Ukraine called the first “broadband war”

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Editor’s Notes: Ukraine Called the First ‘Broadband War’

Illustration from iStock

ABOARD HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH — The Atlantic Future Forum is perhaps one of the most unique annual security conferences.

Now in its fifth year, the forum is being held aboard one of the UK’s aircraft carriers. There are rows of chairs, a small stage, an impressive audiovisual system and a dozen industry stalls, just like a regular trade show.

The main difference is that it takes place in the hangar below decks where helicopters and jet fighters are normally kept.

The invitation-only event is the brainchild of Lord Sedwill, a former NATO diplomat, cabinet secretary and national security adviser to British prime ministers. This year was the second time it was held in New York Harbor. Annapolis, Maryland and Portsmouth, UK also hosted. The organizers have announced that it will be held in a European port next year.

This is an opportunity for the Royal Navy to practice a bit of public diplomacy and for defense and security thinkers to focus on bilateral security ties between the US and UK.

It is also a fascinating experience. There was no Wi-Fi or wireless below deck, and attendees were stuck on the ship until a ferry arrived late in the day.

With their smartphones rendered useless, attendees were forced to pay attention to keynote speeches and panel discussions.

Naturally, the war in Ukraine was a major topic.

Among the many thought-provoking discussions was a “fireside chat” with two men from very different backgrounds, both of whom had recently visited Ukraine.

One was an active duty military officer: British Army General Sir Patrick Sanders, Chief of the General Staff. The other, a former “captain of industry”, former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt.

The first impression Schmidt had on his trip to Kyiv was on the train from Poland. He assumed that in the midst of a war, it would be a difficult journey. Instead, the new luxurious train featured 200 megabit Wi-Fi connectivity.

“For Americans, try this on Amtrak,” he joked.

This connectivity on the train would serve as an example of what he discovered: a wired, tech-savvy nation, ready and able to use the tools of the information age to fight against a powerful aggressor.

“I was really impressed that this was the first broadband war,” Schmidt said.

One of the Ukrainian government’s first actions as Russian forces gathered on its borders was to scrap bureaucratic rules about what could be stored in the cloud.

Servers are targets, and if the country were invaded, critical data could have been lost.

Next, Elon Musk ensured connectivity to the outside world by donating thousands of terminals connecting to SpaceX’s Starlink space broadband system, ensuring that Russia could not cut Ukraine’s internet off from the world.

“He’s a real hero in all of this,” Schmidt said, though he noted that other American and British companies have stepped in to ensure Ukraine retains connectivity.

This paved the way for what came to be called “anti-tank tweets”.

Schmidt described in detail how any Ukrainian – combatant or non-combatant – can take a photo of a tank or other military target with their smartphone and then send the photo along with the geospatial data via a specially designed app. at the Ministry of Defense where analysts watch and decide whether to target him or not – all made possible by broadband, of course.

“It’s a completely different way of waging a war,” Schmidt said.

The new form of broadband warfare will include cloud services and satellite communications, which are protected against jamming, he said.

Career officer Sanders had a slightly different approach. In many ways, the war in Ukraine is “regressive”, he said. “There are elements that don’t look any different from the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. It degenerated into a war of attrition, he added.

Yet, in addition to this traditional bloody warfare, there is what an army can do to use digital technology to gain the upper hand, he said. The flat network – which has no hierarchy – that uses social media and the app for targeting is one example, he said.

“Right now you see how you can combine that kind of innovation and creativity with what will never change in warfare – close combat, attrition, mass effects,” he said.

“It was not decisive, but what it allowed [Ukraine] to do is fight in a way that avoids a symmetrical fight, so they can take a much more indirect approach,” Sanders said.

For Schmidt, who served as an adviser to the US military for five years, decentralization is another key lesson learned. The use of cheap drones shows that the US is too focused on exquisite, high-tech rigs. He would rather have 100 drones than a jet fighter.

“It’s centralization versus decentralization and decentralization is your friend in war because it means you have fewer failure points,” Schmidt said.

Still, what worked for Ukraine might not apply to other conflicts, like the Chinese scenario, Sanders warned.

“I need a resilient system,” he said.

“But how do you design this in a way that doesn’t lead to you having a symmetrical fight with a very, very high-tech opponent?” He asked.

“I’m not sure I can see a way through this,” he added.


Topics: Infotech, International, Battlefield Communications


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