January 8, 2005 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Swarming is a guerilla tactic that goes back to the days of Alexander the Great fighting the Scythians (more here and here). It was used by the anti-WTO protestors in the late 90s and is being used against US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. New equipment being developed by the military will attempt to use swarming behaviours.
posted by rks404 (20 comments total)
I'm no robotics specialist, but if I read the first and last articles correctly they are referring to slightly different meanings of the word "swarming."

The first is a specific military tactic.

The last is a general command system for robotics that replaces a heirarchical command structure with "learn from your peers."

They both share a lack of heirarchy, but the first is much more specialized in nature. The second (robotics control) is valid for any type of robotic operation (from intelligence gathering to mine-clearing to factory-floor-sweeping to ...)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:27 PM on January 8, 2005

The Korean term for "swarming" is "zerg rush".
posted by Bugbread at 10:32 PM on January 8, 2005

In a weird aside, the first link mentions "Black Blocks", apparently well organized violent factions of the protest community. I thought myself a pretty well informed liberal, but I've never of heard of them before todays two random links.

While this doesn't excuse some of the quasi-illegal behavior exhibited by the NYPD during the RNC convention, at least I understand why they were doing it now. It doesn't seem so capricious anymore.
posted by PissOnYourParade at 10:41 PM on January 8, 2005

PissOnYourParade - the "Black Block" is pretty legendary in San Francsico for anti-war protests that end in police clashes. Maybe it's a misnomer to say "the" Black Block, but you get the idea. In general they have a reptutation for being, well, whatever they want.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 10:49 PM on January 8, 2005

I don't want to be overly negative but this is an example of a writer who has either:

a) Got the wrong end of the stick or
b) Is trying to make a name for himself

Ever since indirect fire moved us away from what you might call 'massed rank' tactics (infantry squares and the like) one of the basic principles has been to keep your troops safely dispersed for as long as possible then concentrate them at the last minute for the attack.

The application of this to low intensity operations has been very straightforward.

In a counter insurgency environment you call these 'Surge' operations - you flood specific areas on a sudden and random basis.

If you happen to be on the other side of the fence this is just 'how you do business' since it is simply the Only way that works. (People who are OTR/Wanted tend not to stroll down the street together - shooters, weapons and targets might be brought together at the very last moment to keep everyone as safe as possible).

In summary, taking a common approach to warfare and trying to 're-brand it for the 21st Century' either means you're not too smart, or more likely, you're trying to make a name for yourself.

Oh and I couldn't help reading the "US army, developing new equipment for use with swarming tactics"

Larf!!! First thing they need to do get rid of some equipment - start by leaving those stupid humvees back at barracks.
posted by fingerbang at 11:47 PM on January 8, 2005

Interesting, though the metaphors tended to snowball into massive ice monsters bluring the picture.
posted by HTuttle at 12:03 AM on January 9, 2005

fingerbang - totally right. Seems like he read Clausewitz and groks "total war" and has a basic sense of asymetric warfare. But, this is nothing new at all. Hardly the "wave of the future".
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 12:18 AM on January 9, 2005

Me thinks that someone has been smelling themselves a bit huh.
The insurgency/freedomfighters in Iraq will continue to fly under the US radar because they are not swarming. They're roadside bombs will continue to kill our soldiers because they are singular attacks that need not be doe enmass.

That army link was so off the mark that it only furthers the notion that our military complex is completely a$$backwards.

the US army will never have what their opponent has in spades. True conviction and a true passion to win. For the US its politics and for the Iraqi's its personal.n
posted by wonway at 2:52 AM on January 9, 2005

Thanks bugbread. Hilarious.
posted by dazed_one at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2005

wonway: What, are you suggesting the righteous army of The Lord is somehow lacking something possessed by a bunch of godless heathens?!? Shame on you! (/sarcasm)
posted by kaemaril at 7:40 AM on January 9, 2005

Fingerbang: perhaps you should go to www.rand.org and learn about all the new equipment and tactical methodologies that the US Army IS developing to BOTH use swarming tactics and to counter swarming operations. If you had picked up what this piece had to offer, you'd realize that the dipsersion of forces into a more "swarming" methodology is exactly what could help the HMMWV's (as opposed to the use of static Military Supply Routs like "MSR Michigan") Fingerbang seems to be claiming simultaneously that the military has OBVIOUSLY moved away from massed ranks tactics, and yet continues to complain about the ineffectiveness of current tactics (which are basically massing both in time and along static supply routes) with his comment about leaving the Hummers "in the barracks". His inability to understand how swarming applies--in this case to the situation in Iraq--is just like the US army's inability to consider these kind of tactics: stubborn.

Wonway: if you think that the insurgents in iraq aren't swarming, perhaps you need to go back and re-read this article, and take a visit to globalguerrillas.typepad.com. The use of roadside bombs is very clearly a swarming tactic: it is temporal swarming. Perhaps you haven't been following the roadside-bomb tactics employed of late, but after the bomb goes off, it tends to be followed by a sudden "swarm' of insurgents targeting the suddenly static convoy: rifle fire, RPGs, etc. How is it that you don't call this swarming?
posted by DAJ at 8:36 AM on January 9, 2005

I just want to know what Alexander of Macedon has to do with the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle.
posted by stbalbach at 8:37 AM on January 9, 2005

Hey DAJ, thanks for keeping me on my toes. Although I notice that you seem to have made a lot of assumptions about me based on one throwaway line at the end of a post. (And you do a similar thing to Wonway).

Let me recap: I don't think the author is wrong per se. I just think he has found a new word and is eager to apply it - that's all.

The bit about Humvees being problematic seemed to rile you: let me explain my thinking.

There is a place for vehicles in this sort of warfare - fine. But your guys just don't seem comfortable operating away from, or even outside, them. This is bad news - if you are already locking yourself in your vehicles then this is simply the wrong mindset to have. It provides a sense of security without any real security at all, telegraphs your presence and keeps you from having any real contact with anyone who isn;t already on your side.

Far better to use them for mobility alone, get your guys on the ground and talking to people (instead of just shouting at them in English to "Get tha fuck outta tha way"!!) and trying to get to know the locals and understand the environment.

Now I hope that settles you down a bit - if not then please let me know exactly what it is you want to chew over and we can continue our civilised discussion... :-)
posted by fingerbang at 9:48 AM on January 9, 2005

Fingerbang: point taken. One of my personal weaknesses is the tendency to get a lilttle excited. As I look back on your post and my response, I was out of line. I think that this area of discussion (tactics of resistance, not just "swarming") is a very important debate, and I'd like to continue it:

1. I submit that anarchist resistance has been very ineffective in accomplishing their goals (which I'll define for the time being as "reducing control and exploitation of hierarchies", even though I realize they're far more varied than that).

2. I think that the community needs to evaluate what they really want to accomplish, and then take a hard look at how they need to change what they're doing in order to improve their chances of success.

3. I think that the #1 thing that needs to happen is to improve their targeting strategy. Once the most effective targets have been identified, then the tactics must be improved to deal with those targets, and that's where I think swarming may have a contribution to make...
posted by DAJ at 1:02 PM on January 9, 2005

wasn't this what was attempted at fallujah? i thought the idea there was to constrain the iraqi resistance within a geographical area and then destroy them (which is what i understand alexander was doing, only in the famous example given he had to make the constraints himself).
posted by andrew cooke at 2:00 PM on January 9, 2005

also, which i think someone else has said, americans using terrorist (swarming) tactics in iraq makes little sense. they work against the entrenched order. it might have helped them win in iraq if they had met with massed opposition, but since they had overwhelming power anyway, that wasn't a problem.

in other words it's anti-terrorism techniques that the americans need, which isn't the same as copying the terrorists.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:03 PM on January 9, 2005

William S. Lind has written some very insightful things about the asymmetrical warfare the US has faced over ther past few years.
posted by clubfoote at 8:58 PM on January 9, 2005

Quote DAJ-
3. I think that the #1 thing that needs to happen is to improve their targeting strategy. Once the most effective targets have been identified, then the tactics must be improved to deal with those targets, and that's where I think swarming may have a contribution to make...

I agree that this is a valid goal, but to reduce the amount of civilian casualties the military must warn in advance where and when it will strike. The insurgents/freedomfighters are not limited in similar ways.

Yes it is also true that many attacks on convoys do employ a swarm tactic after the bomb goes off and there are attempts to kill survivors in the confusion. My thought that the tactics used by the insurgent/ freedomfighters have more in common with guerilla tactics than with swarming tactics. Yes there will be some overlap but not enough to enable the US military to devise countertactics based on the swarm model that are going to be effective in the long term.
posted by wonway at 9:28 PM on January 9, 2005

I have to add my voice to those unimpressed by this analysis. The first thing that struck me was the diagram showing Alexander's dispositions at Eschate: it seems bogus. It shows heavy cavalry striking at the enemy through friendly infantry and light cavalry units. Presumably the horses could fly. We are asked to believe that such a move could be decisive, and dismiss the flanking cavalry units as simply there to 'fix' the Scythians in place.

So he lost me there. As for the rest of it, one would be much better served spending an afternoon reading Mao Tse-Tung's On Guerrilla Warfare, substituting 'Iraqi' for 'Chinese' and 'Coalition' for 'Japanese', or whatever takes your fancy.
posted by Ritchie at 4:56 AM on January 10, 2005

I am going to chime in here because all of what I have read on this thread brings me to the conclusion that most of you have no clue (yet) that NO new military tactics will work to win the war. Your short-sightedness allows you only to stay "inside the box" of military strategy when a much bigger picture unfolds before you.

Can you not see that Iraq cannot be won due to the facts that:
1) The premise/s for going in will never be met (No WMD & NO proven al-quida connections)

2) The American people will turn off the $$ faucet when it becomes more and more clear there is no end to our military presence there, nor to the body count (as small as it is relatively speaking, of course)

3) Bush has very other big fish to fry and in two years (before he becomes a lame duck) he will not be able to come up with the additional money or the justification to keep this campaign alive and successful. I speak mainly of a social security revamp that will begin to "drain the pot" for increased military spending.

4) The slaughter of innocent muslims (by insurgents) cannot be prevented or even slowed by US military presence, period. All the US can hope for is to learn to protect themselves better until the day comes when the plug finally gets pulled.

5) The hatred, and loss of respect for america will dramatically grow worldwide in the next two years due to the "dominace attitude" that it projects.

6) The fallout from this occupation will give justification to other countries who would like very much to invade some other country that will be an ally to the US, but the US will be helpless to come to the aid of their friend. One of the biggest examples of this is the Taiwan / China problem. But there are other big ones such as N.Korea / S. Korea. If the north ever decided to invade S. Korea with their four million man army, if we could respond, it wouyld be too late and too limited. and then there is Iran and there are many other countries who are ready and willing to get into the nuclear arena.

7) The degree of help from other countries will be limited and diminishf as fewer of these will want to get involved in an increasingly unpopular and unwinnable war. The citizens of our allies will be less and less inclined to send their troops in, and their leaders will, in the end, "shut the door"

Sorry fellas, you really need to get a life instead of sitting around writing posts about military strategy when military strategy, no matter how improved, will make little difference other than maybe to bring about a smaller body count of american soldiers before the american public finally says "enough". In many ways, Iraq will be another vietnam.

What is the matter with you artillary heads that you cannot see beyond your noses? It is people like you who are the reason the US has gotten itself in over it's head, and you are the ones to shoulder much of the blame when China, and not the US, becomes the new "king of the hill" in a decade or two.

posted by flannelmouth at 4:27 AM on January 18, 2005

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