Swarming and the Future of Conflict

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9780833028853: Swarming and the Future of Conflict
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Swarming is a seemingly amorphous, but deliberately structured, coordinated, strategic way to perform military strikes from all directions. It employs a sustainable pulsing of force and/or fire that is directed from both close-in and stand-off positions. It will work best—perhaps it will only work—if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units. This calls for an organizational redesign—involving the creation of platoon-like pods joined in company-like clusters—that would keep but retool the most basic military unit structures. It is similar to the corporate redesign principle of flattening, which often removes or redesigns middle layers of management. This has proven successful in the ongoing revolution in business affairs and may prove equally useful in the military realm.

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This documented briefing continues the elaboration of our ideas about how the information revolution is affecting the whole spectrum of conflict. Our notion of cyberwar (1993) focused on the military domain, while our study on netwar (1996) examined irregular modes of conflict, including terror, crime, and militant social activism. Here we advance the idea that swarming may emerge as a definitive doctrine that will encompassand enliven both cyberwar and netwar. This doctrinal proposal relates to our efforts to flesh out a four-part vision of how to prepare for information-age conflict (see Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1997, Ch. 19).We have argued, first of all, for adopting a broad concept of "information" so that it is defined as something that refers not only to communications media and the messages transmitted, but also to the increasingly material "information content" of all things, including weapons and other sorts of systems. The next part of our vision focused on the organizational dimension, emphasizing that the information revolution empowers thenetwork form-undermining most hierarchies. Moving on to the third part, we then exposited our ideas about developing an American grand strategy based on "guarded openness"-a principle that, for example, encourages reaching out widely with ideas about freedom and progress, while still being circumspect about diffusion of advanced information processes and technologies.In this document, we complete our four-part vision by articulating a doctrine we call "swarming," and which we believe may eventually apply across the entire spectrum of conflict-from low to high intensity, and from civic-oriented actions to military combat operations on land, at sea, and in the air.Primarily of interest to U.S. policymakers and strategists, this documented briefing will also interest those in academia and research institutes concerned with how the information revolution is altering the nature of conflict.This study was prepared for a project on "Swarming and Information Operations." The project was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence), OASD/C3I, and was conducted within theInternational Security and Defense Policy Center of RAND's National Defense ResearchInstitute (NDRI). NDRI is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.Readers should also see a companion study by Sean Edwards, Swarming on the Battlefield: Past, Present, and Future (RAND, 2000). It provides additional historical background and analysis.Comments are invited. We are available via email, arquilla@rand.org andronfeldt@rand.org.

About the Author:

JOHN ARQUILLA (Ph.D., Political Science, Stanford University) is a RAND consultant and a professor of foreign policy at the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

DAVID F. RONFELDT (Ph.D., Political Science, Stanford University) is a Senior Social Scientist at RAND whose research focus includes information revolution, netwar, cyberocracy, strategic swarming and the rise of transnational networks of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

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