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Escalating 'Sensor War' Is the Face of Future Conflict

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2003 – Military commanders of the future will employ high-tech sensing equipment to detect the strength and positions of enemy forces, including those attempting to hide from prying electronic "eyes."

"'Sensor War' is a fully two-sided 'game,'" noted Arthur K. Cebrowski, director of DoD's Transformation Office and a retired Navy vice admiral. "You want to sense something (and) the person or the thing that you're trying to sense is owned by someone, so they take measures to make it more difficult for you to find it."

The concept of "Sensor War" isn't far-fetched, he pointed out. Today's firefighters, he noted, use heat-detecting equipment to find "hot spots" in burning buildings despite swirling smoke and dust.

"That's a sensor," Cebrowski said. "It's discriminating something from its background by virtue of certain characteristics -- in that case by the heat it gives off."

In a combat situation, say one side has sensors that can pick up the heat emitted by military vehicles and even body heat, he posited. "Then the other side will do what's necessary to change or suppress the heat signature to make it harder to discover," he said.

Denied the ability to detect enemy troops and equipment via heat signatures, Cebrowski said, a likely countermove for the side with the sensors would be to adjust the equipment to identify specific sounds.

Military people around the world operate by the maxim, "If we can see it, we can shoot it," he noted. For example, he noted that Earth-orbiting satellites provide considerable sensor capability for U.S. military planners today.

Therefore, America's enemies have invested heavily in finding ways to foil potential surveillance, Cebrowski explained, such as by hiding or moving military assets, or employing deception techniques.

Consequently, the U.S. military's investment in sensor- related technology is going up, he noted. And as potential enemies develop their abilities "to sense and to strike," he continued, so must the United States "change our signatures, as well."

Continual improvement reigns "in the realm of camouflage, cover and deception," he pointed out. "It's move, countermove, counter-countermove -- on forever."

Referring back to the "see and shoot" philosophy, Cebrowski remarked that because today's U.S. military shoots "so very, very well," technicians are intent on improving American sensor capabilities.

"We control our weapons' reach but the enemy controls our sensor reach by virtue of what he does to his own signature," Cebrowski pointed out. "And, so, the fight is really over sensors -- and increasingly, that's where we'll see the focus."

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