Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Any Time, Every Place: The Networked Societies of War Fighters in a Battlespace of Flows

Academic journal article Air & Space Power Journal

Any Time, Every Place: The Networked Societies of War Fighters in a Battlespace of Flows

Article excerpt

In a world of networks, the ability to exercise control over others depends on .. . the ability to constitute network(s), and . . . the ability to connect and ensure the cooperation of different networks . . . while fending off competition from other networks.

-Prof. Manuel Castells, Communications Power

It takes a network to defeat a network.

-Prof. John Arquilla and Gen Stanley McChrj'Stal

In a hypothetical retelling of any of 100 recent battlefield encounters, two networks coalesce around a compound of buildings at the western border of a nation at war with itself. On one side, a disparate assemblage of fighters drawn from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia attempts to enter a country at war using an amalgam of ancient trade routes and modern commercial navigational and communications technology. Their stories are as diverse as their backgrounds-for one, an Internet web magazine linked them to a religious leader they once knew personally; for another, they come to avenge a brother or an uncle; a third comes for the prospect of adventure, as advertised by other fighters on streaming video. In a previous war, fighters might have brought with them their preferred printed propaganda piece, perhaps even a signed copy. In this war, those authors are very much present and part of the conversation, linked to their progeny by way of e-mail and voice over Internet protocol. The financiers are just as present, relationally linked to the real-time consequences of their donations.

This force exists in many spaces at once; it is anchored in relational space but flexible in physical space. The flexibility allows it to coalesce at a time and place of its choosing, achieve fleeting objectives, and disperse before an enemy can respond. This strategy works remarkably well against a conventional adversary, bound by physical areas of operation and beholden to fixed-response timelines. '

This force's opposite number is strikingly similar in this regard: a diverse network of special operators, aircrews, and intelligence professionals, bound together by a mix of trust networks and modern communications technology, has been hunting this cell for some time now. One such team-a special operator working fivm a tactical headquarters, an MQ-l aircrew in Nevada, a Liberty MC-12 crew, and a team of analysts in at least two places in the continental United States-locates and tracks this cell along a transit route. Upon finding their quarry, helicopters full of operators, fixed-wing gunships, highspeed fighters, and sundry support aircraft press toward the cell before it can flee. Once they are established on scene, the target location provides a focal point for the operation, but the trust networks between operators continue to give the teams the nimbleness necessary to pursue the objective. These trust networks have been built over years through a combination of shared combat experience, in-person exercises, and weekly teleconferences. All of these places and times are invoked at once "on the op. "

This is a battle of small margins in brief windows. Victory goes to the side that can fix its opponent in a physical place while retaining the flexibility to bring its own forces to bear across physical space. In this case, it belongs to the special operations team members who can call upon forces from across 10,000 miles and bring them into this place. The terror cell, fixed in place and decoupled fivm its larger netivorks, cannot. The special operations team remains in a "space of flows" while the terror cell is trapped in a "space of places. "

Castells and the Space of Flows

In his seminal trilogy The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture, sociologist Manuel Castells describes changes wrought by increasing global connective in the way societies perceive the intersection of social space, pf^sical location, and relational networks. He defines space as "the material support of time-sharing social practices. …

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