Sunday, May 20, 2007

Violent agreement

Here's part two of Wired's interview with John Robb on the occasion of his book. It's cracking stuff - they got Kris "Alexander the Average" Alexander to grill him. But the really interesting thing here is the curious way Robbo and his arch-rival Thomas Barnett are increasingly locked in violent agreement. Consider Robbo's positive recommendations:
Investments in people. Language and cultural training for a large percentage of the force. Knowing the language and a culture is almost as important as being able to shoot a rifle. In my view, nobody should be in Iraq unless they spent 6 months in language/cultural training.

Well, this is something I've been banging on about for years. (Barnett's notion of a sysadmin force is not dissimilar, anyway.) See Pat Lang's recent post.

• Investments in information platforms. Information flows and knowledge development is more important than weapon systems. There are two places where this needs to happen. The first is in civil defense and the second is for the DoD. Robust information platforms that break down silos of information/functionality are a basic requirement for operation of any organization in the 21st Century. They foster innovation and complex adaptive ecosystems (think real responsiveness to the IED problem). IF you have information platforms in place, you can create a level of flexibility in a big organization that mimics a much smaller organization. So far, I’ve not seen much progress on this. Perhaps a military CIO should be on Joint Chiefs of Staff.

There's a lot of truth to this, but first of all it's Robbo talking his own book, and secondly it sounds a lot like Barnett's own Enterra Solutions, which Robb regularly savages.

• Investments in information warfare and unrestricted warfare. This is how most state on state warfare is going to fought in the future and it will be very useful to have as a means of going after global guerrillas. This means everything from the ability to mount wars over the Internet to providing training and guidance to US corporations operating in dangerous areas. This is an area that hasn’t been provided the resources it needs. It also, due to the complexity and irregularity of it, requires much more diversity in skill sets than you typically get from the big military contractors or that from within the military. So far, this has been done in an ad hoc way and the results have been far less than they should have been.
This could be lifted from Barnett's blog, frankly.

• Investments in communities in a box. One of the things we see again and again is the need for the ability to provide instant infrastructure to damaged communities. This ranges from a community cut off due to security needs in counter-insurgency to disaster relief. How do you package infrastructure for 20-30,000 people in a box? The military should be solving this.
This is essentially Barnett's thing about "Development in a Box", which also happens to be something very like Architecture for Humanity's recent competition to design a "community tech centre", not to mention the GSM Association and Motorola's all-renewable powered, zero dig GSM/EDGE base station.

So it's going to be very amusing the next time they fall out. More importantly, what light does this cast on UK defence policy? On the first point, there is almost nothing in the MOD's budget that would have a greater rate of return than a sizable retention bonus for Intelligence Corps linguists and agent handlers. On the second, the agonising procurement disaster that was the Army's BOWMAN radio system doesn't need rehearsing here, but I would point out that some other armies (especially the South Koreans) are experimenting with IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX mesh networking. It would probably be wise to put some money into a decent scale trial, especially as if the technology takes off it will be cheap - Intel is integrating it in the next lot of its wireless chipsets (Rosedale-2 and beyond).

I'm pretty happy with the existing position on the third point: check out this page at the European Networks and Information Security Agency. There are more Computer Emergency Response Teams in the UK, 14 of them, than any European country but Germany, and they include BT-CERT, where somebody reads this blog - so they must be good.

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