Power Journal - Winter 1994
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
PRINCIPLES OF THIRD - WAVE WAR
Col O. E. Jensen
A surge of interest, analysis, and discussion has arisen
concerning a topic variously referred to as information warfare,
command and control (C2 ) counterwar, knowledge war,
or third-wave war. Since the Air Force has established an Information
Warfare Center and seems to have adopted the term information
warfare, that is the term that will be used here. Terminology
aside, however, if current proponents are right, we are at a turning
point in history. Future wars will never be the same. Military
strategy must be re-thought in order to capture not only a change
in technology but a new set of goals and even new principles.
The popular press has joined the debate. In fact, in some cases
it is leading the discussion. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, authors
of Future Shock, the Third Wave and Powershift:
Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century,
have written extensively on this topic in their latest works.
This effort culminated in the recent publication of their newest
book, War and Anti-War.1 Although differing
in many major areas from US Air Force forecasts, their views establish
the tenor of current dialogue and certainly constitute mandatory
reading for any US military leader today.
Activity and discussion at all levels in the Pentagon regarding
information warfare have coalesced and become centered in specific
offices where interest in this type of warfare has intensified
over the last few years. As testimony to the interest in the subject,
we should note that virtually all the services have resources
committed to implementing information warfare in one or more of
its forms, the Air Force has held a four-star summit on the subject,
and inspector general teams have named it as a special interest
item for their unit visits.
What are all these people talking about? For those who need a
tutorial on the basics, the Tofflers provide probably the clearest
and most accurate explanation of how this new type of warfare
evolved. Briefly, they explain that warfare follows wealth. In
other words, the culture, technology, communication, technical
skill, and organizational pattern that develop in a society and
define its economy, also describe the constellation of patterns
which result in the way that society makes war.2 In
the history of man, three basic types of warfare have evolved--agrarian,
industrial, and informational.
First came the agrarian age, which, of course, produced agrarian
warfare. When man learned to grow food, he no longer had to wander
and hunt. Populated towns developed, and the practice of hoarding
a surplus of food became possible. It was then that true warfare--a
"bloody clash between organized states"3--began.
Weapons, handheld and handcrafted, were agrarian. The agrarian
goals of capturing surplus wealth and land justified and motivated
wars. Wars followed agrarian patterns, being fought only during
intervals between reaping and sowing. And technology changed,
but slowly over time. Agrarian warfare principles were espoused
by a well-known guru--Sun Tzu. Much of what he wrote was timeless,
and much pertained only to agrarian warfare.
The agrarian economic and military climate began to change in
the seventeenth century with the introduction of steam power.
This change accelerated with the growing manufacture of interchangeable,
machined parts. It flowered with urban development, the French
Revolution, the levée en masse, and the concept of a "nation
in arms." We call this era the industrial age, and with it
came industrial warfare. Here we find standardized weaponry, professional
full-time soldiers, mass production, mass destruction, and goals
echoing the Darwinian industrial economic struggle: annihilation,
unconditonal surrender, and subordination. Once again, we know
the guru of this era--Carl von Clausewitz. Much of what he wrote
is timeless, and much pertained only to industrial warfare.
While some areas of the world remain in the agrarian realm and
others have advanced only to the industrial state, a few have
broken out into a completely new era -- the information age. Information
societies connect through interlaced communications and correspond
via terminals and gateways. We have seen a rapid evolution from
hand-cranked telephones to cellular units, fax machines, integration
with computers and even with cable television, while our society
and economy have undergone fundamental and unalterable infusion
and mutation caused by information technology. Nearly every product
we use today has either been designed with computer assistance
or actually has an imbedded "brain." Instead of mass
production we find customized production for markets using intelligent
technology. These economic changes are reflected in military forces
employing smart weapons with focused lethality and a conscious
reduction of collateral damage. Information warfare relies on
sophisticated communication, imbedded intelligence, access to
space, and real-time decision loops. It is permeated by information
feeding precision weaponry, multispectral sensors providing real-time
data about the battlefield, and tightly woven command and control
of combined arms elements. Although the Tofflers have expounded
on the origins of this type of warfare, no guru has yet established
its principles. Hopefully, this paper will start us down that
The author of this article accepts, as a first assumption, that
the reader understands enough about third-wave change to believe
that it exists and that we must accommodate concomitant shifts
in military operational doctrine. Just as military science mirrored
agrarian and industrial age cultures, it cannot help but reflect
the reality of the information age. But even when we accept the
fact that information warfare is real, we find that we are struggling
to understand it--particularly in the realm of operational application.
We look back at past wars and clearly see when a second-wave country
prevailed over a first-wave enemy. We look at Operation Desert
Storm and recognize the advantages of third-wave applications.
But when we hold information warfare ideas up to present situations
in Korea, Bosnia, and Moldavia, we have trouble figuring out how
to employ its strategies. The basic principles are missing.
Industrial armies know how to fight--concentrate in one place,
use mass and surprise to break through, operate along interior
lines, and so forth. But these principles dont apply to
information warfare. At least we find great difficulty in trying
to force them to fit. What we need are equivalent, understandable
principles to guide our understanding of how to actually employ
information warfare to real situations. That is the purpose of
this article. It is for those seeking a few fundamental principles
to guide them in applying information warfare to specific scenarios.
It contains distilled principles, not a full explanation of theory.
Old concepts of defense and offense do not apply precisely to
information warfare. It seems that we should instead spread its
principles across four broad categories with two principles per
category. If the four categories were summarized, they would instruct
us to (1) thicken the fog of war for our enemy, (2) lift the fog
of war for ourselves to create a "transparent battlefield,"
(3) ensure that our enemies cant turn these tables on us,
and (4) always fight the information war with full intensity.
Now, with these few words as introduction, let us examine the
proposed principles more closely.
Category I: Denial (The Fog of War)
Ideally, our enemy will be capable of neither gaining knowledge
of our forces or intentions nor of communicating among his own
units at any level. On our side of the front, our forces and movements
will be invisible to him. On his side, the chief of state will
find it impossible to communicate with his minister of defense.
The minister of defense, in turn, will not be able to talk to
the head of his armed forces. Army commanders will be out of touch
with divisions, divisions will be cut off from battalions, and
so on down to the small-unit level. By "fogging" our
forces and strangling his, we make sure that he knows nothing.
Therefore, under this broad objective, we find two principles--electronic
decapitation and sensor denial.
The Principle of Decapitation
Deny enemy command and control elements the use of any automated
or electronic decision aids. This constitutes "electronic
decapitation." Data bases, data fusion systems, electronic
processing and display systems for command centers, combat information
centers, and the like must "go dark." Introduce "combat
amnesia" to the enemy. Target key decision-making nodes at
the top of each enemy echelon--i.e., his national command authorities,
his joint staff, his theater commander in chief (CINC), the headquarters
of each enemy field army, each division, and every battalion.
Leadership must not be allowed to overcome our focused and purposeful
introduction of "war fog." Go for the brain shot, not
the body shot.
Cut or deny all the enemys information-transfer media--telephone,
radio frequencies (RF), cable, and other means of transmission.
Sever the nervous system. Deny, disrupt, degrade, or destroy every
Stop all "gray system" access. Close off to the enemy
all third-party communications satellites (COMSAT) , whether they
belong to international consortia or to commercial enterprises
or are assets of uninvolved nations. The "purchase of bandwidth"
should not necessarily guarantee the buyer communications
in time of war.
Deliberately introduce confusion and fear. Ensure that the body
retains no will to march on after the head is gone. Disrupt the
direction and motivation of enemy forces.
The Principle of Sensor Primacy
Kill sensors, not people, first. Open the way to the enemys
army by blinding all his defenses.
Deny electronic radiation. If it radiates, it dies. Seek absolute
silence over the battlefield.. Homing weapons, jamming, and lethal
and nonlethal suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) must all
be employed. There is no excuse for allowing an enemy to get away
with exposing his position by openly broadcasting RF energy. It
gives him too much information, but it is also easy to detect
Overpower passive sensors. Burn passive detectors. Use lasers
on optical trackers. RF receivers should be blown. The enemy can
use his vision across a broad band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Your reply must come in focused, in-band, overpowering energy
or brilliantly targeted conventional weapons.
Enforce gray-system cooperation immediately. Third-party satellites
for weather collection, earth sensing, and other missions, must
not provide information to the enemy. The same is true for terrestrial
sensors. Any sensor that provides information to an enemy is an
Category II: Force Enhancement (The Transparent Battlefield)
The enemy completely and forever loses the element of surprise.
We watch him, we hear him, we seek out his hiding places. We know
his weapons, and his troop dispositions and movements. We catalog
his command and control networks, his intelligence sources and
databases, and all his sensors. He cant talk without us
hearing him. He cant move without us seeing him.
The Principle of Knowledge
Ensure that your surveillance and reconnaissance are frequent,
thorough, and multispectral. Achieve total situation awareness.
Dont let this awareness grow stale or out-of-date. Dont
overlook "unlikely" avenues of attack. Look through
clouds, precipitation, darkness of night, and penetrable surfaces.
Spend energy and sensor resources recklessly. Do anything to stay
ahead of an enemys knowledge-feedback cycle. Give yourself
the opportunity to always move first.
Ensure open-ended reception of remote sensor data by allied forces.
Avoid funneling sensor information to a vulnerable choke point.
Dont take time to process the data unless you have to. Hand
it out to all shooters directly so they can use it instantly.
Match the precision of information to the precision of the weapon.
If a smart weapon can hit a known spot within a one-meter circular
error of probability (CEP) day or night, feed it one-meter target
information all day and night.
Ensure rapid, insightful, accurate battle damage assessment .
Dont waste resources on decoys or targets youve already
killed. Use multiple phenomenology to discriminate live targets
from dead targets with exquisite resolution. Do this quickly;
the next days frag (fragmentary order) has already been
The Principle of Alacrity
Ensure that allied forces enjoy a tighter, faster decision
loop than the enemy. Combine the principles of decapitation, sensor
primacy, and knowledge with a sense of competitive urgency. Shoot-move-shoot,
and do it fast and accurately, while the enemy is hit-staggered-hit
and doesn't know where you went.
Enforce readiness and ensure that required information is available
on a moment's notice--anytime. Too often attack pilots are ready
to fly but have to wait on the latest intelligence. Full, complete,
and finished intelligence and targeting information should be
ready anytime a shooter needs it. The same is true with tanker
anchors and other air tasking order ( ATO) data. All data relevant
to engaged forces must be kept fresh and flowing, arriving before
Ensure that the bandwidth has the capacity and flexibility for
the full flow of data. Don't send critical information over jammable,
fragile media. Don't send high-volume information over narrow,
slow media. Splurge on bandwidth. Get all you can. Don't get in
your own way by choking decision makers with communications bottlenecks.
Category III: Survivable Situation Awareness and
(Duck the Counterblow)
A military most vulnerable to information warfare
strategy is one from an information society. What information
warfare can do for us can also be used by an enemy against us.
The more we depend on our sensors and computers and space-based
communications, the easier we are to "unplug." Therefore,
our information warfare systems must be made robust. We must discover
The Principle of Survivability
Centralize policy strategy and planning,
but decentralize force planning and execution. Use many "thinking
heads." Dont make decapitation easy for the enemy.
Take advantage of the inherent strength in the American militarys
policy that allows for local initiative and flexibility and eschews
rigidly centralized command and control.
Take advantage of all national assets and use
all sectors of society--television newscasts, off-the-shelf computers
or communications systems, existing COMSATs, fax machines, computer
bulletin boards, and international corporate connectivity. All
these and other assets should be considered as potential parts
of the national war effort. If we can employ a Civil Reserve Air
Fleet, why not a Corporate Reserve Communications Network?
Proliferation breeds survivability. In general,
many nodes, many systems, many pathways, many frequencies--and
many of anything else--make a harder target set than just a few
Employ tactical deception. Hide your command,
control, and communications (C3) backbone. Use small,
moveable COMSAT receivers and move them often. Bury cable and
fiber lines between fixed sites. Radiate deceptively from noncritical
nodes. Employ Red Teams that regularly try to steal or deny your
communications. If your theater passes all communications through
a large, stationary gateway, youre dead.
Use redundant pathways, always keeping a backup
communications plan. The backup must be more survivable than the
primary. It does no good to plan to use FM radios as a replacement
for a base phone system if you know the enemy has equipment and
training to jam FM.
Ensure that you have a C3 technological
advantage. Change to stay ahead of the threat. Pay for upgrades.
Its money well spent. Dont scrimp on C3
to buy more bullets.
The Principle of Interoperability
Maintain interoperability and rationalization
of systems with other services and allies. Anecdotes about incompatible
C3 systems abound. Who hasnt heard about the
soldier who called from a phone booth on Grenada back to the States
to get a message passed to US Navy ships lying in sight offshore?
Who doesn't know that the ATO in the Gulf War had to be printed,
copied, and carried to the Navy by hand because communications
were incompatible? Such incompatibility could cost lives in the
Avoid C3 standardization. Full standardization
promotes vulnerability. It reeks of industrial warfare. In information
warfare, we should seek multiple, different, but interoperable
systems so that a "golden BB" cant take them down.
Category IV: Levels (Fight Your Own Fight)
Of all categories, this one is the most
contentious. It appears that armies at a "higher level"
win. Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Genghis Khan all
fought agrarian warfare versus agrarian warfare, but their tactics
were more disciplined, regimented, and industrial compared to
their enemies, and they were therefore successful. Industrial-age
Napoleonic France had a field day with agrarian European armies
but had more difficulty with industrial England. The same was
true with the industrial North against the agrarian South, England
against the Boers, the cavalry against the Indians, and the Japanese
against the Chinese. In Vietnam, once we stopped trying to fight
an agrarian war against an agrarian enemy and began employing
industrial-age power--massive B-52 strikes against industrial
targets--the enemy came to the bargaining table quickly. We expected
a bloody fight with thousands of allied casualties in Desert Storm.
The fact that it was so easy is seen in retrospect as a discovery
of the power of third-wave over second-wave armies. Should we
therefore fight a third-wave war against industrial North Korea
or revert to massive, dumb, nuclear second-wave strategies? The
advice here is to fight our own fight. Never drop to the lower-level
warfare of the enemy.
The Principle of Hierarchy
Dont fight a lower-level enemy with
a lower level of warfare. If a third-wave army faces a first-wave
or second-wave army, it should not fight a first-wave or second-wave
war. It should fight a third-wave war.
Even the warlords of Mogadishu need intelligence.
Even North Korean forces need command and control--particularly
if we do something to surprise them and force them to react. All
enemies are vulnerable to fog; all need to communicate. Finding
ways to thicken the fog and strangle communication may take imagination
in some of the more unconventional conflicts, but that must be
our task if we are to make this work.
Our amazing technology should be used in any
situation to create "transparency." In low-intensity
conflicts, the technology may look more like anticrime than armed
force activity. It may include bugging, street surveillance, or
electronic tagging and tracking. In more conventional scenarios,
it will ensure that we are not surprised--that all enemy movement
and reinforcement are watched, understood, and attacked.
Our information society has certain inherent
vulnerabilities. Enemies will exploit these weaknesses no matter
what we decide about fighting at one level or another. We have
to employ the principles of survivability and interoperability
in any case.
Force on force, we can still be outnumbered and
overpowered on distant battlefields around the world--at least
until reinforcements arrive. Our only hope is to fight smarter
with better intelligence and greater precision, efficiency, and
lethality. A shot to the head can even the odds between David
and Goliath. We must make sure that we play the role of David.
The Principle of Intensity
If you are going to make war, then make
it. This is a principle that is not unique to information warfare.
Problems come from fighting at half speed against an enemy fighting
at full speed--or from fighting with limitations against an enemy
who has no restraints. Whereas industrial warfare was so powerfully
and indiscriminately destructive as to invite restrictions, information
warfare is much more carefully focused and more conducive to being
waged without limitations on its intensity.
Take information warfare seriously. Dont
revert to second-wave strategies because they are familiar. Dumb
bombs and mass tactics may be easy to use, but they also demand
large forces that may not be available. Against North Korea, we
must plan for full-scale war where the enemy could vastly outnumber
us. If we use second-wave strategies, we are likely to lose. Therefore,
we must adopt all principles appropriate to a third-wave force
fighting a second-wave army. To seriously apply third-wave strategy
against such an adversary will take determination and creativity.
The mushroom cloud represented the logical culmination
of industrial warfare. The consequences of an all-out effort by
our armed forces in the nuclear age became literally unthinkable.
As a result, we have grown accustomed to fighting with one arm
behind our back. To go further invited global disaster. But information
warfare promotes precision strikes. It strives to eliminate collateral
damage and to minimize casualties. It does not aim for brutal
annihilation of the enemy army but rather to paralyze his nervous
system and cause him to change his behavior. We can go from full
stop to full speed in information warfare without fear of overstepping
political limits. At last, our military planners can be freed
of political constraints. At last, our CINCs can fight all out
when American lives are at risk.
So those are the principles. But to fully implement
the strategies outlined above, we must understand that information
warfare goals are very different from first-wave and second-wave
goals. As already mentioned, industrial warfare followed goals
of unconditional surrender and annihilation, but the American
public currently finds such goals to be unacceptably costly in
lives, material, collateral damage, and time. Today we expect
wars to be short, cheap, and clean. Therefore, our goals must
be as focused and as specific as our weapons. We must aim to do
Change behavior. Dont seek outright
capitulation; seek more modest behavioral changes. The president
was exactly right in stopping the Gulf War when the behavior we
wanted (Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait) occurred. In every future
conflict, we must carefully specify what an enemy must do to bring
a cessation of hostilities.
Minimize casualties. Reduced casualties
and reduced collateral damage, both ours as well as the enemys,
are absolute requirements of tomorrows war. We must always
provide ways for an enemy to satisfy our demands without total
surrender. The cornered-rat syndrome will cause a fight to the
last man. While our forces must engage fully with a combination
of lethality and precision, they must leave an avenue by which
the enemy can ultimately escape. Smart, precision weapons also
add to our capability to focus lethality and to limit enemy casualties
as well as collateral damage. Very detailed intelligence is needed
to direct such precise power. Overall, the application of a higher
form of war against an enemy fighting a lower form of war is directed
at producing the quickest, and therefore the least costly, result.
Change from deterrence theory to inducement
theory. Deterrence theory is catastrophic if it doesnt
work. It uses fear to motivate an adversary before war begins,
and it depends on the credibility of a threat. Many examples show
that opponents, with strong motives for going to war, misjudge
that credibility to the point where their fear is overcome. Once
the war has started, there is no motive to stop the fighting.
Once the line is crossed, it becomes a de facto fight to the finish
with no alternative except unconditional surrender.
To employ inducement--which is continuously applied
before, during, and after the conflict--we must (1) make it clear
what the enemy will gain by conformance behavior, (2) be willing
to use force if a rogue actor breaches clear limits of nonconformance
behavior, and (3) always stay ready to revert to a peaceful status
quo ante with the cessation of hostilities. Stated another way,
we must offer incentives to change, change quickly to extremely
lethal force when clearly necessary, then be ready to switch back
to offering incentives based solely on the behavior of our adversary.
We must make this clear. Steadiness of purpose must be maintained
for such a strategy to succeed, while, at the same time, quickness
to go to war when necessary will reinforce our credibility.
We all know that change is accelerating in every
aspect in both our individual .and collectives lives. In such
a world, standing still long enough to "mass-produce"
anything is foolish. A long production run (or force buildup)
will result in obsolescence before it achieves full rate. Our
only alternative is to seek more perfect knowledge of events as
they change, to select those events that we must force to change
for our own self-interest, and to focus our energy on specific
change strategies. Tomorrows enemy may not even be a nation-state.
It may be a radical fundamentalist or extremist ethnic group.
Tomorrows ally might be a corporation instead of a United
Nations task force. Hopefully, the principles outlined in this
article will start us thinking about how we can deal with such
l. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War:
Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century (New York: Little,
Brown and Co., 1993).
2. Ibid., 18-19.
3. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, "War, Wealth,
and a New Era in History," World Monitor, May 1991,
Col Owen E. Jenson (BA, University of Illinois; MA, University
of Oklahoma; MA, Naval Postgraduate School) is vice commander,
fourteenth Air force, Vandenberg AFB, California. Previous assignments
include key roles with US Air force space efforts at Space Command
and at Headquarters USAF, and as commander of the 73d Space Group
during its activation as the nation's first and only space control
unit. He served three years as an air attache with the US Embassy
in Ottawa, Canada. He has published several articles on military
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 Air University.