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Drone Swarms as You Know Them Are Just an Illusion—for Now

Liam CobbPhoto by: Liam Cobb Look at all the pretty drones. Hovering above sports stadiums from Houston to Pyeongchang, many hundreds of them have lately sparkled in artful murmuration. On a recentTime magazine cover, 958 drones pixelated the sky. The world record, 1,374 LED-bedazzled microbots, was set by Chinese company EHang UAV in May. So-called drone swarms—the phrase people have taken up with gusto—are having their biggest, buzziest year ever. It’s an evocative word,swarms, and innocuous enough when applied to one ofIntel’s drone light shows. But it’s tinged with alarm—if drones can dance at twilight, they can also attack. Sure enough, a gang outside Denver sent a small fleet to harass FBI agents on a raid earlier this year. In Syria, rebels reportedly sicced a squadron of quadrotors on a Russian base. To the media, both events were swarms. Take comfort, then, in this buzzkill: “The swarm is really an illusion,” says Mac Schwager, an assistant professor at Stanford who studies mul…

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US, Coalition Forces Used Cyberattacks to Hunt Down ISIS Command Posts

U.S. and coalition forces launched cyberattacks last year to help identify and destroy several command posts of Islamic State leaders, according to the former head of the task force to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
"This is a vignette that actually played out during and after the battle of Mosul and after the battle of Raqqa," said Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commanded Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in 2017.
Townsend, who now commands Army Training and Doctrine Command, described the multi-domain operation to an audience at the Association of the United States Army's LANPAC Symposium and Exposition in Hawaii.
U.S. and coalition forces were scouring the middle Euphrates River Valley, between Al Qa'im in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, in search of command posts used by ISIS leaders, Townsend said.
Friendly forces had located the enemy's primary command post in the area but couldn't find the enemy's alternate sites.
"We knew that the enemy had alternate command posts, but we didn't know where they were," Townsend said.
"So rather than strike the primary command post and then have the enemy be unknown to us for a while while we reacquired where he went to, one of the subordinate units proposed that we use ... capabilities from space and cyber to deny the enemy's primary command post, forcing him to move to and unveil his alternate command posts," he explained.
The plan worked, Townsend said. When the enemy moved, "we struck the alternate command posts kinetically with lethal fires once we identified them, and we worked our way backward to the primary command post."
The coordinated strikes were a clear example of multi-domain operations, formally known as multi-domain battle, a strategy U.S. military leaders stress as the key to surviving future wars with near-peer adversaries such as Russia and China.
"It's a multi-domain operation; it unfolded in air, land, sea, cyberspace and space," Townsend said.
But it took too long to complete -- about three weeks, he said, describing how some of the assets used required authorization from the national level and coalition partner nations.
"The bottom line is it took us a couple of weeks to organize this pretty sophisticated but small, multi-domain operation that lasted less than a week, and it was against an enemy that could not really contest us in any of the domains," Townsend said.
"Let's look to future war against a near-peer threat that can contest us in one or all of the domains. We are going to have to do better," he said.
"When the adversary's combined arms armies come rolling toward our alliance, we are going to have to generate ... sophisticated multi-domain operations in minutes or hours and those operations will have to last days and weeks," Townsend said.