Information Operations in Bosnia: A Preliminary Assessment

By Allard, Kenneth | Strategic Forum, November 1996 | Go to article overview

Information Operations in Bosnia: A Preliminary Assessment


Allard, Kenneth, Strategic Forum


Summary

* Coordination in Bosnia has been handicapped because the Dayton Accords did not designate a single authority to synchronize the military, political and humanitarian aspects of the mission.

* Because the Information Revolution largely stops at division level, high technology systems support the headquarters far more effectively than the soldier on the ground.

* The Bosnian experience underlines the need to substitute commercial telecommunications, automation and services for outmoded military equipment and support structures.

* Much of the success of the Bosnian operation can be traced to the quality of the American soldier Cespecially in his innovative use of both commercial and military technology.

Perception versus Reality

American information operations in Bosnia underline both the importance of information in modern military operations and the difficulties of adapting traditional structures to new missions and technologies. Although the Bosnian deployment is still a work in progress, this uneven picture of progress and problems does not always square with inside-the-Beltway perceptions. Defense trade publications regularly feature stories about the high technology supporting our operations in Bosnia-complete with seductive images of electronic maps, gigabytes of computer-transmitted information, and live imagery from unmanned aerial vehicles. As one Washington-based official recently put it, "...with huge bandwidths and powerful computers, we can get intelligence to where it is needed--Humvees, cockpits, ships."

While its effects are often over-stated, an unprecedented amount of information flows from Washington to European headquarters and intermediate staging bases. A family of wide-area networks, for example, connects NATO headquarters with the Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia, passing operational and intelligence messages to the 33 nationalities comprising the coalition. The Internet has also been used for everything from "morale messages" exchanged between the troops and their families to "home pages" carrying frequent public affairs updates. A generation of painstaking efforts in the arcana of NATO communications standardization has paid off as well, with systems that provide an essential baseline of interoperability for IFOR's coalition partners. Routine close air support missions over Bosnia, for example, can involve British Harriers vectored by offshore NATO AWACS aircraft to Norwegian forward air controllers providing direct support to a Swedish-led brigade.

But elaborate information flows between higher command levels do not always translate into better support for the warfighter. In fact, life in Bosnia has not changed very much for the American soldier, because the information revolution largely stops at Division level. Despite the techno-hype, subordinate brigades and battalions typically conduct operations much as they did 20 years ago: with acetate-covered 1:50,000 maps, outdated communications gear, and only those sensor or reconnaissance systems organic to ground units. Unlike the popular image of a Tom Clancy "Ops Center," most tactical command centers look much as they have in other wars--in tents, semi-destroyed buildings or the back ends of armored vehicles. Add in the effects of mountainous terrain (limiting line-of-sight communications); weather (either cold and muddy or hot and dusty) and computer viruses (sophisticated and ubiquitous) and you confront the enduring qualities of military life in the field. In the apt summation of one U.S. Army general in Bosnia, "Soldiering is still an outdoor sport."

U.S. and NATO soldiers have had considerable success in meeting these challenges: but the following issues highlighted by the Bosnian operation are especially important for the future:

Command & Control: The fundamental question of "Who's in charge?" has normally been synonymous with the dread specter of U. …

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