Modern Wars: How Information Technology Changed Warfare

Modern Wars: How Information Technology Changed Warfare

On the 30th of September Vladimir Vladimirovitsj Putin, President of Russia, announced that Russia conducted its first air-strikes in Syria targeted at ISIS (or ISIL). However, in the days after the United States of America and other countries began to question Russia’s motive and use of old school bombing technology which might cause harm to civilians and inflame the civil war in Syria (CNN/Time, 2015). According to US official’s Russian bombing technology is a lacking behind American weaponry in terms of accuracy. As such moves increase the tensions between the East and the West and businesses use information technology to reach their goals, I started to research how information technology has changed warfare over time.

A B-2 stealth bomber refuels.

A B-2 stealth bomber refuels.

The main goals of warfare have not really changed, but the way wars evolve and are waged certainly have. Just hundred twenty years ago, armies marched to battle in their uniforms, lined up against one another, and mainly used weapons with a short effective range. Thus, people who killed one another were always in close proximity. Later on, longer-range weapons emerged, and the distance between the soldiers became larger and larger. Today, some countries have the capability to destroy towns without having to be physically at the site or even have a within a hundreds of miles. All due to the introduction of IT in modern warfare which enables people to fight wars with the touch of button. This instantaneous transfer of information through the Internet and availability of the Internet around the world increases the number of participants in war. Unarmed actors thousands of miles away can participate in a conflict even by sitting at their computer, providing funding or (video/picture) information through the Internet or deep web.

Also people from all over the world are now to a certain extend able to check almost real-time war reporting through the Internet and social media in order to be informed. Lately, the next generation of real-time conflict reporting is started mainly due to the importance of user-generated content and Web 2.0 technologies, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, witnesses to warfare are not only acting as bystanders, or victims, but also as reporters. YouTube is now particularly powerful tool for documenting incidents of violence. These forms of independent reporting sometimes led to video’s going viral.

One of the most influential innovations in the area of warfare are the bombing and fighter jets, especially those equipped with so called, smart bombs or precision-guided munition. The predecessors of these bombs were first introduced during World War II and radio-controlled with a cable from a submarine. As the concept was further developed infrared and electro optical guided “fire-and-forget” self-guiding missiles were invented, followed by the laser-guided missiles (Hamilton, 1995). Nowadays, highly accurate bombs are guided to their targets by computers based on the latest information from satellites. The newest smart bombs hit their targets much more frequently than dumb, unguided bombs and cause both fewer casualties and less damage to civilian areas (Boeing, 2015; Hamilton, 1995).

However, computers and information technology is not only present in smart bombs. Also the latest fighter jets carry more than a dozen of computers with them and all most all of them, if not all, are unable to fly without the computer systems activated. For example, the introduction of fly-by-wire systems in air crafts enabled more precise computer guidance, better control and quicker advanced flight manoeuvres. These systems automatically stabilize air planes, without relying on manual inputs from the pilot while also providing extensive information about the environment and ground movements.

Information Technology is not only incorporated in the weaponry of modern warfare, but has also heavily influenced the process of obtaining and storing intelligence data and strategic planning. Information has become crucial and even important as it is increasingly tough to identify enemies due to the absence of uniforms as well as enemies blending in in civilian areas. This invisibility evolves mainly from the fact that most enemies (and for example terrorists) are not a national entity (Brooking, 2015). Recently, we have seen an increase in “guerilla” warfare in numerous areas of which Vietnam was probably the first of such “modern” war. Today, the war in Syria is a good example.


Social media, such as Facebook updates, YouTube videos and Tweets are now used to gather intelligence about the whereabouts of militants.

Strategic use of Information Technologies such as satellite pictures, drone broadcasts and even Facebook and Twitter messages/accounts are now being used to find out more about the enemy, its movements and location (Nicks, 2015). For example, lately an ISIS Commander posted a selfie on Facebook within one of the IS hubs. U.S. Intelligence crawled this message from social media and 22 hours later the place was successfully bombed (Ernst, 2015).

At least, it is crystal clear that the battlefield has also become virtual. It is no longer only fought on the ground, at sea, or in the air but also on the web. Any willing person can become a participant in war, not just by fighting, but also by transferring information, money, or technology through on-line infrastructures. As new tools enter battle, the battlefield continues to expand. It is both real and virtual, urban and rural. It is evident that as 21st century warfare continues to evolve, it will become more complex.

Understanding the way technology has changed warfare and the way it is viewed is important to the wars of the future: how they will be waged, and more importantly how they will be resolved. But, what will the future brings us as technology enables for example enables warfare to move to space or more reasonable what happens when the latest version of modern warfare becomes real: cyber wars? (Bejtlich, 2015)

Author: Glenn de Jong

Hamilton, Richard (1995). “Precision guided munitions and the new era of warefare”. Air Power Studies Centre, Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 08-10-2015

Boeing, 2015 –

Nicks, D. 2015, “New Zealander ISIS Fighter Accidentally Tweets Secret Location” January, 1st 2015, Retrieved from:

Ernst, D. 2015, “Terrorist ‘moron’ reveals ISIS HQ in online selfie; U.S. Air Force promptly destroys compound’ The Washington Times – Thursday, June 4, 2015, Retrieved from:

Human Security Center, University of British Columbia. Human Security Report 2005: War and Peace in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005)

Bejtlich, R., 2015, “Outside perspectives on the Department of Defense cyber strategy”, U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services, Retrieved from:


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11 responses to “Modern Wars: How Information Technology Changed Warfare”

  1. tonyj1307 says :

    I agree, in the past, only generals and other high army officials were the ones in charge of gathering, interpreting and communicating the information of the course of the war. But nowadays, even high school students with a Twitter account can become quite the observant. For example, Thomas van Linge (19 years old(!)) creates his own detailed maps of the wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya about which factions control which areas. He updates these maps very frequently based on a vast network of social media sources that he has collected through time. He is active on twitter with about 25.000 followers and his maps are used by many news agencies. So indeed, any willing person can enter the battlefield without even having to be there in person.

    Tony Jordan – 400986


    • glenndejong says :

      Jup, I read about that Dutch guy. Kind of weird that technology now enables people, and even very young people as your example illustrates, to participate/contribute in any form to a war thousands of miles away, isn’t it?

  2. 440015ms says :

    I am very interested to this topic and I have found some interesting insights reading the chapter 9 “Fighting the Net” of the The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google by Nicholas Carr, a book which I strongly suggest.

    A particular point of view could on how Information Technology is changing the Warfare, can be that the Internet with all its related technology has diminished the differences between super powers with high budgets, such as the US, and organized but relatively unskilled and poor organizations.

    An example could be find in the bombing of the British troops stationed in Basra, Iraq in 2006. Iraqi insurgents were using Goolge maps and normal GPS to increase incredibly the precision of their mortar fire.

    A further example, this time related to the cyber warfare, is the use of Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC) application. Despite the impressive name, LOIC is an open source application that allow a single computer to perform terrific denial-of-service attacks to websites. It works simply by flooding the server with TCP or UDP packets, and allow a on average hackers to do serious damages to complex structures (An example could be the so called: Operation Megaupload)

    This is a link to a description of the Operation Megaupload

    • glenndejong says :

      Thanks, for these additions. I heard about the LOIC and I think nowadays even more powerful packages are available to those who know where to look. However, talking about the impressive name and just to add: even real space weapons, capable of destructing satellites, have already been developed. .

      For example, on January 11, 2007, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) conducted its first successful direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons test in destroying one of its own satellites in space. Understandably, the test raised international concerns about more space debris.

  3. 419214fh says :

    Hi Glenn,

    Definitely an interesting blog post and something society should think about before the damage is done. I agree that the battlefield has broadened, as you say anyone and every country could participate in a war nowadays. You also stated that technology has made it easier for armies to hit targets and is still developing. An example of such a development is the advent of AI in war combined with robotica.

    Leading AI researchers have already warned that weapons that automatically “select and engage targets without human intervention” could become the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” fueling war, terrorism, and global instability (Vincent, 2015).

    As any person and any country could participate, who’s in control then? The point I want to make is that with the development of advanced technologies and information services in war, I think the world is getting more and more in danger. Even killer robots that will self decide to kill are being developed. I think this process should stopped, because once it is developed it is too late. Countries do already have an agreement in which is stated that they should reduce its nuclear capacity, why can’t they make an agreement about where the development of robots for war cross the line of acceptability. Isn’t this a bigger threat than nuclear weapons?


    Vincent, J. (2015). Musk, Hawking, and Chomsky warn of impending robot wars fueled by AI. [online] The Verge. Available at: [Accessed 10 Oct. 2015].

    • glenndejong says :

      Hi, thanks for your reply. You named robotica, I let that out from my post as it would otherwise become way too long. But I agree with you that there is no legistation on this point yet, eventhough we do not know what (fighting) robots and artificial intelligence will bring us at some point and do not understand the consequences. However, over the last years major developmenst werd visible in the robotica industry. A nice example is DARPA (a bit controversial as this organization is also sponsord by the US Army and government) which is tries to create a robot that can walk on all kinds of terrain with real life obstacles. In my opinion, if they succeed and better batteries are available, giving it a gun would be one of the easiest steps in the process. A documentary about this I would recommend is:

  4. siebekylstra says :

    A really interesting piece and it shows how actual fighting is changing, but I found a really interesting piece how he cyber military revolution has changed the current framework for war:

    Warfare is no longer adequately defined as violent campaigns and battles sought among armed fighting forces occurring between periods of peace. War is now a continuous battle between diverse multi-faceted actors waged primarily in the virtual cyber domain, occasionally accompanied by violent
    clashes in the physical domain. When changes to warfare are this fundamental, it requires a new framework of war to guide strategy, doctrine development, and military operations at all levels of warfare. (M. Williamson, 2012).

    On you can see for example a live map of cyber attacks and their orgins live, while i was writing this comment for example 665 attacks came from China and the United States was attacked 2001 times. This was in about 10 minutes.


  5. Kuni says :

    In relation to the comment made by 419214fh and your discussion about smart bombs, it made me think about the aspect of accountability. In the future, where AI can be incorporated as a warfare technology,419214fh mentioned that targets can be selected without human intervention.
    My question is, who will be held accountable in a situation when the wrong target is chosen and killed? Do you think that the manufacturer
    of the AI weapon should be held responsible? Should it be the person in the army who gave that order?

    You seemed to have a diverse knowledge about warfare and technology so i definitely wanted your input on it!

    • glenndejong says :

      To give you my answer, you noticed very well that accountability (and in particular liability) is a big thing here. Especially, when machines and thus also weapons can start to “think” for themselves. I have thought about this, as this is also a quite critical but also philosophical matter which also touches upon ethics et et cetera.

      Therefore, we as humans should, in my opinion, heavily debate whether we would really like to implement these abilities and capabilities into deadly machinery. It can have a lot of good effects and the possibilities are almost endless, but we need to be aware of the fact that it can also cause an extreme mayhem. However, I think we can be sure that if someone develops this technology for the good, it will also be used for the bad. I do not think that an manufacturer should be held responsible for these kind of issues, only when he for example knew or had or could have had the (slightest) suspicion that the technology would be used for wrong causes.

      In my opinion it is mankind who created weapons, but it are still the people who fire/use them e.g. a stone will not kill by itself neither a gun or even any other tool. However, if the weapons (or robots in this case) cause harm totally by themselves, the country, organization or individual who deploys it is, in my opinion, still ultimately responsible for the actions of this weapon. So, in my opinion there is not really a difference between causing harm from a distance and doing it directly. For example, with a drone the army commander/rebel in charge who gave the order, the operator (in case he had contradiction information about the target), and ultimately the organization using the drones is liable). The same counts for self-guiding bombs and even atomic bombs. The latter should be maybe feared even more than AI. As Einstein once said: “I know not with what (kind of) weapons WW III will be fought, but WW IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

      But let’s hope we never have to face that. 🙂 However, if this liability issue is solved, a new problem pops up: how do you know who deployed the weapon?

  6. Carlo Bruno says :

    A very interesting read! A few years ago, I read the book ‘The Next 100 years’ by George Friedman, predicting world conflicts, power struggles and geopolitical events. Friedman, a renowned political scientist and author, is an expert in describing, forecasting several geo topics such as global warfare, technology an politics. Many of his books feature thorough examinations of the use of technology in warfare over the years and it’s future. He predicts that in the 2020s and 2030s, space programs for military use will emerge heavily, and not just America and Russia will look into this technology. Emerging powers such as Turkey, Poland and japan will also invest in this technology and therefore will contribute to rapidly growing advances in the warfare industry. Control of space will be crucial in the future and we can expect space-based weapon system and military bases, all deployed with the use of technology. The United States will be leading this space race and looking for hegemony in this new area. Sounds like science-fiction, but I believe we are getting closer to these ideas than we want to believe.


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