A Brief Timeline Of Tactical Communication Systems

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{ While the essential nature of military communications has changed very little, the method of delivery has advanced to keep up with technology.

The earliest military communications are evident in the renowned Battle of Marathon, circa 490 BC. The Athenian soldier named Pheidippides, Herodotus claimed, was sent from the battle to the neighboring city of Sparta to request assistance on the battlefield. The distance, 140 miles, was traveled in a single day, according to the legend. Being relatively quick, adaptable and generally secure, foot messengers or runners were a good fit for the military needs of the time. The Persian invaders would later raise a shield over Mount Pentelicon to signal a surprise naval attack on the city of Athens, highlighting a type of communication which would outlast the runner.

The Persians, rather than employing runners, used a basic system of telegraphy to execute commands over long distances. Telegraphy is the transmission of symbolic messages (e.g., a shield) without an actual exchange of an object or audible signal bearing the tactical communication.

In the Roman Empire, these methods progressed and were built upon in the signal corps which they developed. The signal corps assisted the army in communicating orders, collecting intelligence and returning reports from the field. The Romans had an organization named the cursus publicus which, among other things, acted as a signal corps. According to historian Suetonius, the Roman Emperor Augustus stationed a relay system of runners—and later carriages—at points along the military roads to send and receive directives and news. Through the assistance of such innovations in messaging, the Roman Empire as able to expand its power and not just through military might.

The advances in technology over the next centuries would continue to advance efforts in communication and telegraphy. Telegraphy expanded from simple smoke signal and beacons to include more complex forms such as semaphore networks. Innovations such as semaphore networks allowed for the inclusion of cryptography into telegraphy, using flags and shutters to convey coded messages. The next advance, the invention of the electrical telegraph in the 19th century, would have a major impact on American history.

When the southern states seceded from the Union, the president created the United States Army Signal Corps to manage military communications. While more primitive techniques of signaling were not abandoned, such as drums and flags, the advances in electromagnetic telegraphy and aerial telegraphy had a huge impact. By the 1940s, military communications included new messaging utilities such as the telephone, wireless radios and other instruments of radiotelegraphy. Once more the advancements in cryptography and communication technology resulted in innovative new means of delivering messages quickly and securely.

Computing would revolutionize military communications, making messages even more secure with high level encryption and increasing the speed of the delivery thanks to new networks. Modern communications such as e-mail and instant messaging had their origins in military applications and other technologies relying on the Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as voice over IP (VoIP) and intercom over IP (IoIP), are commonly put to work by the military. Network-centric warfare (NCW) has blurred the divide between the traditional supportive role of military communications and a new offensive capability being brought forward from the realm of networking. Such advancements would likely be inconceivable to the runners at Marathon, but their essence and usefulness remains the same.

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