At the outset of Desert Storm, one of the very first targets the Air Force hit in downtown Baghdad was the central phone system. Why?
Because modern warfare can take place over enormous distances, a robust communications capability is critical to control and direct forces in the field. Our own Army (and indeed, all our services) have spent untold sums of money to build the most sophisticated communications networks in the history of warfare. And we’ve also dedicated a lot of effort to denying the enemy the free use of his communications networks. I’ll let Craig lead a more robust discussion of the actual command and control networks, but for now, let me address the advantages of denying an enemy a phone system.
Landline telephone systems are considered far more secure than radio communications. It is far harder to physically tap a phone line than it is to pull radio energy out of the ether. By bombing the central telephone exchanges, the Air Force left the Iraqis with little choice but to use radio systems to exercise control of distant forces. These radio links were vulnerable to interception.. This was a valuable source of intelligence. Even if the contents of radio traffic were encrypted, traffic analysis would often reveal a great deal about the enemy order of battle (that is, what forces the enemy had in the field, and how they were organized). Better yet, since the subordinate forces had to break radio silence to reply, their location could be determined with a fair degree of precision.
And after the enemy had become dependent on his radio networks to communicate, those networks and the units we had located by them were vulnerable. We could pick a time most advantageous to us when to suddenly jam his communication networks, and attack the headquarters that relied on radio communications. Timed properly, such attacks could sow confusion and even panic among the enemy, greatly reducing the effectiveness of his units.
The simple act of denying the enemy his telephone system has widespread consequences throughout Desert Storm.