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Document created: 15 April 99
Air & Space Power Chronicles
The Implications of Virtual Deception
Lt York W. Pasanen
As the dawn breaks across the western Atlantic Ocean, two F-25 Virtual
Attack Fighters (VAF) takeoff from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Captain
Bjork Williams and Robert Oehlke find themselves flying another standard
combat air patrol along the East Coast. Recently, terrorist groups have
acquired late 20th century U.S. Navy Aegis cruisers and have been conducting
raids upon the new Border states of the Virgin Islands and Bermuda. As
the two aircraft make their way out to sea, clouds begin to roll in and
the ocean surface is quickly obscured. Approximately twenty minutes into
the mission, a surface vessel is picked up on the multi-spectral imaging
and sensor system abroad the F-25s. Even though the target is identified
as a fifty-foot catamaran, the two pilots decide to buzz by and take a
look. As they break through the clouds the pilots realize something is
drastically wrong. Three Aegis cruisers appear before their eyes, while
their computers still show only a small watercraft. Hackers aboard the
cruisers tapped into the F-25 imaging system and altered the information
processed within the systems. Before the pilots can react to the trap,
their aircraft are shot by a short-range electro-magnetic pulse weapon,
and fall powerless into the sea. Captains Williams and Oehlke have just
become victims of Virtual Deception.
Welcome to the year 2025. By now, information and its control are the
power and status symbols. The boundaries between nations are no longer
territorial points guarded by massive armies, but supercomputer switching
stations welcoming all people with their virtual messages. Cyberspace
is the dominant dimension in warfare, and those who control it (nations,
corporations, or individuals) are the superpowers. Several international
powers have access to networked multi-spectral imaging and sensor systems.
For the first time, all participants have a clear view of the battlespace
and the assets available to every opponent. Systems and processes have
advanced to the point where the shooter receives real-time information
about all actions and assets in the battlespace environment. According
to some experts, "We have reached a point where technology which
supported combat has become a weapon in its own right" (Ryan 114).
The shooter literally sees a complex 3-D chess game where opponents can
attack from anywhere. This awesome capability of delivering real-time
processed information to the shooter or higher levels of hierarchy has
opened the door for the ultimate form of information warfare. Virtual
Deception will require the U.S. military to alter its paradigms about
warfare, and hence make sweeping changes in its doctrine, force structure,
and military strategy to be ready for warfare in 2025.
Virtual Deception & the World at 2025
Virtual Deception is the new warfare tactic coming of age, and is
by far the most damaging warfare practice in the year 2025. I define Virtual
Deception as follows:
the use of network communication/information system to shape the enemys
view of the battlefield by deliberately and explicitly altering, distorting,
blocking, or destroying the real-time information processed in the enemys
imaging and sensor systems with the intent of deceiving the enemy to
behave in a predetermined manner, and thus indirectly control the enemys
Since the turn of the century technology has advanced at a mind-numbing
rate. Technology such as bistatic sensors, 3-D holographic DNA storage,
and artificial omnisensory sensors developed during the early twenty hundreds
have enabled the standard 3-D Multi-Spectral/Omnisensoral imaging systems
present in 2025. In addition, the civilian sector development and perfection
of real-time video insertion and terahertz communications system increased
the speed of the decisionmaking process dramatically. The predictions
of the destabilization of the global community were correct, and all conflicts
in 2025 are limited in duration, involve coalitions, and aim at restoring
regional stability. Due to the explosion of information gathering and
processing systems, almost anyone can participate in shaping the global
environment. However, the inability to place restraints on access to the
global community is still a serious weakness.
Possibilities of Virtual Deception
Virtual Deception strikes at each of the four methods of intelligence/information
gathering: Open sources; IMINT; SIGINT; and HUMINT. The corruption or
compromise of this data involves the direct or indirect attack of a target
system and obtaining full or partial control of that system. The rapid
expansion of the web/net and the military network of communications/ information
system will give the United States a distinct advantage in future conflicts.
A fully integrated network of satellites, C4I, aircraft, ground, and naval
forces is on the horizon. As early as 1998, F-15s will be equipped
with a digital datalink to provide a real-time electronic order of battle
(Cook 49). This program is part of the pentagons future strategy
to, "overwhelm the enemy with technical superiority and aircrew knowledge
. . ." (Cook 48). However, our future dependence on information and
information systems, although an advantage, will also be an inherent weakness.
Our current lack of network security has already indicated several problems
with our future information dependency. According to the Defense Information
Systems Agency (DISA), hacker attacks on the Pentagon itself are now running
at two per day (WSJ 20).
The scariest prospects are the new software programs that act as hardware.
These micro-programs are designed for the one-time use of an application
and have the capability of e-mail distribution. Numerous software producers
are currently researching this possible technology. The implications of
these compact, disposable, and untraceable programs are endless. Cruise
or sleeper viruses could easily be incorporated into such programs, enabling
unauthorized access to any information the hacker desires. At this point,
Virtual Deception becomes a significant concern.
Capabilities of Virtual Deception
Virtual Deception is by no means a new concept. In fact its roots
are centuries old and can be traced back to Sun Tzu who stated, "the
primary target is the mind of the opposing commander", and, "all
warfare is based on deception" (Sun Tzu 41). Virtual Deception takes
the principles envisioned by Sun Tzu and combines them with the capabilities
of modern technology. The result is a psychological warfare concept based
on the reflexive control of the enemy decision cycle. According to Dr.
Tim Thomas of the Foreign Military Studies Office, "Reflexive control
involves creating a pattern or providing partial information which causes
an enemy to react in a predetermined fashion without the enemy realizing
that he is being manipulated" (Thomas 13). The ultimate goal of Virtual
Deception is to deliberately manipulate information to deceive the opposing
commander to make a decision predetermined and desired by the opposing
side. Dr. Tim Thomas has conducted in-depth research on the theory of
reflexive control used by the former Soviet Union, and he uncovered the
writings of Vladimir Lefebvre, one of the best Soviet minds working on
Reflexive Control. Lefebvre believed, "We [the Soviet Union] can
influence the channels of information and send messages which shift the
flow of information in a way favorable to us" (Reid 293). In addition,
he also listed several types of reflexive control that could be exploited
by Virtual Deception. They are:
- transfer of an image of the situation: providing the opponent with
an erroneous or incomplete image of the situation.
- creation of a goal for the opponent
- form a goal by transferring an image of the situation: creating a
- transfer of an image of ones own goal: a feint (changing the
- transfer of an image of ones own doctrine (false view of decision-making
- transfer of ones own image of a situation to make the opponent
deduce his own goal
- reflexive control of a bilateral agreement by a third party
- reflexive control over an opponent who is using reflexive control:
- identified as imitation of the initiators own process of reflexive
control (Reid 296-308).
Using Virtual Deception, each of these reflexive control theories can
be applied in the warfare of 2025. The manipulation of a few bits of information
in an enemys information processing system can make the enemy see
friendly military assets that do not even exist. This concept I call Virtual
Deterrence will be addressed later. A good example of this deterrent capability
is illustrated by the possible compromise of the U.S. Armys "All
Source Analysis System." According to the U.S. Army, this system
will someday, "fuse threat information from all intelligence disciplines
and provide correlated intelligence to maneuver commanders and staffs
down to battalion level" (www.army.mil). The consequences of the
enemy manipulating the system which will handle ninety percent of the
Armys intelligence could change the result of the war or prevent
it from happening. Similarly, Mr. Jim Cooper, a senior analyst at the
Air Force Information Warfare Center: Concepts Division, stated the use
of such methods and technology against U.S. classified information systems
could provide a "stepping stone" to other classified networks
and, "could severely affect the flow of intelligence" throughout
U.S. military systems (Cooper Int).
Another possible manipulation is attacking the enemys media to
alter the enemys perception of the global environment or transpiring
events. In the Tofflers book entitled War and Anti-War,
"the most powerful mind-wrench of all is meta-propaganda -- propaganda
that discredits the other sides propaganda" (168). The result
is the swaying of public or political opinion within the enemy nation,
which is a powerful weapon. The consequences of using meta-propaganda
against the U.S. are drastically increased due to our open democratic
society. Also since the media is the watchdog of the government, the manipulation
of the watchdog could wreak havoc for our government.
Lastly, the ever-increasing capabilities of satellite reconnaissance
can be countered without the political upheaval of destroying a foreign
satellite. Since most nations believe in the vehicular sovereignty of
satellites, the destruction of one is liable to prompt a declaration of
war. However, Virtual Deception techniques could be used to manipulate
or leech the data traveling through the satellite itself without the enemy
knowing about the intrusion. All of these possibilities have significant
ramifications for the military of 2025.
New Missions for the Military of 2025
According to Lt. Colonel Donald Ryan, Jr., a USAF communications
officer, the capabilities of Virtual Deception can, "alter, interdict,
or destroy information and information assets thereby determining the
outcome of military operations" (116). In the near future, Virtual
Deception, will be the precursor to conventional warfare, and fill similar
missions as airpower does today by preparing the battlespace. In fact,
the Defense Science Board believes the ability to wage information warfare,
"may be the most important facet of military operations since the
introduction of stealth" (Nation Defense 30). Thus, the U.S. military
must change its current paradigm about the capabilities of information
warfare and Virtual Deception, and begin adapting to its inherent capabilities
and threats. Several new missions for the United States military can evolve
as a result of Virtual Deception capabilities. Most of them will deal
with managing perceptions and manipulating information (Thomas 15). Some
possible missions include:
- Virtual Interdiction: Using computers, programs, or viruses to interdict
information traveling through the enemies satellites, information centers,
and weapon systems.
- Counter Virtual Interdiction: Using computers, programs, and anti-virus
systems to protect against compromising military information in satellites,
information centers, and weapon systems.
- Virtual Deterrence: The Strategic use of Virtual Deception to transfer
a false image of the situation, ones own goal, or ones own
doctrine to force deterrence upon an opponent.
- Strategic Virtual Attack: A direct attack upon an enemys information
processing or collection systems through the use of programs, virus,
etc. to destroy, blockade, or capture information within or passing
through the systems.
- Tactical Virtual Deception: Tactical applications to virtually deceive
the persons or computers operating sea, air, or land weapons systems
(i.e. the F-25s in the introduction)
Each of these missions may have several unique applications for the U.S.
military. Several more specialized missions could evolve from the ones
I have defined above. As an unnamed Russian Army officer stated in a 1990
unpublished article, "The goal of warfare in the information age
is to seize and to hold control over an adversarys information resources
(as a main kind of national resource) and through them - over the rest
of his resources" (Thomas 16). Thus any method achieving this goal
has possible military applications. However, its unrealistic to
assume only the United States will have the capabilities to wage such
warfare. Non-governmental organizations such as organization crime groups
(Mafia), drug cartels, religious or political fanatic organizations, etc.
could also gain the capabilities necessary for Virtual Deception. Thus,
a revolutionary change in our doctrine and eventually organization must
occur to adapt and exploit Virtual Deception and prevent our enemys
from deceiving us.
Major Robert Steele (Ret), a former United States Marine Corps officer,
summed up U.S. policy on changing doctrine in his article entitled "Transformation
of War and the future." In his article written while still on active
duty he states, "We as a nation have a tendency to try to fit reality
to our force structure" (Steele). Changes in the military especially
when they pertain to changing doctrine have never been accepted well.
However, the current revolution in military affairs will change the way
the military fights in future conflicts. The threat of Virtual Deception
capabilities by any enemy poses a major task for our military in the future.
The U.S. must begin to incorporate Virtual Deception doctrine into the
national and military doctrine, (1) To protect vital strategic national
assets, (2) Monitor those who threaten or use Virtual Deception, (3) Enable
the U.S. to efficiently and effectively use Virtual Deception against
its enemies. However, before this doctrine can be created and understood,
three basic questions need to be answered: "When does war begin?";
"How should war be fought?"; and "How will we define victory
in the future?" (Ryan 115). Virtual Deception changes our current
paradigms for answering each of these questions. The first question poses
a difficult task for the senior leadership of the U.S. A declaration of
war is unnecessary for Virtual Deception since it concentrates on waging
a secret war against an adversary. We must determine how we will respond
to the use of Virtual Deception on our information and our information
gathering systems. Academician V.I. Tsymbal already stated how Russia
will react to nations using information warfare against Russia:
From a military point of view, the use of information warfare means
against Russia or its armed forces will categorically not be considered
a non-military phase of a conflict, whether there were casualties or
not...considering the possible catastrophic consequences of the use
of strategic information warfare means by an enemy, whether on economic
or state command and control or on the combat potential of the armed
forces...Russia retain the right to first use nuclear weapons against
the means and forces of information warfare, and against the aggressor
state itself (Tsymbal 7.)
Thus the U.S. has a considerable problem to solve: How to proportionally
respond to enemy use of Virtual Deception? Our retaliation can range from
political pressure to nuclear weapons usage. Nonetheless, the U.S. must
begin to deal with this issue now before the situation is forced upon
The second question of how to fight wars once again addresses how the
U.S. will respond to enemy use of Virtual Deception. If information is
considered a strategic national asset, then any use of Virtual Deception
against the U.S. would be considered an act of war. However, if current
doctrine and policy are kept, Virtual Deception, so long as it is non-lethal,
will not be considered a threat to our national security (Ryan 115). Thus,
we will be subject to devastating "legal" VD attacks. Our paradigms
regarding the use of Virtual Deception must evolve to incorporate all
aspects of VD attacks. Currently, our military doctrine is focused upon
large scale physical engagements. I postulate that future military doctrine
must develop a new strategy prepare the military of 2025 for the increasing
intensity of VD attacks. Many enemies of the United States will soon gain
access to limited VD capabilities. Without the insight to see how Virtual
Deception will affect our nation and military in the future, our limited
paradigms will force us to face disastrous consequences.
The last question has a direct impact on the future of the military.
The revolution in military affairs will drastically change the way victory
is achieved in the future. As stated earlier, the goals of Virtual Deception
lie in the seizure and control of an enemys information systems.
In addition, a formal declaration of war is not required for Virtual Deception.
Therefore, victory could be achieved not only without a declaration of
war, but without the enemy even knowing they had lost! Once control of
information resources is achieved Virtual Deception would come into full
effect. False information and realities could be presented to the military,
the politicians, and the public, and ultimately their decisions would
be reflexively controlled. A nation, group, or individual could adversely
affect major decisions within the U.S. and could become a virtual puppetmaster
for decisions affecting everything from politics to the content of weekly
television. Obviously, this is taking the concept of Virtual Deception
to the extreme. However, to control its effects and survive in the unstable
world of 2025, it is clear that our current national and military doctrine
New Military Force Structure
The doctrine loop is a standard feedback loop composed of multiple
inputs which directly relate to military doctrine and strategy. In addition,
changes to doctrine and/or strategy are directly observed in outputs such
as force structure. The last step in the loop is feedback which evaluates
how effective our current doctrine, strategy, and outputs are keeping
pace with ever-changing inputs. Threats are very important input to the
doctrine loop and often force doctrine to change. However, if threats,
doctrine, and strategy change, so must the U.S. military force structure.
Currently the U.S. force structure is organized to deploy and engage in
corps sized forces in no more than two major regional conflicts (MRC).
However, as seen through the prior analysis of future threats, Virtual
Deception will enable small elite groups to wage war against nations.
Similarly, analysts at the National Defense University stated, "small
numbers of specialized highly capable systems can provide the edge over
classical forces in a conflict" (www.ndu.edu) In addition, the trends
in the revolution in military affairs show the decreasing dominance of
large weapons platforms, and place more emphasis on information gathering
and processing systems. In an interview with Dr. Tim Thomas of the Foreign
Military Studies Office, he stated the U.S. military organization, "should
be aimed towards the detection side" to protect our vital national
asset: information. Several opinions by experts throughout the U.S. have
been expressed on how the U.S. military force structure of the future
should look. There are numerous possible ways the U.S. can adapt to best
exploit the RMA and Virtual Deception. Some of these include:
- Establishing an Information Corps (Hazlett 88)
- Establishing an Information career field within the Operations career
- Virtual Deception Special Operations Teams
- Information Warfare Squadrons: Attached to every wing sized organization
and under command of USSPACECOM due to its large capacity for information
Each option has significant positive and negative aspects. However, I
will not debate which organizational method is the best. Although, one
more organizational problem is worthy of mentioning. The legal aspects
of Virtual Deception and other information-based warfare (IBW) methods
are still to be decided. The U.S. legal system must soon establish laws
on network security and violations thereof. In addition, a national organization,
possibly with a cabinet position, may be required to handle the political,
legal, and administrative aspects of Virtual Deception and IBW. Although
several options have been expressed, the question of how to best organize
the U.S. military to use Virtual Deception offensively and how to defend
ourselves from its use still remains to be answered.
Through my analysis, I have examined the possibilities and capabilities
of Virtual Deception, as well as the consequences for changing U.S. national
and military doctrine and force structure. Although 2025 still lies thirty
years down the road, the prospects of Virtual Deception and other methods
of IBW will soon become reality. Consequently, the U.S. military must
be ready to adapt to the threat Virtual Deception poses, and must prepare
to use it against future adversaries whether large or small. Current paradigms
about how war is conducted must change to exploit the RMA and Virtual
Deception. Our current military doctrine and force structure must also
change, lest our country fall prey to the nemesis of Virtual Deception.
However, one question remains unanswered: How will the U.S. military change
to cope with the ultimate form of IBW: Virtual Deception.
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2 Dec 95 Available: http://www.army.mil/pmif-pg/asas.html
Cook, Nick. "Data and Stealth Key to Air Attack." International
Defense Review. November 95: p 48-52.
Cooper, Jim. Air Force Information Warfare Center, Concepts Division.
Telephone interview concerning the possibilities and capabilities of
Virtual Deception, and its effect on Air Force Information Systems.
5 December 1995.
Hazlett, James, A. "Do we need an Information Corps." Joint
Force Quarterly. Autumn, 1993: 88-97.
"Information Warrior Raze Enemys Vital Data Chains."
National Defense. March 1995: 30-31.
"Pentagon studies art of information warfare to reduce
its systems vulnerability to hackers." Wall Street Journal
3 July 95: 20.
Reid, Clifford. "Reflexive Control in Soviet Military Planning"
Soviet Strategic Deception. ed. Brian Daily and Patrick Parker, Lexington
Books, Hoover Institute Press: 293-311.
Ryan, Donald E. Jr. "Implications of Information-Based Warfare."
Joint Force Quarterly. Autumn/Winter 1994-95: 114-116.
Steele, David. "The Transformation of War and the future of the
Corps." (28 April 1992) n. pag. Online. Internet. Available: http://gopher.well.sf.ca.us:
"Strategic Assessment 1995: U.S. Security Challenges in Transition."
National Defense University. Online. Internet. 2 Dec 95 Available:
Sun Tzu. "The Art of War." ed. Samuel Griffith. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1963.
Thomas, Timothy L. Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth,
KS. Phone interview concerning Reflexive Control and its possible applications
in Virtual Deception. 21 November 1995.
Thomas, Timothy, L. Russian Views on Information-Based Warfare.
Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 20 September
Toffler, Alvin, and Heidi. "War and Anti-War: Survival at the
dawn of the 21st century." Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.
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.