, Beason advised that "we'll eventually see it."

However, present-day systems are far too messy. Most high-powered chemical lasers -- in the megawatt-class -- require onboard fuels and oxidizers to crank out the amount of energy useful for strategic applications. Stability of such a laser system rooted in space is also wanting.

On the other hand, look to advances in more efficient lasers--especially solid state laser systems--Beason advised. "What breakthroughs are needed...I'm not sure. But, eventually, I think it's going to happen, but it is going to be a generation after the battlefield lasers."

Yet, having the directed-energy source "in space" contrasted to shooting beams "through space" is another matter, Beason quickly added. Space-based relay mirrors--even high-altitude airships equipped with relay mirrors--can direct ground-based or air-based laser beams nearly around the world, he said.

"So you're using space...exploiting it. But you are going through space to attack anywhere on Earth," Beason said.

History lesson

Late last year, speaking before the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Beason told his audience that laser energy, the power sources, beam control, as well as knowledge about how laser beams interact with Earth's atmosphere are quite mature. The technology is ready to shift into front line warfare status.

"The good news is that directed-energy exists. Directed-energy is being tested and within a few years directed-energy is going to be deployed upon the battlefield," Beason reported. "But the bad news is that acquisition policies right now in this nation are one more gear toward evolutionary practices rather than revolutionary practices."

"Visionaries win wars...and not bureaucrats. We've seen this through history," Beason observed.

  • U.S. Air Force Plans for Future War in Space

  • Space Weapons For Earth Wars

  • The Power of Light: An Airborne Laser for Missile Defense

David, Leonard. "E-Weapons: Directed Energy Warfare In The 21st Century: Space.com." Space.com. PURCH. 11 Jan. 2006. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

U.S. military snipers are changing warfare

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY

Updated 5/9/2012 11:05 AM

QUANTICO, Va. – When Marine Sgt. Jonathan Charles' unit arrived in Afghanistan, the American troops faced an entrenched enemy that picked a fight with the Marines almost every time they stepped off base.

  • pfc. robert hamersly, left, and pfc. michael trischler shoot at targets at the army\'s sniper school.

By H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY

Pfc. Robert Hamersly, left, and Pfc. Michael Trischler shoot at targets at the Army's Sniper School.

"They couldn't get outside the wire more than 50 meters before it was a barrage of fire," said Charles, a scout sniper. The Marine battalion quickly dispersed well-camouflaged scout sniper teams throughout the Musa Qala area in southern Afghanistan, the formed. Taliban heartland. The teams would hide for days, holed up in crevices, among boulders or in mud-walled homes, and wait for unsuspecting militants to walk into a trap.
VIDEO: Sniper School at Ft. Benning

PHOTOS: The Army's sniper school at Fort Benning
The result: Dozens of militants were killed by an enemy they never saw. Word of unseen killers began to spread among the "few who got away," Charles said. Within weeks, the tide had begun to turn and by the end of the unit's seven-month deployment in March 2011, the battalion's 33-man sniper platoon had 185 enemy kills.

"They quit altogether," Charles, 26, said of the Taliban. More important, with the enemy largely neutralized, the battalion could focus on building local security and developing Afghan security forces. This approach is the bedrock of counterinsurgency warfare, which is designed to allow the United States to remove most combat troops by the end of 2014.

Snipers have quietly emerged as one of the most effective but least understood weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advancements in technology and training have made them deadlier than in any previous generation. Their ability to deliver accurate shots minimizes collateral damage — a key factor in counterinsurgency — and they are often more effective than much ballyhooed drones at secretly collecting intelligence.
The number of slots at the Army's sniper school at Fort Benning, Ga., increased to 570 last year, up from 163 in 2003, when the Iraq War started. The Marine Corps operates several sniper schools, too.
A precision weapon

U.S. commanders typically describe counterinsurgency as improving government and the economy and protecting the population. But killing hard-core elements of the insurgency helps persuade the population to join the winning side, military analysts say.

Snipers are ideally suited for that. "It's a lot easier to win hearts and minds when you're doing surgical operations (instead of) taking out entire villages," said LeRoy Brink, a civilian instructor at the Fort Benning school.

Snipers have another advantage. They wear on the enemy's psyche, producing an impact disproportionate to their size. "It takes the fight out of them," Marine Col. Tim Armstrong, commander of the Weapons Training Battalion at Quantico, said of the impact on the enemy. Snipers will play a prominent role as the military reshapes itself into a more agile force after Iraq and Afghanistan. In a new strategy unveiled in January, the Pentagon said it planned on building a smaller, more expeditionary military force and would expand America's capabilities to train indigenous forces over the next several years. Snipers fit well into that concept, said Andrew Krepinevich, president of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "They've proven to … have had substantial payoff in terms of military effectiveness. They will continue to be valued."
Refinements in training and advancements in technology have proved a deadly combination for snipers.

"It's much more of a science now," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Eggers, a leader at the Army's sniper course at Fort Benning. "Understanding the technology, better understanding of ballistics — that is what has really changed the game."

In recent years, snipers have been armed with handheld ballistic computers that calculate the effects of air pressure and other atmospherics on a bullet's trajectory. Optics and rifles have also improved accuracy. The Marine Corps assembles its own bolt-action sniper rifles to exacting standards here at Quantico.
Typically, a well-equipped sniper in World War II could be expected to hit a human target with a single shot at about 600 yards in favorable conditions and during daylight. Today, snipers can typically hit targets at twice that range  from more than half a mile away and at night, said Bryan Litz, a ballistics expert at Berger Bullets who has done military contract work.
Psychological impact

In Iraq the value of snipers was clear from the beginning. When Marine officers were negotiating with insurgents holed up in Fallujah in 2004, the enemy's first request was that Marines withdraw snipers who ringed the city and were targeting insurgents.

Fallujah had become a symbol of insurgent resistance after four U.S. security contractors were killed in an ambush and the charred remains of two were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates. "They weren't concerned with the tanks or the battalions in there," Armstrong said. "They wanted the snipers removed."
Marine officers refused. Within days, the insurgents met the Marines' initial conditions. "They're a small niche that can really wreak havoc on the enemy," said Clarke Lethin, a retired Marine officer who was on the staff of the unit that conducted the negotiations in Fallujah. "Our snipers were very effective when we were trying to bring terrorists to the table."
There's a personal element to snipers that is hard to quantify but has an impact on the enemy. When an insurgent is killed by an unseen drone strike, "the enemy sort of absorbs that," dismissing it as superior American technology, Armstrong said.
They have a different reaction to sniper kills. "When a sniper shoots them … it translates to, 'I just went to a fight man-on-man and I was bested by another man,' " Armstrong said. "That is the psychological impact of scout snipers on the battlefield."
The enemy also understood the psychological potency of an unseen enemy that can strike at any time. Starting in 2005, insurgents released a series of videos showing U.S. soldiers being shot, claiming it was the work of a single sniper who was stalking Baghdad. The video was an effort to strike fear into American troops by raising the specter of an unseen gunman preying on U.S. troops. The U.S. military denied that any one insurgent marksman was responsible for the killings and dismissed the video as propaganda. Military analysts say insurgent marksmen lack advanced training and equipment that would allow them to take long-range shots at night. "They're not able to engage in the ranges that we are and not at night," Litz said.
Glamorized by Hollywood

More recently, snipers have been lionized by Hollywood, video games and books.American Sniper, an autobiography of a Navy SEAL sniper, has dominated best-seller lists since its publication in January.

They capitalize on a fascination the public has with marksmen who match wits against an elusive enemy. In 2009, the public was captivated by news of Navy SEAL snipers killing three Somali pirates simultaneously, ending a five-day standoff after the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama was seized off the coast of Somalia. It was the latest in a rash of piracy in the region.

But sniper training is a far cry from the image of lone gunmen stalking human prey that is often portrayed by Hollywood. The training is daunting. Students often spend hours moving a couple of hundred yards without being detected. They learn to pay attention to every detail. Even if instructors can't see a sniper stalking through the underbrush, they might detect vegetation moving slightly as they crawl a few yards. "It's not as sexy as the public would think," Eggers said, amid the deafening sounds of students at Fort Benning firing .50-caliber sniper rifles, larger weapons designed for use against vehicles. "It's actually a pretty boring job."

The image of the lone gunman is dated. During Vietnam, snipers were often sent on hunting missions far from friendly forces, Brink said. Today, however, the Army usually teams them up with conventional forces or places them in positions that can be supported by nearby friendly troops. "Back in the day, they would just go out hunting," Brink said. The Army's main sniper school at Fort Benning, nestled amid Georgia's gentle hills and pine forests, teaches students about marksmanship, stalking, observation and other skills.
The Marines put their scout snipers through an intense 11-week course where attrition is high and students learn marksmanship, ballistics and observation skills. Students are screened carefully for intelligence and psychological stability even before arriving at Quantico. "We're looking for a different type of Marine: one with a higher (test score) … level of maturity and experience," said Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Chad Ramsey, who helps oversee the Corps' reconnaissance career field. "The perception doesn't equal the reality when it comes to going through the school."
The Marines' scout sniper school at Quantico is "one of the top three or four toughest schools in our military, hands down," said Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett. Students in the Army's five-week course learn complex formulas designed to predict how a bullet's trajectory will be changed slightly by the atmosphere. When firing long distances, wind variations and barometric pressure can knock a bullet off course. Bullets travel faster at high altitudes where there is less resistance in the thin air.
Reading body language

Students learn how to create Ghillie suits, which are complemented with local vegetation so that snipers can blend into the background when stalking a target. They learn to shoot accurately under stress. During one exercise at Fort Benning, students run several hundred yards wearing about 45 pounds of combat gear before entering a building to complete exercises before each of four separate firing positions.

At each position the snipers are given a short time to fire at targets hundreds of yards away. To get to each position, they run up ladders and stairs. They are graded on speed and accuracy. The exercise is designed to "see how well they operate under stress," said Arturo Prieto, a 52-year-old instructor and retired Army non-commissioned officer, after a team of panting snipers finished the course and dashed out of the building.
In conventional wars, snipers were often dispatched on missions to kill high-ranking officers, who were identifiable by their uniforms and insignia. In 1777, an American marksman killed a British general at the second Battle of Saratoga, changing the course of the battle and proving the worth of a trained marksman.
Today, snipers face an enemy that wears no uniforms or insignia. It makes for a tougher environment that requires powers of observation and judgment. They still go after "high-value targets" designated by commanders, but much of their time is used conducting surveillance. For example, they might watch from a hidden location as conventional forces move toward an objective, or observe a marketplace, looking for things that seem out of place. "You're going to need to read his body language," said Sgt. 1st Class Adam James, 29, an instructor. That's something drones and other technology can't do. "A UAV is going to be able to report … vehicles or whatever the case may be," said Sgt. Augusto Zapata, a 26-year-old Marine scout sniper instructor at Quantico, referring to the acronym for drones. "But that Marine on the ground observing through those optics is going to be able to make out somebody who seems nervous or seems out of place." Staff Sgt. Ian Shepard, 30, an instructor, watched as two students at Fort Benning's sniper school settled into their firing positions. "Shooting is the easiest part of the job," Shepard said. "It's more of a mental game than anything else."

Michaels, Jim. "U.S. Military Snipers Are Changing Warfare."USATODAY.COM. Gannett Company, Inc, 9 May 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

ByDAVID MARTINCBS January 6, 2010, 6:17 PM

U.S. Military Goes Hi-Tech in 21st Century

Improvised Explosive Device simulators are used to help train U.S. troops.  http://cbsnews1.cbsistatic.com/hub/i/r/2010/01/07/db48dd41-a642-11e2-a3f0-029118418759/thumbnail/620x350/920ed928e46a52bfd221430279c8996a/image6067592x.jpg


The U.S. military of the future will take advantage of new and improved technologies, such as virtual training with computer simulations, to engage an enemy in complex environments, reports CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin

Training to Fight a Changing Enemy

recent report, "The Army Capstone Concept Operational Adaptability-Operating Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Complexity in an Era of Persistent Conflict"(Department of the Army, December 2009), outlines some of the promising technologies that could enhance combat readiness.

• Quantum computers could improve effectiveness and reduce vulnerability of military sensors, command and control, precision navigation, and targeting systems. 
• Improved sensors, sensor fusion, communications, and network capabilities offer the potential to improve information collection and sharing. 
• Improved vehicle system durability, reliability, and fuel efficiency offer the potential to reduce sustainment demands and extend the operational periods between required replenishments. 
• Improved robotics offer the potential to deploy appropriate combinations of manned and unmanned systems to perform an increasing range of tasks (such as explosive ordnance disposal, logistics resupply, persistent surveillance, close quarters reconnaissance). 
• Immersive technologies offer the potential to develop virtual training areas that contain real-world objects and simulated characters to improve training realism and help Soldiers practice making decisions under stressful conditions. 

• Nanotechnology, the study of the controlling of matter on an atomic and molecular scale, offers the potential to develop increasingly strong materials of lighter weight; devices with improved electrical performance and electromagnetic pulse shielding; nano-robots for medical, sensor, and weapons applications; and genetically engineered organisms for producing alternative fuels. 

• Improvements in the human sciences (psychology, sociology, biology, anthropology, physiology, ergonomics, and neuroscience) and social networking offer the potential to increase human potential in knowledge, skills, aptitude, attitudes, health, fitness, and resilience. Human science applications could improve personnel management, training, leader development, organizational performance, human engineering, behavioral and physical health, resilience and Soldier and family well-being. 
• Renewable energy and improvements in the management of fuel and electric power requirements offer the potential for greater fuel efficiency, advances in engine designs, and improved power generation. Increased energy efficiencies hold promise for reduced logistical demand and an ability to retain freedom of movement and action across great distances. 
• Advances in non-lethal technology offer the potential to counter enemy action with less chance of civilian casualties. 

The report noted that technological advantage is core to military effectiveness, but the understanding how human beings apply technology will continue to be more important than the technologies themselves.

Martin, David. "U.S. Military Goes Hi-Tech in 21st Century." CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 6 Jan. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games

A new book unfolds how the “military-entertainment complex” entices soldiers to war and treats them when they return.


A screenshot from America’s Armyhttp://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/screen%20shot%202013-10-10%20at%204.57.04%20pm.png

According to popular discourse, video games are either the divine instrument of education’s future or the software of Satan himself, provoking young men to carry out all-too-real rampages. Much like discussions surrounding the Internet, debates on video games carry the vague, scattershot chatter that says too much about the medium (e.g. do video games cause violence?) without saying much at all about the particulars of games or gaming conventions (e.g. how can death be given more weight in first person shooters?).

As Atlantic contributor Ian Bogost argues in his book, How to Do Things with Video Gameswe’ve assigned value to games as if they all contain the same logic and agenda. We assume, unfairly, that the entire medium of video games shares inherent properties more important and defining than all the different ways games are applied and played. The way out of this constrained conversation is to bore down into specifics, to tease out various technologies, and to un-generalize the medium. We get such an examination in War Play, Corey Mead’s important new study on the U.S. military’s official deployment of video games. 

professor of English at Baruch College CUNY, Mead has written a history, a book most interested in the machinations of military game development. ButWar Play, too, lays a solid foundation from which to launch more critical investigations—into soldier’s lives, into computerized combat, and into the most dynamic medium of our time. 

* * *

War Play moves forward along two intertwined themes. First, Mead says, throughout history, the intense needs of government-sanctioned combat have spurred technological innovation in society. Second, the military is a forerunner in original methods of education. We can see evidence of the former in microwave ovens and semiconductors, GPS and jet engines; there’s evidence of the latter in wide-scale standardized testing, distance education, and vocational learning. Within the two themes’ intersection is the book’s creative tension. How are video games, specifically designed for the armed forces, empowering soldiers? How do they influence civilian behavior?

America’s Armyhttp://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/screen%20shot%202013-10-10%20at%204.56.50%20pm.png

But before Mead can conjure the ethical dilemmas of bloodless virtual realities, or plumb lionized state violence, he acts as a historian. The military has used video games “at every organizational level for a broad array of purposes,” he writes. It’s had three big aims in this: to recruit soldiers, to train them, and,  most recently, to treat their psychological disorders, such as PTSD.

That’s how it’s been since the years after World War II, when the army and commercialized gaming built a collaborative relationship, a kind of military-entertainment complex. It still lives: The military offers funding and technical expertise to game and computer developers, and, in exchange, they give it proprietary technology and technical consulting.

Beginning in 1960 and ending in the 1990s, “the armed forces took the lead in financing, sponsoring, and inventing the specific technology used in video games.” Spacewar!, the title historians consider the first video game, was developed by graduate students at MIT who were funded by the Pentagon. As Mead tells us, the 1962 side project was made on a Programmed Data Processor-1, an early microcomputer. The PDP-1’s manufacturer didn’t have a faux space-battle program in mind—one in which “two players used switches and knobs to maneuver spaceships through the gravity field of a star while firing missiles at each other”—when the hardware was designed, surely. But SpaceWar! gave birth to the navigational controls and monitor-as-sight set-up that would influence all subsequent games.

With the help of clinicians in controlled settings, soldiers are able to confront traumatic memories in a process called exposure therapy.

Later, the original first-person perspectives of 1980’s Battlezone and its successor, 1993’s Doom, showed the potential for 3-D piloting, multiplayer networking, and virtual reality-based training. Through commercial gaming technology, the armed forces could adapt soldiers to the tactics of team fighting and trigger-fast decision making, or conjure tailor-made battle environments for them. The arrangement has synergy: The Pentagon avoids pitiful, expensive efforts to create their own training simulators, and developers get fat government checks. The symbiosis flourished after the Cold War, as budgetary constraints—the lead unnamed character in this book—privileged tactical games over costly field exercises. But 21st-century warfare and the young people who volunteer for it were changing too.

America’s Armyhttp://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/screen%20shot%202013-10-10%20at%204.54.09%20pm.png

Iraq and Afghanistan, Mead reminds us, don’t resemble Band of Brothers; today, wars look more like Generation KillInstead of clearly demarcated enemies, and push-the-front directives, servicemen and women are faced with “endlessly mutating insurgencies,” and surveillance information overload. The complexity of digital weapons systems has increased. So, too, have the gargantuan data processing requirements of the Defense Department and the military’s vast bureaucracy. After 9/11, the armed forces have put a premium on cognitive dexterity.

So, Mead writes, games have changed to fit the times. Programs like DARWARS emphasize “cross-cultural communication, convoy operations, infantry tactics, and rules of engagement.” Specific games like UrbanSim and Tactical Iraqi focus on counterinsurgency and language skills. New theater of war simulators like Virtual Battespace 2 enable commanders to construct specific frontline scenarios—IED explosions, ambushes, medical evacuations—to train entire companies of soldiers. Whole worlds can be customized through topography and enemy engagement. And it all begins to look like a primitive version of Star Trek’s Holodeck or the X-Men’s Danger Room. (There’s a rich but underdeveloped idea in this book, of sci-fi writers, time and time again, shaping the minds of military engineers.)

* * *

While thorough in his history of the military’s games development, Mead forgoes a robust account of games criticism. Take his discussion of America’s Army.

When war becomes even more unseen, when it slides ever-more toward computerized management and best-guess threat assessment, will we be more disposed to wage it?

America’s Army was built using commercial software: It was created on the engine of Epic Games’ Unreal. Modeled after culturally pervasive first-person shooters, its first iteration was released in 2002 and is available to the public for free. Mead tells us that, as America’s Army was used explicitly as a recruitment tool aimed at young teenagers, it could be viewed as propaganda or as an army intrusion into the home—but he never develops these thoughts. In one sentence, he might list two reactionary senators; in another, a lawyer and an author appear, railing like knee-jerk anti-game activists. So only in passing explanation do we learn that no player actually dies in America’s Army. Mead never expands on this hypocrisy, that a game meant to teach people about the service fails to convey a sense of loss or carnal gore. (Neither does it convey a sophisticated geopolitical understanding. Readers looking for a range of views on America’s Army might do better to seek out Marcus Schulzke’s scholarly survey of criticism about the game.)

Mead also relegates discussion of the army’s “utterly ineffective” “most controversial” game, Full Spectrum Warrior, to a footnote. I find this suspect. It’s only there, in a tiny font, that we learn that the project failed as a training tool and cost the government “millions of dollars to produce” while the video game company THQ made over $50 million from the project. Doesn’t that historical episode deserve more attention?

Elsewhere, Mead questions the military’s push into civilian classrooms. With its adherence to the technocratic management of standardized tests, and the insistence on qualitative mastery and virtual learning, the armed forces impart on public schools an ideology that education advocates don’t necessarily want.

To his credit, Mead also illuminates gaming’s inroads in treating psychological afflictions, like PTSD. Simulators such as Virtual Afghanistan use head-mounted displays to create “immersive, interactive environments.” With the help of clinicians in controlled settings, soldiers are able to confront traumatic memories in a process called exposure therapy. By recalling distressing episodes from their past, soldiers learn to habituate themselves to those fearful experiences. Games help them manage their negative emotions and troubled thoughts. In addition, role-playing allows veterans to direct the actions of different characters (a military spouse, a social worker, a soldier with PTSD) to gain perspective and self-reflection. These game-based therapies have shown promising results in alleviating mental illness, serving as a bridge to traditional therapies and dissolving the stigma that sees counseling as a sign of weakness.

* * *

As the civilian population has quarantined itself from its own wars, from its countrymen and women who fight them, War Play’s efforts to explore the healing potential of games is commendable. Also commendable is how, in the book’s concluding chapter, Mead allows his narrative to unhinge. He at last confronts lingering and provocative questions. 

Riffing off the expression “all but war is simulation,” Mead considers weapons that are highly mediated, like Reaper and Predator drones piloted by soldiers using monitors and computer controls. As war itself turns to simulation, when buttons replace triggers and blades, and when killing is removed several orders from civilians and even from soldier-executioners, who is morally responsible for wrongful death or even “successful” “targeted strikes”? Who, in this surreal and oddly precise version of Ender’s Game, is ultimately culpable? When war becomes even more unseen, when it slides ever-more toward computerized management and best-guess threat assessment, will we be more disposed to wage it?

Shaban, Hamza. "Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

Why 21st Century Warfare Is Different 
James Dunnigan
August 29, 2011

After ten years of fighting, the war on terror has caused 51,600 American military casualties (6,200 dead and 45,400 wounded). This includes a small number of CIA, State Department and other agency personnel. Over 99 percent are Department of Defense. Not all the casualties were from combat, with 21 percent of the deaths from non-combat causes. In World War II that was 25 percent. Iraq fighting accounted for 71 percent of the deaths and 70 percent of the wounded. Outside of Afghanistan and Iraq, operations in dozens of other countries represented 2.5 percent of deaths, but about 71 percent of these were from non-combat causes. 

The first 21st century war was quite different than the 20th century conflicts. For one thing, far fewer Americans are being killed or wounded in combat. And fewer and fewer of those who are wounded die. It’s a continuing trend. Last year, eight percent of the wounded died, compared to eleven percent in 2009. There are several reasons for more troops surviving battle wounds (and injuries from accidents). An obvious cause is body armor. Improvements over the past decade, in terms of design and bullet resistance, account for about 20 percent of the decline in casualties. There's a down side to this, as the body armor is heavier and cumbersome. This reduces a soldier's mobility, and increases casualties a bit (and saves some enemy lives as well.)

Another major factor is medical care, which has gotten much better, quicker and faster. Not only are procedures more effective, but badly wounded soldiers get to the operating table more quickly. Medics now have capabilities that, during Vietnam, only surgeons possessed. Movement of casualties to an operating room is much faster now, partly because of better transportation, but also because of more efficient methods, and operating rooms that are placed closer to the battlefield.

Another major factor is the change in what caused casualties. Explosions (like roadside bombs) are less likely to cause fatal wounds. For example, currently 12.9 percent of bullet wounds are fatal, compared to 7.3 percent for bombs and 3.5 percent for RPGs (and grenades in general). The enemy in Afghanistan prefers to use roadside bombs, because U.S. troops are much superior in a gun battle. All this contributed to the changing the ratio of wounded-to-killed, that was 6-to-1 in Vietnam, to 10-1 now.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, there has also been a dramatic reduction in combat deaths compared to Vietnam, and previous 20th century wars. The death rate (adjusting for the number of troops involved) in Iraq was a third of what it was in Vietnam. It's even lower in Afghanistan. There was such a massive reduction in combat deaths that the percentage of deaths that were from non-combat causes actually went up. For example, there were 47,359 (81.4 percent) combat deaths in Vietnam, and 10,797 (18.6 percent) from non-combat causes. In Iraq it is 80 percent and 20 percent. In Afghanistan it is 70 percent and 30 percent. The ratio of dead to wounded is also different in Iraq (1 dead for 7.2 wounded) compared to Afghanistan (1 dead for 8.1 wounded)

There are also differences in the types of casualties. For example, in Vietnam, bullets caused 38 percent of the deaths. In Iraq, it was only 19 percent, and 27 percent in Afghanistan. The Iraqis are notoriously bad shots, even though the urban battle space in Iraq was very similar to Vietnam. There is more of a tradition of marksmanship in Afghanistan, despite (or probably because of) the frequently longer distances involved. The superior body armor has made life much harder for enemy marksmen, as chest shots are now frequently useless and fatal head shots are very difficult.

In Vietnam, 15.7 percent of U.S. combat deaths were caused by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), while in Iraq and Afghanistan it peaked at about 60 percent, and then declined. Casualties were avoided, or made less severe with the development of special armored vehicles (MRAPs) that reduced the impact of the explosives. The roadside bomb is a much less effective weapon, a loser's weapon, because it kills more civilians than enemy troops and played a major role in turning the locals against the Iraqi terrorists and Afghan Taliban.

Aircraft related deaths (from crashes) were 14.6 percent of the combat fatalities in Vietnam, while it was only a few percent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The current helicopters were built with Vietnam experience in mind, and are more resistant to damage and safer to crash land in. Ground vehicle related deaths were two percent in Vietnam, but more than double that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the ground vehicle deaths were non-combat related. That's because from World War II to the present, the U.S. armed forces put huge numbers of trucks and other vehicles on roads (often poorly maintained, or shot up), at all hours, in all weather and with drivers fighting fatigue. There being a war on, the vehicles often proceeded at unsafe speeds.

What made the experience so different today, versus past wars? It was a combination of things. The most important difference is that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting smarter. While the Vietnam era troops were representative of the general population, the post-Vietnam era army is all-volunteer and highly selective. The troops are smarter, healthier and better educated than the general population. During the last three decades, new attitudes have developed throughout the army (which always got most of the draftees). The army, so to speak, has become more like the marines (which was always all-volunteer, and more innovative as a result). This ability to quickly analyze and adapt gets recognized by military historians, and other armies, but not by the media. It also saves lives in combat.

This innovation has led to better training, tactics and leadership. Smarter troops means smarter and more capable leaders, from the sergeants leading fire teams (five men) to the generals running the whole show. Smarter troops leads to tactics constantly adapting to changes on the battlefield. The better tactics, and smarter fighting, has been the biggest reason for the lower death rate.

Better weapons and equipment have made U.S. troops less vulnerable to attack. GPS guided weapons have made the biggest difference. There are now GPS guided bombs, shells and rockets. This enables troops to hit a target with the first shot, and be closer to the explosion (the better to move right in and take care of armed enemy survivors). Another benefit is much fewer civilian casualties. In both Iraq and Vietnam, the enemy frequently used civilians as human shields, and the better trained American troops were able to cope with this in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And then there was night vision gear. This first appeared during Vietnam, but in four decades, the stuff has gotten better, lighter and cheaper. Every soldier has night vision now, as do most combat vehicles. There are also better radios, better uniforms, even better field rations. It all made a difference.

Then there was the Internet, which enabled the troops to get in touch with each other. This made a big difference. Not just for the grunts, but also for the NCOs and officers. Each community had different problems and solutions. With the Internet, they could easily discuss the problems, and quickly share the solutions. The troops did this by themselves, and it was up to the military to play catch up. Life-saving tips are passed around with unprecedented speed. This made a major difference in combat, where better tactics and techniques save lives.

Computers and video games had an impact as well. The draft ended about the same time that personal computers and video games began to show up. So there have been three decades of troops who grew up with both. It was the troops who led the effort to computerize many military activities, and video games evolved into highly realistic training simulators. The automation eliminated a lot of drudge work, while the simulators got troops up to speed before they hit the combat zone. Computers also made possible doing things with information, especially about the enemy, that was not possible before. A lot of troops understand operations research and statistical analysis, and they use it to good effect. Research has also shown that heavy use of video games trains the user to make decisions faster. That's a lifesaver in combat.

UAVs and Trackers took a lot of the fog out of war. For nearly a century, the troops on the ground depended on someone in an airplane or helicopter to help them sort out who was where. In the last decade, the guy in the air has been replaced by robots. UAVs, especially the hand held ones every infantry company has, now give the ground commander his own recon aircraft. He controls it, and it works only for him. Combat commanders now have a top-down view of his troops, and the enemy. This has made a huge difference, creating some fundamental changes in the way captains and colonels command their troops. For higher commanders, the GPS transponders carried by most combat vehicles, provides a tracking system that shows a real-time picture, on a laptop screen, of where all your troops are. This takes a lot of uncertainty out of command.

Living conditions enabled troops in combat to be more alert and effective. Some civilians think air-conditioned sleeping quarters for combat troops, and lots of other goodies in base camps, is indulgent. It is anything but. Getting a good night's sleep can be a life-saver for combat soldiers, and AC makes that possible. Showers, Internet links to home and good chow do wonders for morale, especially for guys getting shot at every day. Good morale means a more alert, and capable, soldier. The combat units often go weeks, or months, without these amenities, but the knowledge that these goodies are there, and eventually to be enjoyed, takes some of the sting out of all the combat stress. The rate of combat fatigue in Iraq has been much lower than in Vietnam, or any previous war.

The enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan was not as effective as the Vietnamese were. The Taliban are more effective than the Iraqis, but not by much. All this is partly this is due to cultural factors, partly because in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese were sending trained soldiers south. The North Vietnamese also had commandos ("sappers"), who, while small in number, caused a lot of anxiety, and casualties, among U.S. troops. The irregular (Viet Cong) troops in South Vietnam, were largely gone after 1968 (as a result of the failed Tet Offensive), but even these fighters tended to be more deadly than the average Iraqi gunman or Afghan warrior. The Iraqi troops have had a dismal reputation for a long time, but they can still be deadly. Just not as deadly as their Vietnamese counterparts. The lower fighting capability of the Iraqis saved lots of American lives, but got far more Iraqis (including civilians) killed. The Afghans have a more fearsome reputation, but in practice they are no match for professional infantry. And conventional wisdom to the contrary, they have been beaten many times in the past. They are blessed, after a fashion, to live in the place that is not worth conquering. So whoever defeats them, soon leaves.

Finally, there is the data advantage. The military (especially the army, which has collected, since Vietnam, massive amounts of information on how each soldier died) has detailed records of soldier and marine casualties. The army, in particular, collects and analyzes this data, and then passes on to the troops new tactics and techniques derived from this analysis. The army restricts access to the data, as it can provide the enemy with useful information on how effective they are. Some basic data is made public, but the details will be a locked up for decade or more. Studying this data is a full time job for many people in the military, and there is a constant stream of suggestions resulting from this analysis, and those suggestions often turn into yet another small decline in combat deaths.

Dunnigan, James. "Why 21st Century Warfare Is Different by James DunniganAugust 29, 2011." Why 21st Century Warfare Is Different. Strategy World, 29 Aug. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2015.

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