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Are Smartphones Making Soldiers Combat Ineffective?

Are Smartphones Making Soldiers Combat Ineffective?

General Robert Neller certainly thinks so. Gen. Neller currently serves as the 37th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and he has a message for every US Marine out there in the field -- in a world of drones and advanced surveillance technologies, soldiers need to learn anew how to hide, both physically and electronically, and it starts with exercising some discipline in handling smartphone devices. 


Neller cited one particular military exercise in which the largest and most detectable source of electromagnetic transmissions did not come from any radio belonging to the HQ, but came from the billeting area (private quarters of troops), where -- you guessed it -- Marines were busy operating their mobile devices. Because of this, Gen. Neller was compelled to confiscate every smartphone from each soldier.


Camouflage has always been an effective way of masking one’s position from enemy forces. But in a time increasingly driven by electronic gadgets, Gen. Neller emphasizes the importance of mastering digital camouflage measures. This entails making sure all devices that are enabled by global positioning systems (GPS) are not being carried around by GIs. An example of such device includes the smartphone, which every Marine probably owns at least one. 


"You're going to live out of your pack. You're going to dig a hole, you're going to camouflage, you're going to turn off all your stuff, and you're going to sit there and try to sleep," Gen. Neller stressed. "And you're going to try not to make any noise, and you're going to have absolutely no signature. Because if you can be seen, you can be attacked."


Indeed, the tools readily available for mobile device users can also be used by enemy forces in times of warfare. Take Google Maps, for instance. Gen. Neller recounts a recent military exercise in which a Marine HQ group tried to set up an expeditionary operations center and facilities, and then proceeded to hang camouflage netting over each structure and building. To the test the effectiveness of this approach, unit leaders tried to make use of Google Maps to generate an overhead view of the location. Unfortunately, the concertina wire used to string around more sensitive sites reflected light from the sun, basically giving away the positions of structures that used the concertina wire. 


Gen. Neller also warns troops against relying too much on modern communications technology. There is nothing wrong with equipment that makes the most of wireless networks, GPS, and other comms technology, but soldiers may do well to remember that these types of tech can be jammed or rendered useless when attacked.