Millennial Soldiers and Radio Emissions

Major Cavanaugh, Army Strategist, laments the fact that today’s youths are attached at the hand to some sort of smart device 24/7 which emits easily detectable radio emissions.

Also, while it is true that millennials, as “digital natives,” are tech-savvy—they are also equally tech-dependent. A recent Nielson report found that 97 percent of Americans aged eighteen to thirty-four had access to smartphones; use has become “second nature.” Most won’t travel across town without their iPhones.

Why is this abundance and dependence a problem? For starters, it deviates from historical norms, so Americans are apt to fail to recognize this growing vulnerability.

Second, it gives near-peer competitors a weakness to exploit. Russia’s shown it can shut down phones and airwaves, and failing at this type of electro-magnetic spectrum warfare is punctuated by Gen. Milley’s favorite new catchphrase: “if you emit, you die.” That’s a problem when your army is filled with folks who “emit” 97 percent of the time (and can’t imagine not emitting).

Major Cavanaugh thinks this is an extreme vulnerability, and that the US Army is not doing enough to address this. An “Army Strategist” is a Functional Area 59, or “Army Strategist” and their job is to work on the big stuff, you know “strategy.”

The Officers you should probably care about listening to about Millennials with their smart devices, would be a Functional Area 29, or Electronic Warfare Officer (the Army will soon end the FA29 program and move Electronic Warfare Officers to the Cyber career management field with the MOS 17B, sometime in FY19).

So, asking the opinion of an Electronic Warfare Officer who shall remain nameless, he isn’t worried at all about Millennial Soldiers and their cell phones. He is worried about the Army’s “Network Centric Warfare” model which requires constant radio access and wireless data links to function as designed. The unnamed EWO also mentioned that he’s seen a Brigade TAC become completely non-functional for weeks at a time by an OPFOR that was armed with two Electronic Support backpacks and commercial radio controlled aircraft (aka “drones”). He also pays attention to what is going on in east Ukraine and understands why MAJ Cavanaugh is worried about Millennials with their cell phones.

The reason why the Army’s network centric warfare model is much more disturbing is that it is based on the assumption that superior information (ie “information dominance”) will lead to operational dominance (ie “controlling the battlespace”) which will translate into tactical dominance (ie “winning the fight”). The problem with this is that it is “sort of true” but demonstrably wrong.

To demonstrate why the assumptions about network centric warfare is wrong, look at the game of chess. In the game of chess there is no “fog of war” there is no “information advantage” to either player. The game of chess is as even a fight as you can get, but it is damn near impossible to tell who will win until one side makes an obvious mistake. This is why so many games between chess masters and grand masters result in a draw.

The US Army has ways of dealing with Soldiers who bring unauthorized personal equipment into the field or theater of war. The US Army doesn’t have a good way of cutting its current and cultural dependence on line of sight satellite and radio links, tactical radios, and network services. Worrying about fraction of a watt smartphones is “penny wise, pound foolish” in terms of the many tens to hundreds of watt emitters the Army brings along just to conduct business as usual outside of a garrison environment.

Personally I am not worried about the Millennial generation, as they have been filling the ranks of the 75th Ranger Regiment and various Special Forces groups for quite some time now, as well as the 82nd and 101st Airborne, and many less prestigious units. In short, the Millennial generation has been fighting and dying in the “war on a noun” for well over a decade at this point. Sure the Millennial generation as a whole leaves a lot to be desired, but the Millennial generation that is volunteering to serve? They have done all right.

After all, the 1% that volunteer for military service aren’t typical of the 97% of their generation that so incense MAJ Cavanaugh. Sure there are plenty of smartphone users in the military, but all those Soldiers going through Infantry OSUT or MI AIT learn quick fast and in a hurry that a cell phone isn’t for privates in the Army. Especially not out on patrol, or heaven forbid in a SCIF.

So, what do you think of MAJ Cavanaugh’s hand wringing? Is it simply a case of an old guy griping about kids on his lawn? Or is the Millennial Generation a threat to national security by their built in weaknesses?

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4 Responses to Millennial Soldiers and Radio Emissions

  1. B says:

    Great assets are horrible liabilities depending upon who’s asking and what’s the question. Much like the oracle of Delphi, a great empire will fall. Both true and catastrophic much like the election of 2016 will be remembered on all sides


    • rthtgnbs says:

      True, the question of whether or not others can turn our “assets” into exploitable weaknesses is definitely something a Strategist should be concerned about. However I don’t see Russia or China successfully “weaponizing” Millennial tech habits on the battlefield any time soon.


  2. Dick Baker says:

    I rant and rave about the ‘lost’ 97% all the time, and worry that the 1% will be exhausted in a real
    stand up fight, pretty damned quick. I would wish to recover some of that 97% but no one has any ideas. I suggested the draft and got lambasted off the circuit.


    When we run out of white Southern boys, then what? We’re already tapping the girl fraction.

    As to the Major’s concern, that’s always been a nagging doubt in my mind. If Bill in the One Oh Worst can hear you, so can Ivan in his EW van. We can’t just go on filling the air with chat.

    The Navy uses IR signal lamps and colorful signal flags for ‘quiet’ conversations . . . we have no
    such options. Buried wire works OK until incoming breaks it. Or the chow truck. Maybe we need to wrap a Message around an arrow and launch from a Longbow. What MOS would that be, I wonder.

    I used to keep a Cattle Prod in the TOC/FDC for ‘O’s who didn’t know when to break the transmission.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      There are a lot of bad compromises to make between being able to communicate and avoiding enemy detection.

      Although the cattle prod idea should probably make a comeback, that seems like a sound procedure for ensuring radio discipline.


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