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“Improvised Everything”: The
changing Role of Advanced
Technology in Warfare
(or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love Commercially Available
Technology)
Dr. Allan Steinhardt & Dr. David G. Smith
with Art Fritzson
The Improvised Explosive Device as Example (Improvised Ordnance)
 The IED attack has become a symbol of the Iraq
War.
– The IED can be seen as precision ordnance
without expensive launchers or the risk of counter
fires.
 A strategically placed IED, often gives insurgents
tactical initiative and surprise
(Photo
Removed)
 The IED is often considered alone…
… but it actually represents a new approach in which our adversaries leverage
commercially available technologies to create a broad range of highly capable threats –
“Improvised Everything”
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Improvised Ordnance –Historical and Current Examples
Middle Ages
Vietnamese Booby Traps, c. 1960-1975
“Toepopper” buried bullet
Spike Pit
Grenades
with tripwire
Siege/Storm Defense
- Boiling oil (expensive)
- Dropped rubble from
previous attacks
- Heated sand
- Boiling Water
- Constructed from native materials and
available explosives
- At the height of fighting (1965-1970),
11% of US Army troop deaths and 17%
of wounds were caused by booby traps
(Photo
Removed)
USA, 1995
Tim McVeigh blows off
the front of the Murrah
federal building
in Oklahoma city using
racing fuel and
fertilizer
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“Improvised Everything”:
The Emerging Threats of an Improvised Army,
Air Force, Navy and Intelligence
 Through leveraging commercially available technologies,
our adversaries are increasingly able to develop a range
of sophisticated, low cost, low barrier-to-entry military
capabilities.
– These capabilities can mimic functions traditionally
performed by Army, Navy, and Air Force, and
intelligence services
– This concept we call “improvised everything”
 Technology developments driving forward this trend
of “improvised” capability include:
– Telecommunications technologies that facilitate group
comms & C2 - Internet, cell phones, sat phones, etc.
– Proliferating GPS technologies
– Global transportation and shipping
– Expansion in knowledge through the Internet
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Improvised Army/ Artillery: The Israeli-Hezbollah
Conflict in Lebanon, 2006
 During the recent Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in
Lebanon, Hezbollah rained down thousands
of missiles on northern Israel – missiles
Israel was largely powerless to stop.
 Some missiles were allegedly fashioned out
of lamppost sections, packed with
explosives and equipped with fins and fuel.
 Even for traditional military
rockets, Hezbollah used
readily available digital
technology as enablers – such
as using digital watches as
timers to allow remote firing.
 Where possible, transport was
also done “unmanned” through
trained donkeys.
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Improvised Army/ Infantry
 An infantry capability uses tactical forces to
apply pressure to achieve objectives
 “Flash mobs” organizing by cell phone and the
Internet
– Like during the French Revolution, these
mobs can appear to come “out of nowhere”
– Recently these tactics have been used by
anti-globalization G-8 protesters and the
immigrant youth rioters in France
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Improvised Infantry – Historical Examples
French Revolution Mobs - 1789
New England Minutemen - 1775
- Word
Storming of the Bastille
- Mobs seemed to appear “from nowhere”
- Word of mouth spread in wine shops, taverns,
crowds, coffee houses, and food markets
- Agitators capitalized on events, like rise in bread prices
- Oral communications meant French government had little intelligence
on when and where mobs would appear
spread through word of mouth/riders
- British turned away militia at Lexington Common and
at Concord.
- On British trip back to Boston, however, they were
set upon by militia and simply “farmers with guns” –
firing from ambush positions, and then redeploying
further down.
- Colonists inflicted 273 casualties on an
expeditionary force of 700
4F
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Improvised Air Force
 Air forces have many capabilities. Here we
examine the capability to penetrate air defenses
to carry out a mission.
 9/11 illustrated the threat from flying hijacked
airliners into buildings
 Small UAVs or radio controlled aircraft have
been reportedly used to gather intelligence or
deliver payloads; Hezbollah has allegedly
penetrated Israeli airspace twice with small
UAVs.
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Improvised Air Force
Hezbollah UAVs similar to this one
have penetrated Israeli air defenses
Vehicle launch
Remote control
Source: Eugene Miasnikov,
“Media Reports of Terrorist Attempts to Employ UAVs”
Hand
Launch
Capability: RC Aircraft have flown across
the Atlantic in 1998 and 2002
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Improvised Navy
 The capability here is using the seas to project power
and counter US power.
 Counter-Navy: Attacks on the USS Cole and
a number of other vessels (see facer).
USS Cole
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Improvised Navy
 Strike from the Sea: Container threat –
using shipping containers to transport
individuals or WMD
– 16,000 containers arrive daily
– In 2001, a terrorist was captured in Italy
inside a shipping container. A trained
airplane mechanic, he was traveling
from Egypt to Canada with a laptop,
a sat phone, and fake airport ID.*
– US authorities believe Kenya and
Tanzania embassy bombing
explosives came by container.*
*Source: “On the Waterfront,” 60 Minutes, August 3, 2003
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Improvised Navy
 Strike from the Sea: Ship-borne missile threat –
potential for launch of short and intermediate
range missiles from freighters
 Strike from the Sea: Use of scuba divers to
infiltrate US, attack vessels, etc. In WWII,
Japanese used suicide divers and human
torpedoes in asymmetric naval warfare.
 Improvised Submarines: Carribean drug smugglers
have attempted to use semi-submersibles to elude US
interdiction
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Improvised Navy
20’ Shipping Container
Spanish SOF Intercepting North Korean
Freighter with 15 SCUDs
Japanese Kamikaze
Speedboat, 1945
Japanese human
torpedoes, 1945
Source: Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies
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Improvised Intelligence/
Counterintelligence
 The Internet permits easy access to types of
information usually manifested in nation states
– Google Earth – access to satellite imagery
collected in the last few years.
– Google Alerts – ability to collect specialized,
topical information in real time around the globe
 The Internet also allows gathering and sharing of
information by dispersed groups
– Through the Internet, numerous small scale
information gathering efforts can be linked
into usable intelligence/counterintelligence.
Alleged CIA Plane “outed”
by plane spotters
Source: Washington Post
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Improvised Space Assets
 Counter-Satellites
– Chinese broadcasts of political speeches and
sports events have been jammed and replaced
with information about the Falun Gong.
 Space vehicles
– In the long term, access to space is
increasing with trends like space tourism
and the X Prize.
– In 2004, SpaceShipOne won the X Prize.
It reached an altitude of 377,491 feet
(71 ½ miles)
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Improvised Space Assets
X Prize winner
SpaceShipOne
achieved
71 ½ miles
Falun Gong have jammed Chinese
satellite signals
200-250 miles
International Space Station
115-400 miles
Space Shuttles
100-300 miles
Navigation satellites, hamsats
62 miles
Space starts here at 100 kilometers
50 miles
NASA awards astronaut status for flights above
50 miles
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The Spirit of Improvisation
 The United States military has a long history of
flexible thinking in response to new situations.
 In some cases, the responses is truly “improvised,”
as in the case of field expedient armor, field
expedient camouflage, or the packaging of
explosives a la “Saving Private Ryan”
Improvised
“Up-Armoring”
with sandbags
 During WWII, because of the small size of the prewar
military, many technical solutions were inspired or
borrowed from commercial technology
 Ex.: A key component of the proximity fuse – vital to
defeating the kamikazes and, when given to Britain,
the defense against V-1 attacks – was a miniature
vacuum tube developed for prewar hearing aids.
WWII Infantry
prepare for an
improvised attack
on enemy armor
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The Spirit of Improvisation
The spirit of improvisation delivered war
winning capabilities to the US military – for
instance, the landing craft that were able
to cross coral reefs – such a necessary
capability for the Pacific War.
The Amtrac,
based on
civilian
technology,
was a key
enabler of the
United States’
“islandhopping”
strategy
US Ranger with field expedient breaching charge made
from C-4, flex cuffs, electrical tape, and steel fence posts
Supermarine found
a way around
a ponderous
acquisition system
Field Expedient
Camouflage of
Military Vehicles in
snow & orchard
The corvette’s specs
were set by Lloyd’s
of London
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Observations
 Advanced commercially available technologies mean
that our adversaries can create credible threats in a
number of capability areas.
– Army, Air Force, Navy, Intel/Counterintel, WMD,
and Training capabilities can all be created using
this approach.
 Because many COTS technologies in electronics,
software and other fields leverage commercial R&D,
these threats will become greater in the future.
 Of course, we can and should leverage this
advanced technology as well….
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Recommendations
In the new world of “Improvised Everything”:
 Leverage COTS technology where feasible
 Focus on developing assets that are highly flexible
– In the future, threats may not always be clearly identifiable
– In many cases, we need to focus on developing
capabilities to counter a broad range of threats, rather
than specific point solutions
– This is a shift in mindset more than a technological
challenge
 Repurposing: Reuse existing systems
 Improvisation-friendly design: Focus on developing
assets that are highly flexible
– In the future, threats will not always be clearly identifiable
– In many cases, we need to focus on developing
capabilities to counter a broad range of threats, rather
than specific point solutions.
 Incentivize improvisation and invention
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