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Published Aerospace Power Journal - Winter 1994
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.


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 path.

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 don’t 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 can’t 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 enemy’s information-transfer media--telephone, radio frequencies (RF), cable, and other means of transmission. Sever the nervous system. Deny, disrupt, degrade, or destroy every transmission.

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 enemy’s 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 and kill.

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 enemy sensor.

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 can’t talk without us hearing him. He can’t move without us seeing him.

The Principle of Knowledge

Ensure that your surveillance and reconnaissance are frequent, thorough, and multispectral. Achieve total situation awareness. Don’t let this awareness grow stale or out-of-date. Don’t 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 enemy’s 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. Don’t 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 . Don’t waste resources on decoys or targets you’ve already killed. Use multiple phenomenology to discriminate live targets from dead targets with exquisite resolution. Do this quickly; the next day’s frag (fragmentary order) has already been built.

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 it's needed.

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 C3

(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 "electronic survivability."


The Principle of Survivability

Centralize policy strategy and planning, but decentralize force planning and execution. Use many "thinking heads." Don’t make decapitation easy for the enemy. Take advantage of the inherent strength in the American military’s 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 things.

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, you’re 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. It’s money well spent. Don’t 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 hasn’t 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 next war.

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" can’t 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

Don’t 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. Don’t 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 the following:

Change behavior. Don’t 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 enemy’s, are absolute requirements of tomorrow’s 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 doesn’t 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. Tomorrow’s enemy may not even be a nation-state. It may be a radical fundamentalist or extremist ethnic group. Tomorrow’s 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 events.


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, 46-52.


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 space operations.

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.