Saturday, December 03, 2005

Reading :: Swarming and the Future of Conflict

Originally posted: Sat, 03 Dec 2005 01:49:44

Swarming and the Future of Conflict

by John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt

Whereas the authors' Advent of Netwar focused on the organizational structure of networks, this RAND report focuses on the key doctrine of netwar: swarming. (This doctrine is what interested Hugh Hewitt in his book Blog.) Swarming is

the systematic pulsing of force and/or fire by dispersed, internetted units, so as to strike the adversary from all directions simultaneously. This does not necessitate surrounding the enemy, though swarming may include encirclement in some cases. Rather, emphasis is placed on forces or fires that can strike at will ? wherever they will. (p.9)

The authors concede that swarming has historical precedents, but "swarming could not come into its own as a major way of war, because its organizational and informational requirements are huge. Swarming has had to wait for the current information and communications revolution to unfold as robustly as did the earlier forms of fighting" (p.9).

Those earlier forms of fighting were the melee (every fighter for her/himself); massing ("stacked, geometric formations" (p.13)); and maneuver warfare. In contrast to these, swarming involves autonomous or semi-autonomous units in a convergent assault; amorphous but coordinated "pulsing" or striking from all directions; small, internetted maneuver units; integrated surveillance; and attacks that disrupt the adversary's cohesion (p.21). The authors give several good examples of each, including swarming (e.g., German U-boats, Parthian horsemen, ants, bees, wolf packs). The nature metaphors put me in mind of A Thousand Plateaus, although I doubt the authors have read that work.

Overall, this was an interesting and illuminating report, and I can see how this doctrine has influenced recent changes in the US military. I also think that Hewitt did have it largely right when he applied swarming to recent "blog swarms," although the swarming that Arquilla and Ronfeldt are discussing seems more coordinated and controlled than what Hewitt is discussing. I'm more interested in applying lessons to nonmilitary organizations, of course, and in that vein I see some similarities with pieces such as The Cluetrain Manifesto.

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