Satellite view

Above: Clouds over Baltic Sea, 4 April 2017, as seen by MODIS on board Terra satellite. Credit: Antti Lipponen.


The battlefield sites of many of the great battles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries tend to be static, defined, and depopulated-of-civilians--Verdun; Gallipoli, etc. For Carl von Clausewitz--a military strategist of the early-nineteenth-century--a basic analogy for warfare was a pair of duelers or even two wrestlers: two matched-up opponents. (Through the deployment of tactics one eventually submits to the will of the other.) During the twentieth-century the emergence of mechanized land forces, and in particular the tank division, enabled the fighting frontline (and so the battlefield/theatre of operations) to become transitory, mobile--the battlefield of a fast-advancing invading force is continuously altering. An invading tank division is a battlefield frontline-in-movement--expressed by WWII General Heinz Guderian and quoted by Virilio, "where we find the tanks, there is the front (DS: 2)." In the present age of asymmetric warfare and guerrilla tactics the picture is once again transformed. First, the battlefield now tends to be the built-up urban landscape replete with civilians going about their daily lives--the battlefield in the era of hyperterrorism is always the city (PW: 9). Second, the military "theater of operations," is transformed in the modern era by the emergence of continuous and comprehensive overhead surveillance--via high-altitude recon aircraft and continuous Earth-orbiting satellite intelligence.

In the global-satellite-intelligence era, "we can no longer legitimately speak of a battlefield of localized war. Even if the land maneuvers remain precisely situated they are overshadowed, totally dominated by the scope of a global [military surveillance and intelligence] capacity, of an environment in which the spacio-temporal reduction is the essential characteristic." In the modern era, the belligerents or potential belligerents are continuously scanning, sweeping, overflying and transmitting data concerning enemy armaments, troop movements, etc. (WC: 75). Thus the modern military battlefield disappears in so far as it has become, actually, the entire surface of the Earth. Modern weapons capabilities are such that "to sum up current thinking on precision and saturation weaponry ... I'd put it like this: once you can see the target, you can expect to destroy it (WC: 4--William Perry quoted by Virilio)." Given this globally-reaching confidence in target destruction, it is inevitable that the emphasis turns to concealment, the clandestine, the invisible, the undetectable, etc. (WC: 5). With the dominant logic now being "everything that is dissimulated to view, to the awareness of the enemy, automatically has the advantage (DS: 62)." The present military era is characterized then by the rise to prominence of camouflage, decoys, jamming, smoke-screens, electronic counter-measures (WC: 95). The narrative of the battlefield is of its transformation from stable-and-defined to mobile-and-transitory, to diffuse, vague, and inexistent (SP: 78-79).