We live in the booming information age, where information of all sorts is readily accessible to countless people across the globe. Videos, articles and social media posts can be shared and viewed like never before — everything from cute cat videos in rural Japan to gruesome decapitations in Syria to wildfires in western America — it’s all there.
How does this affect the world of combat?
Of course, there are the obvious ones. Alex Hollings covers one such instance in his cleverly named article, “Loose apps set traps,” where U.S. service members were incidentally mapping out their Forward Operating Base (FOB) using fitness trackers. This is a perfect example of a clear breach of OPSEC. Recording and uploading tactical procedures or troop positions would be another example — in the 1940s, soldiers were in no danger of having video recorded of their position and that video getting sent to the enemy within minutes. Any effort like that would have taken considerable resources; now it just takes the phone that’s in everyone’s pockets and some signal.
However, there are less blatant uses of video and the spreading of information that can negatively affect OPSEC. Taking pictures and uploading them of a cool helicopter someone saw overseas, or simply texting someone and telling them when you’re coming home — these can have devastating effects, and they have in the past. The problem with these seemingly “innocent” breaches of OPSEC, is that it probably won’t have much effect. Still, it’s the one time that gets you, and it’s almost always something “innocent” that gets people in trouble.
But the reality is: this is the world we live in. There are those who complain about “the old days,” and then there are those who adapt and overcome. No doubt, the battlefield has had far more significant changes than this in the past, and militaries around the world either changed with the times or they were swallowed by superior firepower. When the automotive industry started producing vehicles for the military, those that turned their noses up at leaving their horses behind probably had a rough go at it in the ensuing battles (a gross simplification, but you get my point).
However, technology evolves so quickly that the massive bureaucracy that is the military often has a hard time keeping up. GoPros were invented and out the door fairly quickly, suddenly accessible to the masses. By the time the appropriate power-points had been created, edited, vetted, approved and passed down the chain of command, GoPros were likely already well integrated into Platoons across the board. And then still, you’re always going to get those who don’t listen to the power-points anyway.
Fortunately, SOF members tend to be at the forefront of technology, and they have a level of internal discretion that allows them to make common sense decisions in that regard. Senior leadership needs to have their finger on the pulse of what their junior operators have in their possession technology-wise, and they can approve/disapprove accordingly until specific guidance comes from higher.
On top of adapting and overcoming these “obstacles,” great leadership will take it a step further. They will use new technology to their advantage. This allows you to film and redistribute footage of say, a shoot house, for further critique and study. A squad leader in a regular infantry platoon could wear a GoPro during a react to contract drill, then go through everything with his squad at a later date, using it as a teaching tool.
Videos from cell phones and combat cameramen have found a place in real mission AARs and as teaching instruments in theater as well. Want to know how hard it is to see IEDs when they’re placed well? There are probably dozens of readily available videos that illustrate this perfectly. Want to know what happened on that mission where guys seemed to come out of nowhere? Review some aerial footage. However, OPSEC will remain the foremost priority when it comes to these things.
It also gives the civilian side a unique perspective in understanding what the world is really like. Having this window into combat from a safe environment can be a good thing, as exposure to the truth of things worldwide is one of the greatest fruits of the information age.
Featured image courtesy of pxhere.