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Scientific Bulletin

Vol. XXI No 2(42) 2016

SWARMING – DOCTRINARY-OPERATIONAL
CONCEPT – POSSIBLE SOLUTION
TO THE CHALLENGES OF THE CURRENT
MILITARY CONFRONTATIONS
Aurelian RAŢIU
aurelian_ratiu@yahoo.com

“NICOLAE BĂLCESCU” LAND FORCES ACADEMY, SIBIU, ROMANIA

ABSTRACT:
Swarming is a current doctrinary-operational concept, by
means of which one seeks to make the transition from a traditional,
conventional, cumbersome, bureaucratic army to more numerous
structures/units and of reduced dimensions, with remarkable
firepower and mobility, which can act on an opponent from multiple
directions simultaneously, leading to its increased vulnerability by
disorientation and by the inability to concentrate their forces and
effort to respond effectively.
The creation of forces able to act according to this conception
implies radical changes in the modalities of organizing, acting and
leading-coordinating, and last but not least, in the equipment of the
military/units and in the organizational culture.

KEYWORDS:
Concentrated dispersion, omnidirectionality, pulsatory simultaneity,
swarming

1. Introduction In nature, the studies that have been


At first glance, swarming as carried out have identified several types of
organization and action is typical to the swarming and the principles of organization
animal world, but it can also be analysed and of action, respectively.
from the perspective of human beings. Thus, a first form of swarming can be
Moreover, swarming in the human/military found in the hive- or nest-type
action cannot be modelled identically after organizations, this being best exemplified
the one existing in nature, but there are in the case of bees, ants and other social
some lessons that can be learned. insects. These insects use swarming when

DOI: 10.1515/bsaft-2016-0047
© 2015. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License.

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attacking (the enemy or prey) from all Submarines Campaign” (Trueman, 2016)
directions, the ultimate goal being “the and of the air defence operations against
overwhelming/neutralization of the enemy”. bombers during the Second World War.
Although, under normal conditions, these Very often, swarming represented a
insects move in linear formations, the multiplier of the combat power, which
moment the battle starts, they adopt the enabled, for example the Vietnamese forces,
swarming tactics fast and with great to attack an opponent that was superior
flexibility. from a numerical or technological point of
The ants use the “swarming” tactics view, this approach being based on a
not only to obtain food or to defend their concept borrowed from the tactics of
nest, but also to expand their territory Genghis Khan.
through direct combat with other ants. These operations offered the possibility
These confrontations are of a complexity of presenting the principle of dispersion of
resembling human actions in military the forces in correlation with the
conflicts (Bernard, 2015). multidirectional and pulsatory attack in a
very clear manner. From the perspective of
2. Theoretical-Methodological the theoretical approach to the concept of
Considerations swarming, the German strategist Otto
The swarming of ants also differs Heilbrunn (1965, p. 45) had a first initiative,
from other insects in that ants, armed with (as far we know) developing and presenting
powerful mandibles and some acid-spraying a systemic and systematic vision regarding
capability, sustain their behavior throughout this concept. He was preoccupied with the
an engagement, and over an entire campaign. problem of increasing the chances of
Bees, on the other hand, have individuals survival of the conventional forces in the
that can swarm just once, as the act of tactical nuclear field specific to a possible
stinging results in the stinger’s own death. major confrontation between the main
In this respect, ants actions may provide a actors of the Cold War. The solution
more useful model of what we call the proposed the application of new doctrinal
sustainable operations of forces, while bees elements by means of which the concept of
may resemble more the swarming of fire, as concentrated dispersion of the forces was
their stinging deaths seem analogous to emphasized. This concept meant the
“fire-and-forget” precision-guided munitions development of new units of manoeuvre of
(Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 2000, p. 26). small dimensions, scattered in the area of
As far as swarming in human actions operations, but with a very good
is concerned, specifically in military communication system, which would join
confrontations, and in order to be able to efforts only at the appropriate moment to
draw the relevant conclusions and learn the carry out an attack. After the attack, the
lessons, we made a content analysis, based forces would regroup and redeploy in a
on logical argumentation, of some important coordinated manner, preparing for the next
global battles of the past 200 years. attack or for defence, if the situation
Thus, we can affirm and demonstrate required it.
the fact that in these battles the types of Furthermore, swarming is based on
actions that were predominant were the what Martin Libicki (1994, p. 28) called the
frontal attack, the flanking manoeuvre/ “the many and small” and on David
envelopment manoeuvre or the concentration Gelernter’s conception (1992, chapter 3)
of forces/effort, but in some cases, the regarding a command and control element
characteristics of swarming as form of that can collect and process information in a
approach of the fight were also present. short time and has the possibility to engage
Sometimes these swarming tactics played a the available forces when needed.
decisive role as in the case of the “U-boat Another interesting approach and

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close to the actual meaning of swarming is Moreover, the key element of the
that of the two officers from the Chinese military concept of swarming is the
popular army, Qiao Liang and Wang sustained pulsation, achieved either by
Xiangsui (1999, p. 2), who talk about a war distance firing or by engaging the manoeuvre
without rules and without restrictions, about units. According to this view, the structures
innovative thinking in order to find ways to that make up the force will occupy
fight any opponent and any capabilities. dispersed positions, but they will be capable
The main idea of the two Chinese authors is to group and to concentrate their fire and
that unrestricted war means multiple types forces to hit the important identified targets
of attacks on the social, economic, and from all directions. After carrying out the
political systems of the enemy, together hits, they will reposition themselves in an
with atypical attacks in the context of organized manner in order to avoid the
military irregular war planned/carried out in possible countermeasures of the enemy,
a certain rhythm and synchronicity, in order while, at the same time, being prepared to
to weaken the opponent and to create attack again when the circumstances permit it.
opportunities for a favourable outcome. We infer the fact that swarming can
be achieved both by means of the fire of
3. Identification of the Main those means of combat that can perform
Characteristics of Military Swarming shootings at relatively large distances and
By an objective assessment of the by means of the combat military structures,
tackled issues, without any preconceived engaging the enemy directly. Thus, with the
ideas or conjectural interpretations, we have advent of artillery, of missiles or of other
come to the idea that swarming presents at high accuracy hitting systems, the concept
least two fundamental requirements. of swarming can be put into practice by any
The first requirement is the ability of army that possesses such systems, but the
a force to hit the enemy from multiple concept to which we refer is that involving
directions, with a large number of small forces, by close engagement.
units of manoeuvre that are closely The swarming achieved by means of
interconnected. forces was most present in guerrilla warfare
The second requirement refers to the (such as the operations conducted by the
fact that the force that applies the concept Chechens in the war of 1994-1996 against
of swarming should not only engage the the Russians), and in the theatres of
enemy, but should also constitute a sensorial operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
organisation, providing the necessary Actually, we believe that swarming
information and permanent surveillance in by using forces is possible and perhaps it is
order to create and maintain an overview the best solution to stabilize the situation in
image of the space of the battle. South-Eastern Ukraine (in the case of the
Also, the main characteristic of conflict between the governmental Ukrainian
swarming for achieving the goal of the forces and the pro-Russian separatists),
military confrontation is not so much the although this capacity is not cultivated by
physical destruction of the opponent, the Kiev government. The strategy conceived
although numerous damages can occur, but by Ukraine was based on a classic “hammer
it is especially based on the achievement of and anvil” (Romania Military Site, 2014)
surprise and on its disorganization. manoeuvre where units of border guards
The consequence would be the following: were in the position of “anvil” along the
once the leadership system and the common border with the Russian Federation,
components of the deployed unit have lost and the manoeuvre groups acting from the
their focus and freedom of action, they can West were the “hammer” that struck the
no longer organize themselves to respond separatist forces. Taking into consideration
effectively to the attack. the position of the Ukrainian forces, we can

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use the concept of swarming, as there rebel forces/controlled space requires a
existed the possibility of attacking the broader dispersion of the pro-Russian
separatist forces from all the directions, at troops. Dispersion creates opportunities for
the same time resorting to the initiative of multidirectional attack, i.e. swarming. Here
the manoeuvre units. we can only remember the saying of
While the concept of “swarm” takes Frederick II of Prussia “in trying to defend
shape around an image of attackers (task everything, he defended nothing” (George,
forces, missiles, bombers) hitting a target 2014). This is the situation that Kiev should
from all the directions, less clear aspects take advantage of.
have been identified, namely: if these
attackers operate autonomously or follow 4. Challenges in Developing the
an authority. In nature, swarms are Concept of Swarming
composed of independent units whose The new risks and threats in the
actions are instinctive. In military conflicts, security environment, the evolution of
swarms may be independent or controlled. technology, the transition from the industrial
For example, the offensive of the Viet Cong age to the information age have brought
forces, in January 1968 on the town of Têt profound changes in the physiognomy of
(Sorley, 1999, p. 12); although they were war. In this context, swarming, one of the
coordinated from Hanoi, they enjoyed great solutions within the reach of the actors in
freedom of action, consistent with the the field of security, requires more
concept of Mao regarding the centralization organizational innovations, new processes
for strategic purposes and the in the leadership system and new
decentralization for tactical objectives information and processing capabilities.
(Griffith, 2005 p. 114). On the other hand, In the organizational field, and for the
during the Battle of the Atlantic in World armies and the military decision-makers,
War II, the submarine U-boat group that the challenge of change from large and few
attacked the convoys of supplies was tightly units to “many and small” units is an
controlled by the direct orders of Admiral important step. Over time, the principle of
Doenitz (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 2000, p. 21). using a small number of large or very large
From the case studies in the theatres military units was often applied in the
of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq or universal military thinking. The army corps,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, there appears the fact the group of aircraft carriers as well as the
that swarming with forces depends heavily expeditionary forces are all large scale and
on the support of the local population, and a have been designed in order to be used in
group of forces operating within a territory major military operations (e.g., the Gulf
with hostile population may have major War of 1990-1991).
difficulties. Hence, one could infer that The division level structures, the
swarming operations would be easier to largest unit of the land forces, were
implement in the defensive, being more appropriately used in major conflicts, but in
comfortable to fighting in known territory the unconventional or guerrilla ones, the
as, apparently, was the case of the Soviet large units were not effective. In order to
antitank networks (minefields and artillery) particularize, there were many views
that had a major role in defeating the regarding the conflict in Vietnam, opinions
Germans in the Battle of Kursk (OMICS expressed by renowned analysts and experts
International, 2014). (Alain C. Enthoven and Robert William
Referring again to the Ukrainian Komer), which emphasized the need for a
forces, these forces fight in a known greater number of small units, which, by
territory, thus, the territory should not means of another approach, would have had
represent an obstacle. Moreover, a reduced better results (Sorley, 1999, pp. 8-11).
ratio of fighters emerged from the formula In the case of the in-depth

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understanding of the concept to which we terrorist organizations, to organized crime
refer, the military structures should strive to organisations or NGOs, we consider that it
serve multiple functions/purposes. Thus, is appropriate that the military/security
even a mechanized division of the USA has structures should adopt the network principle
infantry battalions and other combat or both for organizational design and for the
support structures that can fulfil independent leading of actions. This, of course, brings
missions (Arquilla & Ronfeldt, 2000, p. 56), up the problem of the dissolution of the
and the new doctrinary conception of the command authority. But, where possible, a
Russian Federation stipulates the use of solution could be hybrid structures – classic
battalion-type tactical groups composed of command structures with an innovative
one armor company, three mechanized design and based on computer networks –,
infantry companies, one anti-tank company, which should help to solve the issues raised
two to three companies of self-propelled by institutional redesign.
artillery and Multiple Launch Rocket From the thing presented so far, it is
Systems, and two air defense companies obvious that this doctrinаry concept can not
(Karber & Thibeault, 2016). These groups be achieved without informational capabilities
of joint forces provide effectiveness, of surveillance and communication. This
manoeuvrability and protection to operate doctrinary vision will help the military
in dispersed and decentralized environment. organization turn into a sensory organization,
On the other hand, armies can not while an integrated information system –
achieve swarming if the forces remain C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications,
structured the same as before, trained to Computers, Information, Surveillance and
fight in the classic way with a conventional Recognition) will be crucial for the
adversary. It is deemed necessary to make interconnection of the operational units
the transition from light fighting vehicles, (Defense Security Cooperation Agency, 2010).
avoiding the heavy ones like the tank. Light Another challenge for swarming is
combat vehicles will be organized into that of achieving logistic processes that
dispersed cells, of small dimensions, that should make sense on a battleground where
will represent, in the vision of swarming, the friendly forces are dispersed. A swаrming-
the new units for manoeuvre. These cells type of force needs a very different logistics
must go beyond physical collaboration, from the one that has been in use so far, in
beyond simple cooperation, being an which the supply with ammunition, food,
imperative for the achievement of the full materials and other equipment has been
integration of all the structures (perhaps in made en mаsse. Within swаrming, these
groups) and the implementation of coherent goods and services will not be delivered to
and pulsatory actions from all the directions fixed locations, but they must reach units
and the concentration of effort in the right that always change their location. However,
place and at the decisive moment. the solutions come from the fact that a
The action of these cells can be truly swаrming-type of force being small, the
integrated and coherent only if the demand for supplies will also be
structures and the elements of the diminished, which may lead to the
leadership and coordination system would achievement of new methods of delivery
sufficiently use the options and the facilities and the logistical support can be much
of the information age, also applying the better achieved.
principles of the Network-Centric Warfare.
Entering the depth of the problem 5. Conclusions
(command-control), the types of hierarchies Swarming is a maximum novelty
required by swarming are questioned. doctrinary-operational concept with real
Given the experience of other actors in the perspectives for development, by means of
security environment, and we refer here to the shift from mass armies to numerous

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small size units, with great firepower, concept entails the repeated firing at the
remarkable mobility and which can to act enemy or attacking them using military
on the enemy simultaneously from several forces, from all directions and then
directions in order to disorient them, to regrouping these forces and repeating the
make it impossible to focus their effort on cycle.
a certain direction, to weaken their combat The swаrming-type of force will be
capability and thus increase their less visible, because it is characterized by
vulnerability to other attacks. the fact that it will be amorphous, at least
In order to adopt the concept of in the eyes of the enemy. The small units
swаrming, we must analyze orgаnisаtionаl that will be deployed in a dispersed manner
issues in depth, issues concerning the will contribute to a passive yet ubiquitous
leadership processes as well as aspects image, a sort of ubiquitous invisibility.
related to the integration of the new Thus, the force will be harder to detect, but
informational capabilities in the it will be capable of regrouping and
functioning of military structures. In order attacking anywhere on the battlefield
for swаrming to function, emphasis must without limits imposed by the front line.
be put on the comprehensive approach (of Such a potential, in our opinion, is specific
all the components), this thing being seen to a swаrming-type of force, the
as a necessary condition of swаrming, conception of which is based on a
which seeks to integrate information as centralized approach and, at the same time,
well as the action capabilities of all the on the use of decentralized tactics and on
participants. methods of leading dispersed units.
Besides the expansion of cooperation Last, the fundamental principles and
and even the deepening of the integration, aspects of the Network-Based Warfare,
a decentralization of the command and which contributes significantly to
control of the dispersed forces that operate interconnection and decentralization,
in a non-linear battlefield is needed. should be implemented first. These issues
Furthermore, the need for provide a good chance to make the
information of a swаrming-type of force transition from a classic and hierarchical
will be accomplished when a swаrming- approach to warfare to an alternative
type of operation involves concentration of paradigm in which hierarchies and hybrid
the effort in the right place and at the command and control networks may
decisive moment. Through content, this develop.

Acknowledgement
This paper has been elaborated in accordance with the Scientific Research Plan of the Faculty of
Military Science, the “Nicolae Bălcescu” Land Forces Academy of Sibiu. Translator and collaborator:
Assoc.prof. Gabriela Mihăilă-Lică, PhD.

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