You Had Me at Camouflage: An MWI Podcast About the Changing Landscape of War

You Had Me at Camouflage: An MWI Podcast About the Changing Landscape of War

My daily work commute is about 35-40 minutes each way and I try to listen to a podcasts on my drives to and from work. Generally, I enjoy this time as it allows me to catch up on some news or just relax outside of work or the kids asking questions. This post is about the MWI Podcast: The Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is Giving Us a Glimpse into the Future of War. I will admit that this podcast is a little wonky but they promised a discussion on camouflage so I was hooked. They describe the podcast this way:

In this episode of the MWI Podcast, John Amble is joined by Dr. Jack Watling. He is Research Fellow for Land Warfare at the Royal United Services Institute and has been monitoring the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has erupted since late September surrounding the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Dr. Watling recently wrote an article that examined the insights that can be derived from the unfolding conflict. In particular, the article explored what we can learn from it about ground combat on the modern battlefield. In this episode he expands on some of those lessons, especially for combined arms operations and the role—and vulnerabilities—of armored platforms. Among other things, he discusses the saturation of the battlefield with a variety of sensors, challenges associated with electronic warfare, and the importance of camouflage. Collectively, these represent a problem set that the US military and those of its allies largely have not encountered during nearly two decades of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—which makes the lessons he discusses especially important.

In the podcast, Dr. Watling breaks down what they have witnessed so far in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war which we wrote about earlier. They noted that even though we have been engaged in continuous fighting for the last 20 years this is the first real conflict where ‘near peer’ or ‘sub peer’ powers that, on paper, are relatively equally matched and are employing some of the newer technology against each other and the devastating effect it is having on Armenian armor. For us, this war could teach us lessons on how to re-think some of the basic tactics like camouflage and radio silence. In his article Dr. Watling notes:

The snippet videos usually show armour manoeuvring, when camouflage is hard to maintain, and which Western forces would equally have to do if they were to affect the outcome of battle. The videos have also been selected as examples of Azerbaijani successes. However, there is actually a lot of evidence of Armenian forces digging in, concealing positions, and deploying decoys, of which at least two were struck by Azerbaijani forces.

More importantly, this dismissal of evidence suggests a lack of appreciation of just how naked the modern battlefield has become. Against a peer adversary it is entirely reasonable to expect the battlefield to be swept by ground-moving target indicator (GMTI) radars, with tactical units able to scan terrain out to 150 km. Night or day, unusual cross-terrain movements, coordinated spacing, and lack of adherence to civilian roads, all make military vehicles highly distinct to trained operators.

For Watling, camouflage is more than face-paint and vegetation. He is talking about electronic, thermal and radio camouflage. He continues talking about how reliant U.S. forces are on radio communications and the way we train will need to change if we are to be successful on the battlefield. Dr. Watling continues:

A further layer of scrutiny will come from electronic warfare units. Dependency upon radio in Western operations is a hard habit to kick, especially given the stringent safety standards in exercises. Western forces tend to leave a tell-tale map of electronic signatures for an adversary to analyse. Even platoon infantry attacks tend to see a lot of exchanges on the company net. For a competent adversary these signatures offer another potent tool to map Western forces’ movements.

In the podcast they discuss how UAVs could have widgets added that would give off electronic signatures equivalent to that of a command element and spoof the adversary in a different direction. But the most important concept they discuss is understanding the balance of capabilities and integrating systems on the battlefield.

That new system of fighting – understanding the balance of capabilities critical to the future of combined arms operations – must also go further than articulating how to blind the enemy’s sensors. It must also outline how to reverse the calculus and impose comparable challenges on the enemy. Here there are more difficult structural questions to be resolved. The British Army had intended to disband 32 Regiment Royal Artillery, responsible for employing tactical UAVs, because it felt that UAVs should become organic across the force. There is a risk, however, that this would leave UAVs as an enabler to augment what regiments do already. The absence of a community of excellence to challenge thinking, develop new tactics and inform other units about the implications, is a problem, which has led to the regiment ultimately being retained. At the same time, keeping UAVs as a capability integrated throughout the force promises to encourage combined arms employment. Similar challenges might be asked about counter-UAV and EW systems. Should they be grouped at echelon, or attached organically to manoeuvre elements? If the latter is pursued, how can British forces avoid fratricide in the electromagnetic spectrum?

This podcast is definitely worth the 35-minute listen and I recommend giving it a try. You can follow the this link and be sure to subscribe to their podcast on all of the major platforms.


One thought on “You Had Me at Camouflage: An MWI Podcast About the Changing Landscape of War

  1. Reply
    Dave M
    October 17, 2020 at 9:38 AM

    Great article. Well written and illuminating

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