Swarming is a military strategy in which a military force attacks an enemy from several different directions and then regroups. Important aspects of swarming are mobility, communication, unit autonomy and coordination/synchronization. The coordination and synchronization is of prime important to protect against fraticide fire and achieve the overwhelming application of forces. The swarm use direct and indirect fire to achieve its goals. Recently RAND has published several papers suggesting that the United States military adapt swarming techniques. Command and Control in a Network-enabled capability or Network Centric warfare is the key enabler in the use of Swarming in military operation.

Historical Examples of SwarmingEdit

  • Scythians vs. Macedonians, Central Asian campaign, 329 - 327 BC
  • Parthians vs. Romans, Carrhae, 53 BC
  • Seljuk Turks vs. Byzantines, Manzikert, 1071
  • Seljuk Turks vs. Crusaders, Dorylaeum, 1097
  • Mongols vs. Eastern Europeans, Liegnitz, 1241
  • Woodland Indians vs. US Army, St. Clair’s Defeat, 1791
  • Napoleonic Corps vs. Austrians, Ulm Campaign, 1805
  • Boers vs. British, Majuba Hill, 1881
  • U-boats vs. British convoys, Atlantic, 1939 – 1945
  • PLA vs. UN Forces, Korea, 1951-1953
  • Somalis vs. US Commandos, Mogadishu, 1993


Despite critics’ reliance on conventional military thought and their opposition to change, developing technology and several historical swarming examples in both military and nonmilitary fields suggest that swarming is more effective than any current military system and should therefore be adapted by the world’s militaries. Military conflict is as old as man himself, and military strategy has always been an important part of military conflict. Superior styles of fighting have allowed armies to be victorious where their numbers and weapons alone would have left them defeated. Traditionally military strategy has been melee, mass or maneuver. However the RAND corporation has proposed a new doctrine called swarming. Swarming occurs when the scheme of maneuver is a convergent attack of several semi-autonomous (or autonomous) units on a target. Swarming has a long history and has been used by the Central Asian archers, Native Americans, Napoleonic Armies, guerilla forces and even in nature by bees and ants. In our modern world people are familiar with nonmilitary swarming such as mobbing, the paparazzi and decentralized computer downloader’s such as Torrent and EDonkey.

Nonmilitary SwarmingEdit

Swarming has shown to be an effective system by the superb use of swarming in nonmilitary situations. In the natural world many predators instinctively sense that swarming is the best system for capturing their prey. Insects for example, which have the most complex social structure other than humans, often employ swarming tactics in any expedition outside of the hive. When foraging or going after hostile insects and prey, ants often move from several different directions and come together blanketing and overwhelming their prey. Ants unlike bees actually use swarming tactics against other ants in territorial “wars” with other ants. Bees to will often swarm around a target attacking from several different directions. However because bees die after a sting they are more similar to missiles. However both bees and ants instinctively recognize the value of spreading apart and rapidly coming together. Wolves and hyenas have also been shown to use swarming tactics. Unlike bees and ants, wolves often do not have massive numbers and are frequently outnumbered by their prey. However wolves stay far apart allowing them to cover more territory than their more numerous prey can. They only come together at the last moment to attack a weak member of the herd together. The ability to cover vast areas of land with few numbers, and to rapidly attack the enemy’s weak point from all sides has definite military applications. The third form of nonmilitary swarming is opportunistic, in which many individuals simply join in on a successful attack. Mobs, soccer hooligans, viruses, bacteria and sharks all engage in this sort of attack. Hackers often use swarming practices. By gaining control of many victims email accounts they are able to concentrate a massive assault on their target from countless different sources and overwhelm their target. Swarming is even used in sports. Basketball teams use something called the “triangle offense” in which players are dispersed but can rapidly pass the ball between each other. Swarming plays on the natural physical and psychological vulnerabilities of the victim. Being spread out confuses the victim in regard to numbers. On the one hand the enemy seems to be everywhere but on the other hand the enemy is only seen in small numbers. This causes the victim to greatly over or underestimates the size of the enemy. As the enemy quickly joins forces and attacks the victim, the victim becomes extremely confused and disoriented. All of these results are also the object of most military operations.

Swarming in historyEdit

Swarming, contrary to what has been said by critics, has in fact been used quite effectively in several historical situations. The only reason that there are not more examples of swarming is that in the past, armies did no have the mobility and communication capabilities we have now. Critics in the military and government are wary of adapting a “Swarming” military system because they are not confident that swarming can be successful however history has illustrated that in fact swarming has been quite successful on the battlefield. RAND selected historical examples based on the following criteria “, a swarming case is any historical example in which the scheme of maneuver involves the convergent attack of five (or more) semiautonomous (or autonomous) units on a targeted force in some particular place. “Convergent” implies an attack from most of the points on the compass.” The earliest and one of the most effective military systems of swarming has been the Eurasian horse archers of the steppe. The firepower and mobility advantages of the steppe warrior were not surpassed until the invention of gunpowder. Because most of the early swarmers were nomadic records of them are sparse. Genghis Khan and his Mongols are the best examples of swarmers. His army could cover vast distances in a short amount of time. The local commanders were extremely independent and acted with great freedom. The Mongols were outnumbered in nearly all their battles. However by using superior firepower and mobility they were able to quickly spread apart and then join together and attack the enemy. The fact that the swarming Mongols conquered the largest empire in history should prove to critics that swarming does in fact work. During the Crusades, the Muslims used rapid assaults by horse archers from all directions to shatter the morale of the Knights. They would then quickly disengage so that there would be no close combat. The Knights were much more heavily armed than the Turks. Currently the main body of the United States Military, like that of the Crusaders, is extremely well armored but not able to rapidly react. During both of the Persian Gulf Wars it took months to build up the proper force. Napoleon made excellent use of swarming during his 1805 invasion of Austria. All Napoleonic corps was widely dispersed but able to handle any enemy they came across long enough until friendly forces could join them. The Napoleonic corps then all joined together to trap the Austrian army in Ulm. World War II is an excellent example of swarming in the modern world. Extremely outnumbered and out manned British fighters were able to quickly swarm German assaulters during the Battle of Britain. The Lufftwaffe had an extreme edge in numbers but swarming completely outdid it. The great value of radar during the Battle of Britain was that it allowed British fighters to quickly gather together at a moments notice to attack the Germans from all sides. German U-boats used the same tactics during World War II that wolves use against prey. Despite being against the two largest navies in the world, during the years of 1941 and 1942 the Germans were sinking more ships than the allies could produce. Individual U-Boats patrolled throughout the Atlantic but could then come together and t\attack weak merchant ships from all sides. Swarming is intensively reliant on communication. It should be kept in mind that all these swarming examples took place before the information when communication was not nearly as good as it is now. The fact that swarming has been so successful despite the difficulties in implementing should make one question just how effective swarming can be today with modern communication systems.

Arguments For SwarmingEdit

Swarming should be adapted because current non-swarming military systems are not the best use of military resources. Here we are half a decade into the twenty first century and the world is still dominated by the same three military systems that have been around since the start of time: melee, mass and maneuver. Melee is unorganized and random fighting. Examples of this are tribal warfare, modern gang fighting, World War I dogfights, ancient naval conflict and modern urban warfare. Massing, is organized warfare in which armies use strict structure to have such as large mass they can overwhelm the enemy. Maneuver is similar to mass except that mass is concentrated at a particular point. Most military systems today still use a combination of those three methods. The United States for example uses “Airland battle”. Airland battle was developed to use mobility to outflank Soviet invaders. Airland doctrine worked extremely well in the first Gulf War. However a Cold War style army may prove to be extremely cumbersome in the conflicts of the twentieth century. In the Afghani and Iraqi invasions the US military easily took out the enemy governments but were unable to deal with guerilla warfare in the post conflict. Even against conventional enemies like China and Russia, Airland battle may prove to be dangerous. Intensive firepower and weapons of massed destruction make large units easy targets. Because the United States army is so “heavy” the United States lacks the ability to rapidly respond to a crisis. It was months before the United States military could place an effective army in Afghanistan even after a crisis as major as 911. Because of the inability to rapidly respond to crisis the US must keep large armies in foreign lands.

Swarming and Modern NationsEdit

Swarming should be adapted by modernized nations because it is the best use of the information revolution. The major advantage postindustrial nations have is superior technology. And yet the United States military fights in a style hardly fundamentally different from the Ancient Greek Phalanx. Swarming on the other hand relies entirely on communication. Swarming allows the information revolution to be used to its full potential. Contemporary event suggest that the most probable enemy will fight nonconventionally. Swarming would allow the United States to rapidly respond to guerilla and terrorist forces. Modern communications allows military units to stay widely dispersed. The front, rear and flanks are disappearing from military conflict. Swarming allows the military to fight everywhere. The demands on logistics that swarming requires can finally be carried out. The key to swarming is information. Information on where friends are and information on where enemies are. Just as communication will allow forces to know where their friends are, modern satellites and spy planes will reveal the location of the enemy. Hackers have already recognized that the future of information conflict is swarming; now the military must come to the same conclusion.

Swarming and Thirld World NationsEdit

Lesser developed armies and groups should adapt swarming because it allows them to balance their disadvantage in firepower and numbers. Despite being less technically advanced Communist forces made good use of swarming in Asia during the Cold War. The Chinese were able to make up for their lack of firepower by attacking UN forces from all sides and then quickly advancing to the rear. The Vietcong were famous from attacking from all directions out of nowhere and then quickly disappearing. In Somalia primitive militias were able to defeat the most powerful military power on earth by using swarming techniques. Swarming offers great potential to nations, which do not have the technology or capital to equal the United States militarily. Iraq attempted to fight a conventional war in both wars with the United States and was terribly defeated. If the United States has a superior conventional military there is no point in trying to match it. Instead the best investment for third world nations and groups is to adapt swarming. History has shown that massed swarming has actually had more success than swarming through firepower. The United States is intensely reliant on firepower. If an army could attack an American army from all directions in close quarters the results have been shown to be very effective. Nonplanned swarming is also effective. In Iraq there have been many instances of US forces cut off from the main body being overwhelmed by gathering Iraqi resistance forces. Numbers and firepower can be matched by the psychological difficulties of being attacked from all sides. The ability to rapidly break up prevents modern militaries from promptly reacting. Swarming can be a much more effective version of guerrilla warfare. Swarming calls for much smaller units. However because those smaller units are used so much more effectively they can often defeat larger more advanced armies.

Arguments Against SwarmingEdit

Critics of swarming bring up valid points such as logistical problems, implementation difficulties and the question of whether or not swarming is truly realistic, however data has shown that most of these problems can be solved and in fact the dilemmas facing swarming would be no worse than the problems the current military system has. The main point that critics bring up is logistics. They say that it is impossible to supply rapid moving and divided units on the battlefield. Furthermore they say that it will be extremely hard to care for the wounded, so a much larger proportion of the wounded will not receive care. During Vietnam nearly 80% of wounded soldiers were able to survive, critics fear that number will drop. There were certainly being difficulties in supplying swarming armies. However two factors greatly diminish the difficulties in supplying swarming armies. One is that a swarming army would be much smaller than a conventional army; this means that much less supplies need to be brought. Second of all if the swarming armies can move at a rapid, speed it can be assumed that the supply vehicles can move at a rapid speed. On the question of the wounded, there will be much less wounded if the swarming forces are moving towards rapid victory. Therefore the wounded will be in much smaller numbers than Vietnam so it will be easier to care for them. As for problems of implementation, for the most part the military already possesses the technology needed to swarm. Air force and naval branches only need to make changes in command and unit structure, but not any equipment changes. As for the military, changes are needed in the type of units. Most units are left overs from the Cold War and should be reformed. Changing command structure and placing more reliance on lower command should be apart of an all-volunteer professional army. Soldiers are better educated now than anytime in history and should be able to handle the burdens of independent command. Increased technology will keep all units in communication. History has already shown that swarming can work if implemented. The only question is can it be implemented? Our current technology suggests swarming can be implemented.

Swarming and the FutureEdit

Swarming offers great opportunity and great dangers to militaries in the future. History has shown that many of the most brilliant historical campaigns have been examples of swarming. Already militaries have started to move towards lighter forces. However speed and mobility is not enough to guarantee victory, swarming might be. While there might be great difficulties in adapting swarming the reward may be well worth the price. In the future perhaps we should look towards adapting swarm like organizations in the business, governmental and social worlds, Greater autonomy to lesser units can prove to be effective in all realms. The ideal of rapid massing and dispersion might also prove useful in nonmilitary affairs. Swarming offers great possibilities for the future and should not be ignored.

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