Swarming (military)

Military swarming is a battlefield tactic designed to maximize target saturation, and thereby overwhelm or saturate the defenses of the principal target or objective. On the other-hand, defenders can overcome attempts at swarming, by launching counter-swarming measures that are designed to neutralize or otherwise repel such attacks.

Military swarming is often encountered in asymmetric warfare where opposing forces are not of the same size, or capacity. In such situations, swarming involves the use of a decentralized force against an opponent, in a manner that emphasizes mobility, communication, unit autonomy and coordination or synchronization.[1] Historically military forces have used the principles of swarming without really examining them explicitly, but there is now active research in consciously examining military doctrines that draw ideas from swarming. In nature and nonmilitary situations, there are other various forms of swarming. Biologically driven forms are often complex adaptive systems, but have no central planning, simple individual rules, and nondeterministic behavior that may or may not evolve with the situation.[2]

Current military explorations into swarming address the spectrum of military operations, from strategic through tactical. An expert group evaluated swarming's role in the "revolution in military affairs" or force transformation.[3] They observed that military swarming is primarily tactical, sometimes operational and rarely strategic, and is a complement to other efforts rather than a replacement for them. Swarming is a logical extension of network-centric warfare, but the networks needed to make swarming routine will be available around 2010–2011. At present, the networking for swarming is only available in specific contexts.

Swarming in history

Enthusiasts of swarming sometimes apply it to situations that have superficial similarities, but really do not qualify as swarms. While swarms do converge on a target, not every military action, where multiple units attacked from all sides of a target, constitute swarming. Other conflicts, especially historical ones, fit a swarming paradigm, but the commanders involved did not use the concept. Nevertheless, historical examples help illustrate what modern analysts do and do not consider swarming.

Some historical examples with at least some aspect of swarming include:[2]

Siege of Samarkand

At the siege of Samarkand, Spitamenes used Bactrian horse archers in effective swarming attacks against a relief column sent by Alexander the Great. Bactrian horse archers surrounded various Macedonian phalanxes, staying out of range of their melee weapons, and shot arrows until they had no more. The archers would then withdraw to a supply point, but another swarm of horse archers would sometimes replace them, and sometimes attack elsewhere. The Bactrians eventually caused the phalanx to break formation, and destroyed it. Alexander recognized his forces could not directly combat horse archers, but that the horse archers needed resupply of provisions, horses, and arrows. Alexander split his forces into five columns and began building fortifications in the areas where the Bactrians had resupplied. Eventually, his anti-swarm tactics worked: cut off from resupply, the Bactrians had to meet the Macedonian phalanx, which were vastly superior in melee. Alexander made it priority to engage guerillas or other light mobile forces. Spitamenes was effective as long as his force were mobile, and he had adequate communications with mounted couriers. Once he was forced into direct battle with heavy forces, he literally lost his head. At the Battle of the Jaxartes River, Alexander once again faced swarming tactics from an army of Scythian horse archers. Alexander sent a unit of heavy cavalry ahead of his main line. As expected, the Scythian horsemen surrounded the detached cavalry. At the right moment, Alexander's cavalry reversed direction and pushed half of the Scythians straight into the main phalanx of Alexander's army, where they were slaughtered. Upon seeing this, the remaining half of the Scythian army retreated from the battle.[citation needed]

Mongols Horde

Mongols under Genghis Khan practiced an equivalent of swarming, partially because their communications, which used flags, horns, and couriers, were advanced for the time. Also one of the standard tactics of Mongol military was the commonly practiced feigned retreat to break enemy formations and to lure small enemy groups away from larger groups and defended positions for ambush and counterattack. Genghis Khan used the Yam system, which established a rear line of points for supplies and for remounts of fast-moving couriers. The remount system allowed horsemen to move much faster than the couriers of opponents without them. These couriers kept the Mongol senior and subordinate commanders informed, such that they could make fast decisions based on current information. In modern terms, the courier system provided the means of getting inside the opponent's OODA loop. With fast communications, the Mongols could make decisions not just on what they could see locally, but with that information oriented within the overall situation. They could then decide and act while the enemy were still waiting for information. Outnumbered Mongols could beat larger forces by faster communications, which allowed units to withdraw and regroup while other groups continually stung the enemy, withdrew in turn, while the earlier group again hit the enemy.