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Import Export Snowmobile

Oblique Strategies

Austin Kleon highlighted a Brian Eno quote on why he stopped touring:

What I really like doing is what I call Import and Export. I like taking ideas from one place and putting them into another place and seeing what happens when you do that. I think you could probably sum up nearly everything I’ve done under that umbrella. Understanding something that’s happening in painting, say, and then seeing how that applies to music. Or understanding something that’s happening in experimental music and seeing what that could be like if you used it as a base for popular music. It’s a research job, a lot of it. You spend a lot of time sitting around, fiddling around with things, quite undramatically, and finally something clicks into place and you think, “Oh, thats really worth doing.”

Which is precisely what Boyd was describing in Destruction and Creation. In his biography, Robert Coram illustrates a specific example:

Boyd’s favorite example in “Destruction and Creation” was a thought experiment that took his audience through his exegesis on the nature of creativity. It went something like this: “Imagine four separate images. Let’s call them domains. Each domain can be easily understood by looking at its parts and at the relation among the parts.”

Boyd’s four domains were a skier on a slope, a speedboat, a bicycle, and a toy tank. Under “skier” were the various parts: chair lifts, skis, people, mountain, and chalets. He asked listeners to imagine these were all linked by a web of relations, a matrix of intersecting lines. Under “speedboat” were the categories of sun, boat, outboard motor, water skier, and water. Again, all were linked by the intersecting lines. Under “bicycle” were chain, seat, sidewalk, handle bars, child, and wheels. Under “toy tank” were turret, boy, tank treads, green paint, toy store, and cannon.

The separate ingredients make sense when collected under the respective headings. But then Boyd shattered the relationship between the parts and their respective domains. He took the ingredients in the web of relationships and asked listeners to visualize them scattered at random. He called breaking the domains apart a “destructive deduction.” (Today some refer to such a jump as “thinking outside the box.” But Boyd believed the very existence of a box is limiting. The box must be destroyed before there can be creation.) The deduction was destructive in that the relationship between the parts and the whole was destroyed. Uncertainty and disorder took the place of meaning and order. Boyd’s name for this hodgepodge of disparate elements was a “sea of anarchy.” Then he challenged the audience: “How do we construct order and meaning out of this mess?”

Now Boyd showed how synthesis was the basis of creativity. He asked, “From some of the ingredients in this sea of anarchy, how do we find common qualities and connecting threads to synthesize a new and altogether different domain?” Few people ever found a new way to put them together. Boyd coaxed and wheedled but eventually helped the audience along by emphasizing handle bars, outboard motor, tank treads, and skis.

These, he said, were the ingredients needed to build what he called a “new reality” – a snowmobile.

Destruction and Creation

After John Boyd revolutionized aerial combat and aeronautical engineering with his Energy-Manuverability Theory he embarked on a study of the nature of creativity. Boyd’s goal was to understand why he, a curious fighter pilot, was the first to discover E-M Theory. The result was Destruction and Creation. As one of the only pieces of writing Boyd ever published, it provides insight into his mind and offers hints of Boyd’s later work – both his best known (the OODA Loop) and his most important (Patterns of Conflict).

Destruction and Creation is freely available as a PDF, which is useful for printing but not for reading or manipulating. It is included as an appendix in Robert Coram’s Boyd biography, which is available in digital format, but is poorly formatted. I converted the article into Markdown-flavored plain text, with a BibTeX bibliography, suitable for processing via Pandoc. It is available on GitHub.

This post was published on . It was tagged with books, conflict.

Avian carriers achieved a message delivery rate of 95% in the first World War, and were reported to reach 99% success in an Army study published in 1944.

In an article at At War on the Rocks, Dr. Frank Blazich provides a brief overview of the military use of homing pigeons and argues for their reintroduction as a response to electronic warfare.

Considering the storage capacity of microSD memory cards, a pigeon’s organic characteristics provide front line forces a relatively clandestine mean to transport gigabytes of video, voice, or still imagery and documentation over considerable distance with zero electromagnetic emissions or obvious detectability to radar. These decidedly low-technology options prove difficult to detect and track. Pigeons cannot talk under interrogation, although they are not entirely immune to being held under suspicion of espionage. Within an urban environment, a pigeon has even greater potential to blend into the local avian population, further compounding detection. The latter presumably factored into the use of pigeons to clandestinely smuggle drugs, defeating even the most sophisticated of walls.

Furthermore, pigeons provide an asymmetric tool available for hybrid warfare purposes. The low-cost, low-technology use of pigeons to transport information or potentially small amounts of chemical agents — or even coded cyber weapons — makes them a quick and easy asset to distribute among a civilian population for wider military purposes. During World War II, the British Confidential Pigeon Service of MI14(d) dropped baskets of homing pigeons behind enemy lines for espionage purposes, gathering invaluable military intelligence in the process from a wide array of French, Dutch, and Belgian civilians. Even as a one-way means of communication, the pigeon proved an invaluable military asset.

Via Schneier, who reminds that we have an RFC.

James Stejskal's article from American Rifleman provides an overview of the arms used by T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt.

The article is an extract from the author’s military history of Lawrence and his legacy, which I’ve added to my reading list. I was unaware that they made use of technicals, predating Bagnold and his self-described “piracy on the high desert”.

Lawrence had a talent for employing the Great War’s new technologies: semi-automatic pistols, airplanes, electric detonators, machine guns and motorcars. The equipment used by T.E. Lawrence and his colleagues against the Turks was innovative, as was his untraditional approach to the employment of intelligence, aerial reconnaissance and mobile gun platforms. His methodologies were game-changers and would heavily influence what would later be known as special operations in the British military, not to mention guerrilla leaders such as Mao Zedong and Võ Nguyên Giáp.

via Active Response Training

Currently reading The New Spymasters by Stephen Grey.

The book begins with an overview of espionage immediately before, during, and shortly after the Cold War, before moving on to the role played by Western intelligence agencies in the current millenium. Grey contrasts the earlier focus on human intelligence with the growing dependency on signals intelligence and assassination programs, and makes a compelling case for the need to return to a balanced approach with a focus on traditional spy running.

The dichotomy is reminiscent between that of the longer-term, unconventional warfare practiced by US Special Forces and the direct action focus of other Special Operations Forces as discussed by Tony Schwalm.

Currently reading The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen.

Kilcullen draws on his decades of experience in asymmetric warfare to develop his theory of fighting small wars in the midst of a big one and the failure of both classical counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency on the modern battlefield.

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla – fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours… he is engaged in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

…The dynamic interaction between the modern international system of nation-states (especially its self-appointed defender, the United States) and these two discrete but often interconnected and loosely cooperating classes of nonstate opponent – terrorist and guerrilla, postmodern and premodern, nihilist and traditionalist, deliberate and accidental – may be part of what gives todays’ “hybrid wars” much of their savagery and complexity.

Journey Without Boundaries: Small Team Operations

I believe that maintaining an interest in asymmetric warfare is a healthy habit. The Rhodesian Bush War and South African Border War are particularly interesting, as both sides employed direct, unconventional means.

I am currently reading Journey Without Boundaries: The Operational Life and Experiences of a SA Special Forces Small Team Operator, the memoirs of Colonel Andre Diedericks. Diedericks joined the South African Defence Force in 1974 and served in their Special Forces for two decades. Taking inspiration from Rhodesia’s Selous Scouts, he was largely responsible for developing and implementing small team tactics in the South African Recces. These “small teams” are not the 12 man ODAs we think of with our Special Forces today. Diedericks’ small teams consisted of only two men. Their missions would last a month or longer, during which time they would be completely self-sufficient and travel hundreds of kilometres on foot. Their operations were deniable, which required them to remain completely hidden from both the enemy force and local population.

Journey Without Boundaries

Journey Without Boundaries joins The Jedburghs by Will Irwin and The Phantom Major by Virginia Cowles as being an excellent read for tracking the development of unconventional warfare.

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