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The technological evolution of communications technology for the benefit of command links in land operations since the Prem

Earth Thought Notebooks
History & strategy
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This study, based on historical examples, will aim to describe the evolution of the means of communications for the benefit of the military command in operation.

By analyzing the progress and contribution of transmission systems in the way of controlling or designing a manoeuvre, the authors of this article highlight three main invariants: the need for innovations to impose themselves in the face of psychological factors, the combination of all existing means in the design of network architectures for reThe need for defence to take the lead on dual technology projects related to transmission systems.

Let's study man in combat because he is the one who makes reality", said Ardant du Picq in the 19th century. Even if combat is undeniably based on the human being, technological developments are an increasingly important factor in modern armies.

This study, based on historical examples, will seek to find the background to the evolution of means of communication for the benefit of military command in operation. The analysis will compare facts dating back to the First World War with a more contemporary development of communication technologies. Looking for a framework, a guiding thread to this evolution in the specific context of military operations, means above all initiating a reflection on the evolution of command, but also on the nature of the operations conducted. While some purely technical changes are the result of a linear progression of science, others are the result of a real breakthrough. Does this relationship automatically refer to the tools and ways of approaching military command? Are there factors that affect this relationship? This study will demonstrate how advances in communications technology have contributed to the evolution of command and the nature of operations.

This study leads to the fact that command relationships benefit from technological advances in successive stages that are sometimes imposed within a conservatism that is inherent in the model, but which follows invariants. Indeed, this evolution must be convincing in order to provide, combined with all the means already existing, information and communication systems specifically adapted to military operations.

In the course of this study, we will explain three invariants that military history and the history of technology allow us to identify. First of all, it is a question of highlighting the need for developments in the field of communications to be accepted by military thought before they are adopted: psychological factors are predominant here. Next, we will be able to demonstrate at a more technical level that the design of a communications architecture is established with the aim of providing support as close as possible to the units in contact, which implies the deployment of the most diversified means. Finally, and in order to bring a prospective reflection to this study, it will be highlighted that armies need to develop their own means in order to obtain systems adapted to the specific constraints of operations.

Technological and doctrinal evolution

The evolution of military doctrine in relation to technological development requires acceptance by military thinking. While technology must demonstrate its usefulness in order to be accepted within a doctrine of employment, other factors slow down the integration of new processes. Finally, it is sometimes tactical developments that initiate the thinking associated with the development and use of new technologies.

  • Developments that must prove their effectiveness

Military doctrine is obviously adapting to the realities of the present time. But a conservatism exists in any military system, by design: it enables it to guarantee its survival (resilience) in the face of irrational change[1]. 1] A process that has given satisfaction up to that point will only be able to evolve if it is demonstrable that the enemy will be able to take it by default. 2] Thus, Beatrice Heuser demonstrates[3] that cultural and psychological factors are also important in taking technological developments into account: there is an ideological barrier before confrontation with concrete evidence. In the world of communications, this perspective is all the more true since it touches the heart of the tools that approach operational decision-making. It is therefore absolutely necessary for a communication and information system to give satisfaction before being deployed. A force relying on a deficient system can quickly lose the benefit of the technology at its disposal.

For example, the United States has deployed an automated data processing system in Vietnam prior to the drafting of an order at the divisional level. Michel Goya[4], taking up the example of Martin Van Creveld [5], shows us how the information saturation created by this system, although designed to increase the decision-making cycle, leads to a paralysis of the staff. Instead of several days or weeks, it will take several months for a divisional staff to write an order because of the excessive amount of data that is fed back [6].

  • Doctrinal consideration of technological advances

In 1910, aviation and TSF[7] are two recent inventions that will "grow" and "feed" each other[8] during the First World War. The combination of these two fields, which will increase their respective effects, will come up against the technical constraints and psychological barriers of decision-makers.

At the beginning of hostilities, no French military aircraft was equipped with TSF. However, it was scientifically demonstrated that it was possible to communicate at ranges of 20 to 50 kilometres, but it was not until the stabilization of the front line that transmitters were developed in aircraft other than airships [9]. 9] For the staff, aviation mainly plays a role in remote reconnaissance and weight remains a major constraint.

10] Yet technical progress continues, particularly through Captain Ferrié's research. The idea of equipping aircraft with TSF, rejected at first by the infantry, will be adopted by the artillery to carry out the guidance of fire [11]. Indeed, the rudimentary adjustment techniques did not favor the economy of shells. Thus, on 25 October 1914, the Vth Army carried out the fire adjustment of a battery of 120 in a few shots in overcast weather [12]. These decisive technical successes were followed by tactical adjustments. From 1915, fire control by TSF was used on a large scale. As an example, the IVth Army alone carried out an average of 16 per day between 1 September and 15 October 1915.

  • An evolution initiated by tactical thinking

Finally, it is sometimes tactical developments that make people think about the development and use of new technologies.

The implementation of an effective joint employment doctrine by concentrating armoured means at the head of the attack required increased coordination. This "blitzkrieg", used by the German army at the beginning of the Second World War, particularly during the French campaign, saw the widespread use of radios in armoured vehicles. Beyond the doctrinal evolution of the German army in 1940, the difference in the design of the battle tank characterised the use of signals by both sides. Indeed, the French models, designed to accompany the infantry, had significant armour and firepower [13], but no radios. The German tank, for its part, benefited from an advance in communications. This capacity gave it an ability to coordinate the maneuver, unlike the French equipment. Karl-Heinz Frieser's Myth of the Blitzkrieg highlights this major distinction.

This example shows that the use of new technologies can result from tactical thinking, particularly in the field of telecommunications. If these factors are not properly taken into account, they can potentially lead to defeat.

Diversified information and communication system architectures tending to support the lowest levels

The design of an information and communication systems architecture is carried out with all the means available to support as closely as possible the tactical units responsible for the main action. The first thing to note is the combination of wire and radio to improve the effectiveness of command means. Secondly, the directed links allowed a gain in throughput. Finally, it is the satellite link that has emerged as a means of resolving major problems.

  • From wire to radio

At the end of the First World War, the command network was based on a complex communications system that relied on both the latest technological innovations and the robustness of the old transmitters[14].

[14] In view of the tactical communications requirements, the multiplication of communications posts on the front line came up against technical constraints. In order to enable the widespread use of transmitters, the challenge lies on the one hand in extending the available frequency ranges and on the other hand in the ability to precisely define the wavelength used. For example, in 1916, the area of action of a two-division army corps (4 km front) had eight wavelengths and two tones, i.e. a maximum of 16 links. On the other hand, the new generations of guns, whose range increased in 1917 (about 30 km), required greater electromagnetic elongations.

The invention of the three-electrode lamp (triode) in 1907 by the American Lee de Forest, which did not initially upset the scientific world, had a resounding effect through the work of Gustave Ferrié and his team. Relying on three uses (generator, amplifier and detector [15]), its exploitation for military purposes in the form of TM (military telegraphy) lamp gives flexibility of use to the tacticians as regards links.

  • Development of directed beams

During the First World War, radiation used for communications was omnidirectional in nature [16]. Around 1931, the advent of microwaves made it possible to control rectilinear propagation. This transformation of the link from "point-to-zone" to "point-to-point" revolutionized communications systems and led to the concept of radio-relay.

Directing radio waves thus became an important military issue. Their remarkably stable propagation and increasing rate were implemented by a succession of "radio hops" (relays on high points) in order to free themselves from the masks cutting the straight lines of the beams.

Historically, the success of these techniques quickly became apparent. For example, the BACKPORCK system, deployed in January 1962, was the backbone of strategic communications in Vietnam [17]. [17] Five major cities were connected to Thailand through tropospheric broadcasting facilities. At the tactical level, the garrison of Khe Sanh, which was subjected to intense fighting in April 1968, was connected to the outside world mainly through such links. Operated by the 544th Signal Detachment, this system remained the only link and allowed the garrison to hold on.

  • The development of satellite resources

Finally, the satellite medium is emerging as a ubiquitous solution for the benefit of the tactical levels.

After the first Gulf War, the Americans were committed to the generalised use of satellite resources right down to the lowest levels in order to be able to command with extensions exceeding the capabilities of FH resources[18]. 18] This undeniable added value, obtained as early as the second Gulf War in 2003, was born out of the analysis of the deployment of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 by the American military command and the American political world. It was necessary to impose a very favourable balance of power, with a preparation of five months and a projection of 500,000 men, in order to win. In relation to the financial cost, the question arises of a revolution in military affairs (RMA [19]) allowing a systematic use of technology to obtain the decision more quickly and at lower cost [20]. 20] In 1998, in their publication Network Centric Warfare, Vice-Admiral Arthur Cebrowski of the US Navy and John J. Garstka named the mobilizing technocentric myth in the age of new information and communication technologies: network-centric operations.

Thus, the Iraq war of 2003 became the first war in which satellite means were deployed on a large scale, both for intelligence and for the transmission of information within hierarchical chains down to the lowest levels [21].

The need to develop specific means for military operations

Finally, in the context of defence, armies have a real need to develop their own resources if they wish to respond adequately to the specific constraints of operations.

  • Technological breakthroughs brought about by development geared to defence needs

Firstly, we can see that the development of technologies to implement a military strategy entails undeniable leaps in capabilities. In the field of communications systems and command tools, DARPA [22] is a remarkable example of the breakthrough innovations brought about by research oriented to meet the operational needs of the American armies. This American defence research organisation has produced advances that have subsequently been taken up by the civilian world and economic players, and are now expanding worldwide.

The American nuclear strategy has led to the development of two major advances in terms of communication:

  • Internet: created to allow the link between command centres, detection systems, radars, even if one of them is destroyed in the framework of a Soviet attack on American command centres or cities [23];
  • GPS[24]: to be able to know, for a nuclear submarine, its position and that of its target.

These two breakthrough innovations were born out of a desire to meet the operational needs of American defence. They then developed thanks to the many possible uses in the civilian world.

  • The response to tactical failures or operational needs

In addition, communication systems developed after tactical failures or to meet operational constraints create undeniable tactical added value because they are designed for military use.

The losses suffered by the French army in Afghanistan during the Uzbeen attack in 2008 made people aware of the need for a permanent link between a unit and its command. The VAB VENUS[25] was born out of this failure and has brought, for current operations, undeniable autonomy to the tactical commander and freedom of action to the joint commander to design dynamic manoeuvres [26].

26] This illustration, which shows the development of communications equipment at the lowest level, can be put into perspective with the development of the TSF tank during the First World War. Thus, the need to communicate with the tactical echelons was felt as early as 1917: "...] This TSF tank, serving in principle as a mobile command post for the commander, would make it possible to receive, on the one hand, information on the progress of combat sent by the accompanying aircraft, and on the other hand, orders from the division commander" [27].

  • For a dual search in which defence takes the upper hand

Above all, it is necessary to think about the creation of clean means and not exclusively civilian technologies because the constraints are sometimes exclusively military.

Dual technologies are obviously inherent in the development of military projects because the commercial outlets make it possible to guarantee them an economic cycle. But it is important to note that if there is a real need to benefit from communications systems that meet the operational needs of armies, then defence must take the lead on this duality. This takeover of research and development projects in conjunction with the armed forces and industry could be done in the same way as the development of the aeronautics and deterrence field carried out by ONERA [28].

Thus, for example, for current transmission systems, it is becoming absolutely necessary to think of a viable solution that can meet two opposing conditions:

  • the need to impose different levels of confidentiality with flow separation between networks;
  • the need for end-to-end transmission to allow the chain of command to be more efficient.

Only a reflection initiated by the defence[29] will make it possible to arrive at a system combining the two constraints.

In conclusion, it should be reaffirmed that the human factor remains predominant in the conduct of warfare. However, information transmission technologies have today entered a field that is becoming both an opportunity and a risk for modern armies.

By studying the evolution of these systems and their contribution to the way of commanding or designing a manoeuvre, it is possible to highlight, without being exhaustive, three preponderant invariants: the need to assert oneself in the face of psychological factors, the combination of all existing means in the design of network architectures to respond to the necessary economy of means, and the need for defence to take the lead in dual technology projects related to transmission systems.

The added value brought by transmission systems is therefore achieved in successive stages, following the invariants mentioned above. It is therefore a question for innovators to defend with intellectual honesty, pragmatism, but also determination, the new concepts that will enable the progress of command tools. The potential to seek and find breakthrough innovations corresponding to the operational needs of air-land manoeuvres is also a major capability that could be found within the perimeter of the Ministry of Defence.


Saint-Cyrien of the promotion "General de Galbert", Battalion Commander LACROIX chose to serve in the Signals Army. He spent his first part of his career in the 40th Signals Regiment, then in the 53rd Signals Regiment where he commanded the 1st Company. He was projected in Lebanon and Afghanistan for the deployment of information and communication systems, then in Côte d'Ivoire in the planning cell. Assigned to the CDEF from 2013 to 2015, he serves as SIC handling officer within the doctrine division. He is currently a trainee at the École de guerre.

Saint-Cyrien of promotion "General de Galbert", Battalion Commander LEVASSEUR chooses to serve in the Engineer Army. He spent his first part of his career in the 2nd Engineer Regiment as a section chief and deputy officer. Assigned to the 31st engineer regiment, he commanded the 3rd combat company. Assigned to CENTIAL-51st RI in 2013, he served as deputy to the head of the fire training office. He is currently a trainee of the War School.


1] "Techno-skepticism (or salutary caution) is the order of the day in many circles, and the military is no exception to the phenomenon". Daniel Ventre, in "Cyber Attackand Cyber Defence", p. 205.

2] "To have a new technology is to have an advantage over the adversary, as long as the latter has not caught up by acquiring the same novelties", Daniel Ventre, op. cit. p. 203.

3] In "Penserla stratégie: de l'antiquité à nos jours", Béatrice Heuser.


5] In his book "Command in war".

6] "The lines of communication become so congested that each service tries to get around the difficulty by creating its own network and an operations PC of a divisional staff thus ends up comprising no less than 35 different lines. The first consequence of this congestion, coupled with the complexity of the structures, is that planning is considerably slowed down. An offensive operation of 30,000 men like Cedar Falls in 1967 required four months of preparation. The most modern army in the world is thus the slowest to organise itself, because of its modernism", Michel Goya, Ibid.

7] Wireless telegraphy

8] Cf. article "Quand la TSF prend l'air", by Aimé Salles in Radiofil Magazine n°56 May-June 2013 .

9] In 1914, only airships were equipped with powerful transmitters (500 to 2000 W), with a long range (400 to 500 km).

10] The plane had to be able to carry three people (pilot, technician and observer) and have a range of 150 km with a reserve of petrol and oil allowing at least two hours of flight. In 1913, the Compagnie générale radiotélégraphiste (CGR) proposed a 300 W transmitter with a reasonable weight of 35 kg, but the range on the Déperdussin monoplane was considered insufficient.

11] Cf. article "Quand la TSF prend l'air", by Aimé Salles in Radiofil Magazine n°56 May-June 2013 .

12] The report by Captain Vieillard, of the Verdun Army, illustrates the general opinion: "The artillerymen believe that there is immense progress (...) the signals are received very clearly and very strongly".

13] Comparison of the most massive tanks. French tanks: armor thickness 60 mm, gun 47 and 75 mm / German tanks: maximum armor thickness 25 mm, gun 37 mm.

14] Ministry of War, Cours de Liaisons et de Transmissions, heritage library.

15] The ability to create continuous waves increased the range (by concentrating energy in a narrow spectrum), and reception became more sensitive and selective through amplification and detection.

16] Indeed, the wavelengths were at least kilometer, even myriametric, and the range was limited to a few hundred kilometers despite high powers.

17] Rebecca Robbins Raines, "Gettingthe Message Through, A Branch History of the U.S. Army Signal Corp".

[18] Microwave relay.

19] For a critical history of revolutions in military affairs, see Colin Gray in "War in the21st Century," pp. 88-112, Economica.

20 ] Jean-Pierre Maulny, "La guerre au XXIème siècle",p 31-36.

21] "It was during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 that the United States first made significant use of satellites. But it was not until the 1990-91 Gulf War that the "first space war" occurred, i.e. a significant use of space assets in support of ground operations. During the Kosovo war in 1998-1999, the Americans had 48 satellites at their disposal while the Europeans only had two. For the first time, with the 2003 Iraq war, American armies have 24-hour satellite information at their disposal", Jacques Villain, SPACE (CONQUEST FOR ) - The Militarisation of Space, Encyclopædia Universalis[online], consulted on 02/04/2015. URL:

22] Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA website,


[24] Global Positioning System

25] Armoured Forward Vehicle Nomadic Command Vehicle Satellite-commanded.See VAB VENUS - SIC 40.438, 2013 edition, Army School of Signals, Army.

26] "The use of the VAB VENUS therefore avoids the problems of elongation, allowing the ERTF to act over distances greater than its engagement standards.26] "The use of the VAB VENUS therefore makes it possible to overcome problems of elongation, allowing the GTIA to act over distances greater than its standards of engagement", Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Leprêtre, head of the operations and training office of the 92nd Infantry Regiment during Operation Serval in Mali (1st term), in RéflexionsTactiques n°30, August 2014.

27]Grand siège général des armées du Nord et du Nord-Est, état-major, 3ème Bureau et aéronautique, No. 28.157, of September 26, 1917, note relating to the action of aviation and artillery in the combat of tanks, secret, signed General Debeney, Major General.

28] The mission of the Office national d'études et de recherche aérospatiales, a body set up in 1946 and placed under the authority of the Minister of Defence, is to "develop andto direct research in the civil and military aeronautics field, to design, carry out and implement the means necessary for the execution of this research and to promote its use by the industry".

29] Within a research organisation or the DGSIC (Directorate General for Information and Communication Systems) with an evolution of its missions.

Title : The technological evolution of communications technology for the benefit of command links in land operations since the Prem
Author (s) : Chefs de bataillon Cyrille LACROIX et Guillaume LEVASSEUR