Asymetric Warfare (part 3): “Swarming – the new face of subversion and terrorism”


Swarming – the new face of subversion and terrorism

November 28, 2008


When locusts attack a field in sufficiently large numbers, they synchronize their body movements to such a degree that no two locusts ever land on the same stem if there isn’t enough food enough on it for both of them.

When a crowd burns a witch or follows a Fuehrer, the movements of the individuals are also synchronized, their shouts orchestrated with very little effort, their meaning precise and clear.

Biologists call the locust phenomenon ‘swarming intelligence’. The changes in the behaviour of individual insects begin when the swarm acquires a certain size – a ‘critical mass.’ Cybernetics in their search for artificial intelligence have been trying to imitate swarming intelligence for decades, sometimes with significant success.

In the military, swarming tactics in warfare have been known for centuries, under a bunch of different names. The essence is the same: a primary manoeuvre that results in an attack from multiple directions (all points of the compass) by multiple semi-autonomous units on a single target. Like a swarm of bees attacking an intruder.

Rand Corporation has recently published several works on swarming tactics in warfare. A commentary by John Arquilla and David Ronfeld, ‘Swarming – The Next Face of Battle’ which appeared on the Rand Corp. website, sums up all that work nicely: ‘Swarming is seemingly amorphous but is a carefully structured, coordinated way to strike from all directions at a particular point or points… It will work if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad small, dispersed, networked maneuver units… Unlike previous military practice, battle management is now mainly about ‘command and decontrol’ as networked units all over the field of battle (or business, or activism, or terror and crime) coordinate and strike the adversary in fluid, flexible, nonlinear ways.’

The British, then the Soviet military and now the U.S.-led international forces encountered swarming tactics in Afghanistan where the militants, often disguised as peaceful peasants by day, at night formed deadly small attack units and launched coordinated pulse-like attacks, usually dispersing by the time a counterstrike was organised.

However, the latest advances in communications and information technology has made swarming one of the most attractive combat doctrines of the near future. To use swarming tactics successfully, combat units, like locusts and bees, need a high degree of mutual alertness and a kind of ‘critical mass’ to ensure spontaneous decision-making and instantaneous synchronization of efforts. It is, basically, networking, but of a kind where no time is lost on the forming of the necessary network and on causing it to act.

While the mainstream U.S. military is still weighing up the pros and cons of swarming on a battlefield, affordable electronic equipment built using the latest communications and information technology, together with a widely adopted swarming approach, is causing a revolution in special forces combat tactics, government-sponsored subversive activities, human pastime and organized crime.

How else can we describe and explain such new elements in our everyday lives as flash-mobs, ‘orange revolutions,’ special forces operations in which 300 commandos divided into small mobile units tightly linked with each other by electronic communications, GPS, satellite feeds and portable computers, topple the Taliban regime in no time?

How do we explain the recent tragedy in Mumbai – a terrorist attack on a big city’s downtown area that was a success for terrorists, no matter if only a few of them lived to tell the tale. Fifty or so armed men managing to set off several bombs, organize random shootings simultaneously in different areas of the city, take hostages in no less than three locations, once again simultaneously, and then fight off army and police units for a whole day. What is that if not swarming tactics in action?

Wasn’t swarming part of the terrorists’ plan on 9/11? The hijacked airliners were used as mobile combat units, communications made possible the synchronized strikes at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

As for government-sponsored subversion and ‘orange revolutions’ – let’s just look around! Myriads of NGOs work in my country, Russia, as they did and do in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Thailand, Malaysia, Peru, Venezuela… Let’s read their statute documents attentively, let’s monitor, in a friendly and non-challenging way, their daily work. Let’s trace, without offending them, their sources of income, their parent organizations and founders, the biographies of their leaders. Let’s then take media organizations, especially those where the ‘activist journalism’ breed of reporting news is cultivated, and do the same to them – without offending anyone, politely and gently.

Then let us put everything that we have found together, line it up and use ‘reverse engineering.’ Take it apart to learn how it was built. I do not doubt that we will find a lot of links and connections of which we would have never known, if not for the little piece of research that I suggested. Units, very different in form and appearance, field of application, size and methods, will be found working ‘in pulse’ on the same target, with the same goal.

That is the essence of modern swarming tactics: a swarm doesn’t need everyday control, it rarely needs everyday command. What it needs is critical mass (in the case of subversion – a sufficient number of NGOs, groups and media units strategically positioned in the society of the target nation), a clearly set goal, and nothing else. All the rest follows automatically – no, that is a twentieth-century term. All the rest goes ‘swarmingly’ – until the end result is achieved.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT

About this entry