Tactical Communication Systems: Not Just A Modern Concept

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Although military communications have changed dramatically from the earliest forms, the ingenuity behind them has remained constant.

An essential part of the modern Olympic Games, the marathon, can be traced back to the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), from which the military communication method would become the namesake. According to Herodotus, the Athenian Pheidippides was dispatched from Athens to carry a request for assistance from the Spartans in combat against an invading Persian army. His journey, the feat for which the Olympic event was named, was an incredible 140 mile trek from Athens to Sparta, traveled in a single day. 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 use of signals to transmit a tactical communication over a distance without a physical or audible exchange.

These methods were built upon and improved by the Roman Empire, in which specialized groups, called signal corps today, were created. A signal corps is a branch of the military that is responsible for communications (signals) to assist in developing and communicating tactical decisions. The Romans had an organization named the cursus publicus which, among other things, acted as a signal corps. Accounts detail that the emperor Augustus directed that members of the cursus publicus were to be set up at points along roads built by and for the military. This established network of communications made the broad reach of the empire and its military possible.

Technology is a key component of telegraphy and communications, progressing in unison. Whereas primitive telegraphy included things like smoke signals, beacons and reflected light signals, more complex displays such as flag semaphore appeared within centuries. Cryptographic messages became possible when the delivery systems, such as semaphore networks, allowed a complexity of varying displays. The nineteenth century saw the invention of the electrical telegraph which surpassed the capability of the semaphore networks and quickly spread across America.

At the dawn of the American Civil War the United States Army Signal Corps was created to oversee military communications during wartime. Again, the Union army used whatever means necessary for adequate communication, including primitive techniques like drums and lanterns, but the invention of the telegraph greatly expanded the capability of military communications. Telegraphic innovation continued and America's efforts in World War II were assisted by inventions in radiotelegraphy, including the telephone and wireless radios. The transmission of coded messages enabled incredibly complicated encryption with ease once machines began to be used.

Today's military communications are largely dependent upon computing, following the progression from radiotelegraphy. 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. Global IP networks have opened up the use of traditional signal corps to encompass not only messaging and data collecting responsibilities but the means for initiating network-centric warfare (NCW). The times and methods change, but military communications have served militaries well throughout the centuries.

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