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Space Power Chronicles
NEW ROLES FOR INFORMATION SYSTEMS IN MILITARY OPERATIONS
Captain George A. Crawford
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the
acme of skill. To subdue an enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
- Sun Tzu
In the past decade we have witnessed phenomenal growth in the capabilities
of information management systems. National security implications of these
capabilities are only now beginning to be understood by national leadership.
Information warfare (IW) is one of the new concepts receiving a great
deal of attention inside the Washington DC beltway; in some circles IW
is even touted as the cornerstone of future US military doctrine. There
is no doubt IW is a concept the modern military officer should be familiar
with, for advancements in computer technology have significant potential
to dramatically change the face of military command and control.
Information warfare theory has tremendous political, technical, operational
and legal implications for the military. This article seeks to define
IW for the layman and discuss its potential applications. It will also
attempt to identify potential military uses of existing information systems
technology and address some of the issues facing those who will be responsible
for implementing this new doctrine.
Information Warfare--What is it?
Since the dawn of life, animals have developed senses in order to
tell the difference between that which should be eaten and that which
might eat them. Governments spend untold billions of dollars establishing
agencies to gather and maintain information on potential threats to their
security. Computer hackers--most notably members of "The Legion of
Doom"--have been tried, convicted and sent to prison because they
conspired to provide access to proprietary information. These and countless
other examples from current events illustrate a simple premise: information
is a strategic asset. We can assess a real dollar value based on potential
gain or loss due to the availability of the right information at the right
time. The absence of critical information can spell the difference between
success or failure in the modern political or military arena. Therefore,
the capability to provide or deny critical information may be considered
the pinnacle of military or strategic power.
Information warfare, simply put, is an orchestrated effort to achieve
victory by subverting or neutralizing an enemy command and control (C2)
system, while protecting use of C2 systems to coordinate the actions of
friendly forces. A successful IW campaign seizes initiative from an enemy
commander; the IW campaign allows allied forces to operate at a much higher
tempo than an enemy can react to.
The concept of an "OODA Loop" is often used to illustrate information
warfare. OODA stands for the steps in a commander's decision making cycle--Observe,
Orient, Decide and Act. These steps form the cycle illustrated in Figure
Figure 1. The OODA Loop
A commander observes the battlefield situation through all the
assets at his disposal. He orients his force to take advantage
of opportunities and vulnerabilities identified during the observation
step. When the force is oriented, the commander decides which course
of action to take. The commander acts by issuing orders, and the
force implements his decision. Once the action is in process, the cycle
begins again as the commander observes the opposing force's reaction to
his moves. The length of time needed for this cycle to complete itself
can be illustrated by the OODA Loop's size. This size will be affected
by many factors; e.g., the length of time required to collect, analyze
and disseminate observations, the amount of time needed to orient forces,
the decisiveness of the command structure and the time necessary to communicate
a decision to the forces.
At the same time the allied commander is engaged in this process, the
opposing command structure is engaged in its own "OODA Loop".
Thus, an engagement between two opposing sides can be seen as a competition
to possess the smallest OODA loop. The side with the smallest OODA loop
operates at a much higher tempo, forcing the opposing side to react to
its moves. Through a successful campaign of subversion, deception and
psychological operations, friendly forces can increase the size of an
opponent's OODA loop, while reducing the size of their own. If the information
warfare campaign is fully implemented, the enemy may ultimately be compelled
to work toward allied objectives and lead his force to its ultimate destruction.
Based on the premise that information is a strategic asset, a portion
of IW doctrine seeks to disrupt or deny access to information in order
to seize initiative from an adversary. The other half of IW doctrine seeks
to maintain the integrity of our information gathering and distribution
Applying Information Warfare
Most modern political and military C2 systems are based on high speed
communications and computers. It follows that this information infrastructure,
also known as an "infosphere", will be the arena in which information
warfare is waged. Any system or person who participates in the C2 process
will be a potential target in an IW campaign.
An excellent example of an early IW campaign can be seen in the conduct
of OPERATION DESERT STORM. In order to gain air supremacy, a joint special
operations aviation force opened a breach in radar coverage surrounding
Iraq. The Iraqi command was unaware the breach existed until a blow had
been struck from which Iraq would never recover. Simultaneously, a coordinated
attack by stealth aircraft against Iraq's air defense headquarters bunker
and three regional air defense centers effectively turned Iraq's integrated
air defense network into a hodgepodge of uncoordinated air defense fiefdoms,
each of which could be neutralized independently at the coalition forces'
leisure. No longer did a surface-to-air missile site have a regional C2
system to prioritize and provide early warning of approaching targets.
Later in the campaign, a baited hook was thrown to news agencies when
reporters--desperate for a story--were allowed to cover exercises in preparation
for an amphibious assault into Kuwait. This successful psychological operation
by a Marine Amphibious Brigade and Navy special forces held five Iraqi
divisions in place on the east coast while two corps of coalition forces
shifted to the western flank for the final assault.
In a similar way, an IW campaign will focus against the enemy infosphere.
It will be necessary to isolate, identify and analyze each element of
an enemy infosphere in order to determine portions which can affect the
OODA loop's size. Once these areas of the enemy infosphere are identified,
an attack against critical nodes would deny access to information, destroy
the information, or render it useless to the adversary forces. Even more
damaging, information warriors could alter data in a network, causing
the adversary to use false information in his decision making process
and follow a game plan of the friendly commander's design.
A significant portion of emerging IW theory attempts to grasp the impact
of employing computer technology as a weapon system. Computer programs
could take on the roles of etherial spies and warriors as they seek to
impede an enemy's access to reliable information, while allowing friendly
forces to form a reliable picture of enemy intentions and actions. While
operational security and electronic warfare protect the integrity of our
C2 systems, "software strikes" could be conducted against critical
C2 nodes and data. Computer hardware could complement other weapon systems
to deliver strikes against the enemy command and control system.
Information warfare can affect political, economic or military targets.
A televised news conference with an important dignitary could be altered
to change its content. IW could sabotage an economy by reducing international
confidence in a nation's currency, or causing an adversary to default
on payments. Access to critical research and development facilities could
be interfered with. Satellite communications could be terminated. Strategic
information warfare waged independently could cause an adversary to lose
faith in his own data management systems, greatly increasing confusion
and difficulty of controlling assets. On an operational level, interference
with enemy data management systems could create damaging time delays in
the enemy's ability to make and implement decisions. On the tactical level,
IW would be able to compliment the use of other systems to reduce danger
to friendly forces and increase chances for success. Information warfare
opens new avenues for the conduct of politico-military operations. On
the low level of the conflict spectrum, covert intrusion into an opponent's
command and control system may provide unique insight into their political
intentions and decision making process. As tensions rise, it may be necessary
to send a signal to demonstrate our concern. In the science fiction movie
classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien named Klaatu immobilized
the Earth for an hour to demonstrate his power. While the United States
may not be able to halt all activity, shutting down a telephone system
or financial network for an hour may have the desired effect. If it becomes
necessary to conduct full-scale intervention, IW can compliment other
military forces by gathering intelligence, subverting and denying enemy
communications or even destroying information networks.
Since information warfare theory is grounded in the appearance of new
information systems technology, it may be useful to examine the emergence
of other new technologies throughout history. This may provide valuable
lessons learned for the modern day military theorist. Advocates of air-to-air
missiles declared the demise of gun armed fighter aircraft in the late
1950s. Military officers who were developing intercontinental ballistic
missiles touted the end of manned strategic bombers. In some circles,
the advent of submarines in World War I sounded a siren's song for surface
warships. Anti-tank missiles employed in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war were
hailed as ending the tank's dominance on the battlefield. In all of these
cases, new technologies ultimately complimented existing technologies
in warfare; they did not render the old ways obsolete. On the other hand,
artillery replaced the catapult and archer. Horses and beasts of burden
were replaced by mechanization. Naval aviation did push the battleship
into obsolescence. There will certainly be those who argue that information
warfare renders other forms of warfare obsolete. Tactics and operational
art will no doubt change to accommodate IW doctrine. Some of these changes
may be quite unprecedented. In all likelihood, though, IW will serve to
compliment existing technology rather than push it into obsolescence.
Whether IW will be a mere evolutionary development or a revolutionary
one remains to be seen.
IW takes advantage of technological opportunities as novel to today's
military theorist as the tank was to Churchill, Fuller and Guderian in
the early part of our century. IW is an area as ripe for contemplation
and experimentation as the concept of strategic bombardment was to Douhet
and Mitchell. Although an information warrior won't be able to demonstrate
the effectiveness of IW with the same flair Billy Mitchell used to demonstrate
the capabilities of independent air power, a coordinated software assault
could cripple strategic targets in an enemy nation's infrastructure. Indeed,
IW is a concept which merits serious research by the twenty-first century
We should not examine the merits of IW without examining its shortcomings.
First and foremost, the potential impact of IW is directly proportional
to the sophistication of one's adversary. The craftiest computer program
will be useless against an enemy who communicates by beating on logs with
sticks. Indeed, the Vietnam War and recent UN experience in Somalia illustrate
how a determined, well-led force can overcome a technologically advanced
opponent. The utility of IW increases in direct proportion to the adversary's
reliance on information systems. Therefore, while information warfare
systems will be an effective addition to our national arsenal, we must
avoid considering IW a panacea for conducting engagements across the conflict
Fighting the Information War
Every time we pick up a magazine, turn on the television or listen to
the radio, it seems we hear a new story about computers. A small flaw
discovered in the Pentium microprocessor, causes a decline in Intel stock.
A scare results from to an erroneous warning sent out on the INTERNET
about an alleged "Good Times" computer virus. Microsoft markets
computer software products to China. A popular movie plot centers around
computer hackers who steal an experimental decryption device which provides
access to traffic on any computer network. Computers, information networks
and similar command and control (C2) systems have made remarkable strides,
having a significant impact on nearly every business and government activity
in the United States.
One development with implications for the military is the appearance
of "hackers" and "phreakers"--persons who gain unauthorized
access to computer and telephone systems, respectively. Since their emergence
in the 1970s, hackers have repeatedly demonstrated their talent at overcoming
computer security systems to access information. In some cases, intruders
have gone beyond merely accessing a system; malicious damage has been
done to computer databases, causing millions of dollars in loss to corporations
and agencies. In most cases, hackers are amateur sleuths who simply treat
secure computer systems as the world's greatest puzzle. But what if hacking
were done for a more subtle, deliberate purpose? What if an organization
of hackers cooperated in a coordinated attempt to gain access to a computer
system? What if careful planning and preparation allowed this access to
be gained with no trace left behind in the violated C2 system?
Implications of hacking and phreaking for intelligence collection are
simple to grasp. A computer network or telephone system is designed to
transmit information. Much of that information will form an excellent
intelligence picture of an adversary. Simply monitoring the quantity of
information flowing through a network can serve as an indicator of pending
activity. Readers who served in the military may remember how the Department
of Defense's TEMPEST program taught us all that the emissions from electronic
equipment can be picked up from remote distances. The TEMPEST program
taught us to take precautions against unauthorized monitoring. Computer
networks can be monitored through telephone modems, peripheral equipment,
power lines, human agents and other means. The information contained in
these systems can be monitored without the user's knowledge.
Take this idea one step further. If a system can be monitored remotely,
it might also be accessed remotely. A program could be installed to record
and relay computer access codes to a remote location. In a simple brute
force approach, hardware could be destroyed or an electromagnetic pulse
sent through the system to render it inoperative. Logic bombs inserted
into a system could neutralize a vital program on command. Even more subtle
efforts could be made--imagine the implications of a simple program which
adds one degree of altitude and azimuth to the firing solutions computed
by every targeting radar in an enemy air defense network. The enemy might
never know the computer intrusion occurred until every shot missed and
the antiaircraft site was destroyed. Information and access to information
have become a strategic asset whose destruction or denial has a profound
effect on military operations and national security. The 1989 stock market
crash was assessed to be a result of computer trading activity run amok.
Imagine the impact on the United States if Wall Street were held hostage
by a computer virus which threatened to destroy financial records. Ponder
the effect on military operations if all phone lines for a US unified
command were suddenly rerouted to the local pizza delivery shop. Contemplate
the impact on morale if a military unit's pay records suddenly disappeared.
If a critical presentation for a new business account were "misplaced"
on the day of an important meeting, it could mean a great loss for a major
corporation and great gain for a competitor. Losing access to data at
a critical time could spell the difference between success and failure
on the international playing field.
Employing computers as a weapon system will introduce a new glossary
of terminology for the information warrior. Computer warfighting weapons
can be divided into four categories: software, hardware, electromagnetic
systems and other assets.
Software consists of programs designed to collect information on, inhibit,
alter, deny use of, or destroy the enemy infosphere. Software would be
the primary soldier in pure information warfare. One example of a software
asset--called a KNOWBOT--could serve as a virtual software spy. Other
examples of software warfighting assets have exotic, computer hacker names:
"demons", "sniffers", "viruses", "Trojan
horses", "worms" or "logic bombs". A more detailed
description of these "weapon systems" may help the reader visualize
more effectively the potential use of software assets in IW.
- KNOWBOT. The Corporation for National Research Initiatives has
coined the term KNOWBOT, or knowledge robot. A KNOWBOT is "a program
which moves from machine to machine, possibly cloning itself. KNOWBOTs
can communicate with one another, with various servers in a network, and
with users. They could be dispatched to do our bidding in a global landscape
of computing and information resources". The intelligence implications
of using a KNOWBOT as a "software spy" are self evident. A KNOWBOT
could be introduced into enemy computer systems, reproducing itself when
it detects information meeting desired specifications. The KNOWBOT clone
would then collect information and report when interrogated, at a predetermined
time, or feed a continuous stream of information to intelligence users.
The KNOWBOT could even be programmed to relocate or erase itself to prevent
discovery of espionage activity. Finally, KNOWBOTs could seek out, alter
or destroy critical nodes of an enemy C2 system.
- Demon. A program which, when introduced into a system, records
all commands entered into the system. When retrieved and interrogated,
the demon reports all commands used on the computer system for a given
time period. Demons can reveal access codes, encryption keys or similar
information for systems. Similar to the demon is the "sniffer".
A sniffer records the first 128 bits of data on a given program. Logon
information and passwords are usually contained in this portion of any
data stream. Because they merely read and record data, such programs are
very difficult to detect.
- Virus. A program which, upon introduction, attaches itself to
resident files or tables on a machine or network. The virus spreads itself
to other files as it comes into contact with them. It may reproduce without
doing any actual damage, or it may erase files via the file allocation
- Trap Door. A back door into a system, written in by a programmer
to bypass future security codes. Trap doors provide quick entry to a system
if the programmer needs to make changes at a later date. The risk of a
trap door occurs when the wrong person finds it; unauthorized access to
the system is made easy and security systems are circumvented.
- Trojan Horse. A code which remains hidden within a computer
system or network until it emerges to perform a desired function. A Trojan
Horse can authorize access to the system, alter, deny or destroy data,
or slow down system function.
- Worm. A nuisance file which grows within an information storage
system. It can alter files, take up memory space, or displace and overwrite
- Logic Bomb. This instruction remains dormant until a pre-determined
condition occurs. Logic bombs are usually undetectable before they are
activated. When the pre-determined condition occurs, the program activates.
The logic bomb can alter, deny or destroy data and inhibit system function.
The pre-determined condition may be a certain time, a command initiated
by the computer user, or a command sent from outside the C2 system. Thus,
logic bombs could be installed into enemy C2 nets during heightened national
tension, and activated if hostilities commence.
Hardware. The primary purpose of a hardware asset is to bring
software assets into contact with an enemy computer system. Hardware primarily
consists of computers and peripheral components. Any piece of equipment
connected to a computer, be it a fiberoptic or telephone cable, facsimile
machine or printer, is capable of transmitting information to that computer.
Therefore it is a potential avenue for gaining access to the infosphere.
During Operation DESERT STORM, US News & World Report magazine cast
light on an attempt to introduce a virus into an Iraqi computer system.
The writers stated that a virus was programmed into a chip, surreptitiously
placed into a computer printer. This is an excellent example of a hardware
asset used to introduce a software strike into the enemy infosphere. The
information infrastructure itself also falls into the hardware category,
since software assets can gain access to hardware by being introduced
via the enemy information network.
Electromagnetic Systems. Any mechanisms using the electromagnetic
spectrum to subvert, disrupt or destroy enemy command and control are
electromagnetic systems. This essentially includes any system capable
of Meaconing, Intrusion, Jamming and Interference (MIJI). Meaconing interferes
with direction finding and navigation. Intrusion confuses enemy communications
by broadcasting counter-commands or walking over communications. Jamming
and interference prevents the enemy from using a portion of the electromagnetic
spectrum. Recent Department of Defense research into disabling systems
offers yet another option. Conventional explosives can now produce a massive,
focused electromagnetic pulse (EMP). These weapons were reportedly used
against Iraq in the Gulf War. Unprotected electronic circuitry will be
overloaded if it is within the lethal envelope of an EMP event. EMP simply
shorts-out electronic equipment.
Other Assets. This catch-all category makes an important point. Information
warfare is not limited to electronic systems. A laser-guided bomb dropped
onto a cable junction box can have a very direct and significant effect
on the enemy infosphere. Downing power or telephone lines can disable
a command post. Special forces can destroy critical nodes or capture key
personnel associated with the IW function. A motorized infantry division
can overrun a critical node in a communications network. Simply put, non-computer
assets can compliment use of computer hardware and software assets, or
can act unilaterally. Their goal is to achieve the desired effect upon
the enemy C2 network in pursuit of strategic, operational or tactical
objectives. In the hands of a skilled team of information warriors, these
technical assets described above can operate independently, or compliment
other assets in pursuit of national goals. Successful employment of IW
assets could theoretically end a war before the first shot is fired.
Controlling the Information War
Controlling an information war will be a challenge to conventional military
structure. A simple keystroke by a low-level "cyberwarrior"
could have serious national policy ramifications if it affects an adversarial
strategic system. For example, denying an adversary the use of national
intelligence systems at a critical time could escalate a tense confrontation
to a nuclear exchange. Such strategic action would have to be taken only
with Presidential consent. Other action would be less serious, and could
be controlled at a lower level. Therefore, IW could be waged on multiple
levels--tactical, operational and strategic. Potential targets cross military,
economic or political lines. Control of IW systems must be vested in an
authority competent to weigh myriad factors involved in a decision to
employ such capability.
An information warfare campaign will span organizational and service
boundaries to compliment other systems in the pursuit of strategic objectives.
A war planner trying to orchestrate an IW campaign would no doubt benefit
from thorough research into the development of joint and combined war
plans with similar scope. Air Tasking Orders, the Single Integrated Operations
Plan (SIOP), artillery fire plans and tasking procedures for national
intelligence collection systems may provide an understanding of the coordination
and planning necessary to conduct a successful IW campaign. Control procedures
and decision making processes used in managing national military and intelligence
assets will certainly provide pertinent source material to those attempting
to formulate integrated IW campaign plans. Thoroughly planned IW will
be a powerful asset for all branches of the military, national intelligence
agencies and national leadership.
A successful IW campaign requires intimate coordination between command,
communications, operations, logistics and intelligence disciplines. In
an IW campaign, the lines of distinction between the traditional military
functions would blur, and the disciplines eventually merge. Computer networks
and means of information exchange have dramatically altered the face of
the business world. In many cases, traditional "stovepipe" command
and control structures will impede rapid information transfer. Many businesses
find it necessary to cut middle level management, reducing the impediments
between those with the authority to decide what should to be done and
those who know how to do it. Such restructuring results in a flat, weblike
organization known in some circles as a "blueberry pancake".
Organizational structure will certainly evolve in order to take advantage
of new capabilities and implement new doctrine. The traditional disciplines
described above may indeed meld into a cohesive organization or task force
directed at critical nodes of an enemy's ability to make and implement
When assigning budgetary and operational responsibility for IW, national
policy makers must select a lead agency with a good track record controlling
programs with multiple-interest implications. The Air Force would certainly
be a contender to serve as this lead agency. The USAF has demonstrated
a superb capability to carry out such activities through its airlift,
joint and combined air operations and space programs. The USAF is also
the service most capable to handle advanced technology and new, innovative
systems such as stealth, precision-guided munitions, integrated airspace
management systems and battlefield management systems. With its high proportion
of college graduates, the USAF will be able to provide the proper personnel
to control such a capability for the United States. United States Special
Operations Command (USSOCOM) may also be a good host for IW. IW is, by
its very nature, unconventional warfare. It spans the spectrum of conflict
in the same manner as do special operations. IW, like special operations,
affects a broad range of targets with far-reaching impact. Psychological
operations--considered a major component of IW--have been traditionally
conducted by special operations forces. Finally, USSOCOM is familiar with
operations conducted both in support of theater commanders and in response
to Presidential directives.
Legal Considerations for Information Warfare Doctrine Our legal system
is struggling to keep pace with the rapid expansion of available information
systems technology. The accessibility of information has raised fundamental
constitutional issues for government officials and legal scholars. Computer
hackers are at odds with security representatives from corporate and government
organizations. The recent controversy regarding the US government-sponsored
"Clipper Chip" highlighted the government's concern over the
spread of computer encryption technology and the ability of national agencies
to monitor international and domestic information exchange. International
law is even more vague regarding information technology. International
agreements regulate use of proprietary information, communications and
international commerce; but belligerent use of information systems technology
In its most basic form, a legal code for information warfare will probably
take the form of a simple quid pro quo agreement; i.e., if someone does
it to us, we feel absolutely free to do it to them. Legal precedent exists
for this practice in the Hague Conventions. In these documents, "a
number of nations, including the United States, issued a reservation stating
that first use by a belligerent of chemical and biological weapons authorized
the state subject to the attack to respond in kind...." The US used
these reservations as justification to develop and maintain a chemical
and biological warfare capability. The United States therefore has legal
precedent in developing an IW capability. The United States has a vested
interest in preserving "freedom of the infosphere," very much
in the same way we currently exercise freedom of navigation. The threat
of IW may even evolve along similar lines to that of the threat presented
by anti-ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. If this happens, nations
may ultimately be compelled to conclude agreements similar to "Open
Skies", in which all nations agree to allow limited access into their
computer networks and C2 systems in order to foster mutual trust. Information
warfare may even pose such a threat to a nation's welfare that it will
negotiate treaties to limit or ban information warfare altogether.
This leads us to a fundamental moral question. Should the United States
develop an information warfare capability? There are compelling reasons
to do so.
- Other nations are already committing computer espionage against the
United States. Those nations may also be formulating plans to exploit
our C2 networks and undermine our defense capability. The bestseller The
Cuckoo's Egg described a recent computer espionage attempt. Unknown
computer hackers in Europe were able to obtain information and documents
over a computer network stretching thousands of miles. Our allies are
no exception--experts have identified France, Germany, Japan, Israel and
Taiwan among at least 20 foreign intelligence agencies conducting computer
espionage against US businesses. At present, approximately $200 billion
per year is lost to industrial espionage. It is apparent that computer-based
intelligence collection and IW activity would have to take place within
international convention during peacetime, or significant political embarrassment
could arise as a result of a poorly planned operation.
- The US lacks doctrine for conducting information war. Our national
security policy and warfighting doctrine do not address computers as a
tool capable of carrying out independent offensive or defensive operations.
In addition, the rapid advances in computer technology make keeping up
with that technology a full time job. The sooner we begin planning a coherent
information warfare doctrine, the more secure our nation will be. It is
gratifying that top military leaders are beginning to formulate a cohesive
national security C2 attack and defense policy. Such action is a good
first step in developing IW doctrine.
- Computers and C2 systems had little commonality before the 1990s. The
military services especially have lacked compatible C2 systems and software.
Major efforts are underway to correct these problems. But if all military
services use common or compatible information systems, then all services
will be equally vulnerable to actions against those systems. Future information
systems must be able to withstand a coordinated assault from any avenue
of approach, yet provide friendly forces with critical information rapidly
and accurately. This capability must be designed into systems as they
are in the conceptual phase of development, rather than scabbed on as
an afterthought. The systems being designed today are the systems with
which our nation will conduct IW tomorrow.
- National security policy does not yet acknowledge the absolutely critical
role computers and information systems play in military operations. Information
networks are a high-value asset that warrant protection. One recent estimate
placed the value of US information management systems at ten percent of
our gross national product. Loss of these systems would, by definition,
decimate our nation's economy. A study conducted by Information Week magazine
revealed chief executives in American businesses "continue to downplay
data security issues, even as the threats rise." If similar opinions
exist in the national security community as well, then there is cause
for concern. US governmental information security policy lags far behind
the capabilities of modern information transfer systems. Security measures
must be incorporated into information systems as they're designed.
Popular thought on information warfare raises another legal issue. At
what point will monitoring of and intrusion into another country's C2
network constitute a violation of international convention? At some point--probably
when a government takes action to deny access to, alter or destroy data--a
line will be crossed between prudent intelligence collection and hostile
intent. National decision makers must determine at what point intrusion
into another government's infosphere will indicate hostile intent or constitute
an act of war. This decision will also serve notice regarding the point
at which the United States would perceive IW hostilities to commence,
warranting US response. Damage to US information systems will legally
permit the US to conduct punitive software strikes in retaliation for
that damage. National policy makers must determine the potential degree
of damage, and plan how the United States will respond to such an event.
IW opens up a political and moral can of worms for national leadership
as well. Alvin and Heidi Toffler recently coined the term "Anti-War"
to describe the concept of rendering enemy equipment ineffective before
it could be used in battle. The United States has conducted considerable
research into this field. This may make it possible to minimize loss of
life to the adversary. However, an enemy who does not possess the technology
to engage in IW may have to resort to the less advanced, brutal methods--often
described by Army Rangers as "killing people and breaking things."
IW may make it unnecessary for US forces to exact a proportionate loss
of life on an enemy. A potential political consequence of IW for friendly
forces may be a greater loss of life on the friendly side than on the
enemy side. This possibility has tremendous implications for American
political leadership. General Colin Powell described the plan of military
operation against Iraq very succinctly; "First we're going to cut
it off, then we're going to kill it." But when the coalition achieved
its stated goals, President Bush was able to call a halt to the ground
attack in Operation DESERT STORM before it was necessary to destroy the
Iraqi ground forces. This decision has been debated since the war's end.
In the near future, political leaders may find an angry American public
demanding "payback time" when such an effort is unnecessary.
The question for a political leader is simple. Once you cut it off, should
you kill it? This no-win scenario would be a terrible moral dilemma for
any democratically elected leader.
These are but a few of the legal and moral issues raised by IW theory.
Although information itself will not cost lives, denial or subversion
of that information may lead to lives lost. It will be important to tomorrow's
US military officer that a clear understanding of the legal issues for
IW be reached. Rules of engagement must be established prior to conducting
an IW campaign. If these limitations are not established by national command
authorities, law of the jungle will reign supreme in the conduct of IW.
IW doctrine has significant implications for modern military theory.
Under IW, the enemy soldier no longer constitutes a major target. IW will
focus on preventing the enemy soldier from talking to his commander. Without
coordinated action, an enemy force becomes an unwieldy mob, and a battle
devolves to a crowd-control issue. In the not too distant future, computer
weapon systems will conduct "software strikes" against the enemy
infosphere to disrupt command and control. Targets will be chosen for
military, political or economic significance. IW opens new doors throughout
the spectrum of conflict to achieve tactical, operational and strategic
Information warfare is a concept which is only now beginning to make
its way through governmental and military circles. The technology currently
exists with which to conduct an IW campaign. National leaders must reflect
on the implications of this new technology in order to develop coherent
policy and rules of engagement. Many legal questions remain unaddressed.
Intelligence agencies will have to evaluate the benefit of coordinated
"hacking" and "phreaking" to obtain critical intelligence
information while maintaining plausible denial of US involvement. Military
professionals will have to consider IW's impact on operations. They must
plan how best to deliver strikes against an enemy command and control
infrastructure and to preserve the integrity of their own infosphere.
IW will no doubt become the subject of Capitol Hill budgetary battles
as agencies vie to determine which will be top IW dog.
Much more study and discussion must take place before information warfare
theory evolves into practical doctrine for planning an IW campaign. IW
may either be a revolutionary development, or merely an evolutionary one.
What is certain is that IW promises to dramatically impact the way we
fight. Individual or group research, thought and discussion of information
warfare will benefit those planning for military service in the twenty-first
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Copyright IBM Corporation 1989
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of
the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment
of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S.
Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the
This article has undergone security and policy content review and has
been approved for public release IAW AFI 35-101.