A New War-Fighting Capability
A Research Paper
Air Force 2025
LTC William B. Osborne (USA)
2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space force in the future. Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government.
This report contains fictional representations of future situations/scenarios. Any similarities to real people or events, other than those specifically cited, are unintentional and are for purposes of illustration only.
This publication has been reviewed by security and policy review authorities,
is unclassified, and is cleared for public release.
You see things; and say "Why?" But I dream of things that never were; and I say; "Why not?"
-George Bernard Shaw
This project envisions war-fighting capabilities that will enable military members to prosecute operations effectively in support of vital national strategic interests determined by US political leaders. Our efforts stem from a genuine concern to improve the tools to assist commanders in an age of exponential growth in available information. But, this vision goes beyond just giving commanders useful information; it aims to empower them with the ability to leverage information to conduct warfare.
We undertook this effort knowing that some readers would find it a challenge to project their thoughts out into the next millennium to 2025. Nevertheless, we encourage our readers to "double leap" into 2025 and share our excitement in the concept's potential to keep the US military as the best military in the world.
We appreciate Air University's pushing us beyond the safe envelope of thinking and planning the future. Without exception, we received impressive assistance from advisors, instructors, guest speakers, and peers. Finally, our spouses supported and encouraged us when we needed it most-when naysayers doubted our "out-of-box" visions.
Never again will we say "that can't be done." Others may
see the impossible, but we will determine "how?"
The affirming characteristic of Alexander the Great's genius as a general and leader was "the startling rapidity with which he always acted. . . . Time was his constant ally; he capitalized every moment, never pondered on it, and thereby achieved his end before others had settled on their means."
In its most basic form, commanders have always performed the functions of observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA Loop) to prosecute military operations.1 As with Alexander the Great, history shows the military commander who best analyzes, decides, and controls the speed of the engagement prevails in nearly every conflict. To master the OODA Loop, military leaders have pushed technology to obtain more information.2 Ironically, this situation now leads to the requirement to solve two fundamental challenges if the United States expects to maintain air and space dominance in 2025. First, the proliferation of unintegrated military war-fighting architectures gives the commander potentially conflicting perspectives of the battlespace.3 Second, the explosion of available information creates an environment of mental overload leading to flawed decision making. Failure to master these challenges critically weakens the military instrument of power. This paper presents a solution to these challenges by confronting commanders as they employ future airpower forces.
Regarding the first challenge, the large number of specialized war-fighting architectures makes information integration supporting overall coordination and control more important and more difficult. Simultaneously, the speed and the range of modern weapons drastically reduces the time commanders have to integrate conflicting information and decide on a course of action.
The second challenge is to harness the information explosion to combat mental overload, thus improving decision making. Recent exercises reveal an alarming number of unread messages because of information overload.4 As the quantity of data rises, the difficulty of preparing and interpreting it for decision making grows. Traditionally, the military attempted to solve this problem by increasing the number of communications nodes. These past solutions only injected additional inputs and information without improving decision-making capability.
The optimum solution must integrate the functions within the OODA Loop and allow the commander to control the momentum of the cycle. This paper describes how a system, called the Cyber Situation, can do just that, thus optimizing commanders' ability to operate air and space systems. The Cyber Situation enables commanders and decision makers to have in-time access to the battlespace, characterize the nature of the engagement, determine the calculated probabilities of success from the various authorized lethal or nonlethal options, decide what to do, employ the weapons chosen, and receive in-time feedback on the result of the engagement.
The Cyber Situation system includes five major components. First, all-source information collectors will transmit raw data to the Information Integration Center (IIC), as discussed below. Second, archival databases, linked to the IIC, will be used for historical analyses to fill information gaps if the data is not available for collection. Third, the IIC, an integrated and interconnected constellation of "smart" satellites will analyze, correlate, fuse, and deconflict all relayed data. Fourth, implanted microscopic chips link users to the IIC and create computer-generated mental visualizations.5 The visualization encompasses the individual and allows the user to place himself into the selected battlespace. Fifth, lethal and nonlethal weapons will be linked to the IIC, allowing authorized users to employ them from the Cyber Situation.
Implied in the Cyber Situation are five key technologies evolving on separate paths that will synergize by 2025 to achieve this goal. They include collection platforms, communications infrastructure, computing power, intelligent software, and human systems and biotechnology. Most of these technologies will evolve through the commercial community, but the military must focus research and development efforts on biological and computational intelligent software and biotechnology breakthroughs to allow mental visualization.
Once realized, these new capabilities will give commanders a new way to prosecute warfare. New technology alone does not revolutionize warfare. Rather, technology's impact on systems evolution, operational tactics, and organizational structure is its true advantage.6 This fuels necessary and complementary changes in doctrine and organizational structure.
Organizations and doctrine will need to adapt to a streamlined, decentralized environment. The traditional emphasis on command and control will give way to an emphasis on consultation and control. This organizational structure permits the Cyber Situation to operate at maximum efficiency. It also allows commander's at all levels to operate with a greater degree of latitude and autonomy as part of an integrated joint operation-a truly combined arms.
Airpower in 2025 must make optimum use of information technology to operate inside an opponent's decision cycle. This requires unequivocal dominance of cyberspace. In addition to enabling all military pursuits, information-related activities will transcend all air and space operations.
To be sure, the Cyber Situation proposed in this paper certainly
will not eliminate all the command problems facing airpower forces
in 2025. However, it may well shed light on the main factors involved
and indicate the direction any reform efforts should move. The challenge
now is for airpower strategists to develop the war-fighting doctrine
to turn the vision of a true battlespace execution capability into
Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.
Victory smiles upon those who change the character of war to their advantage, not upon those who merely anticipate the change or wait to adapt themselves after the changes occurs.
-Joseph A. Engelbrecht, Jr.
History clearly shows the military commander who best analyzes, decides,
and controls the speed of the engagement prevails in nearly every
conflict. In the simplest form of conflict, commanders have traditionally
performed the functions of observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA
Loop) to prosecute military operations (fig. 1-1).7
To master the OODA Loop, military leaders have pushed technology to
obtain more information. This push attempts to achieve the core capability
of information dominance that "is the ability to collect, control,
exploit, and defend information while denying an adversary the ability
to do the same."8 The need
for information dominance is vital, because "the emergence of
the information and technology age presents new challenges to US strategy
even as it offers extraordinary chances to build a better future."9
In today's world, satellite surveillance and reconnaissance technology
provide a unique view of those challenges from the ultimate high ground.
Extensive communications links and superior data-processing capabilities
allow improved distribution of this information.
Source: Microsoft Clipart Gallery© 1995, courtesy of Microsoft Corporation.
Figure 1-1. OODA Loop
Ironically, this situation now leads to two fundamental challenges if the United States expects to continue its dominance of air and space in 2025. First, the proliferation of unintegrated military war-fighting architectures gives commanders potentially conflicting perspectives of the battlespace.10 Second, the explosion of available information creates an environment of mental overload leading to flawed decision making. Failure to master these challenges critically weakens the military instrument of power.
The two challenges have resulted in a scenario not unfamiliar to current military operations. Commanders observe after waiting for collection assets to assimilate data and analysts to process and interpret the information; orient based upon inputs and further interpretations from their staffs that may be conflicting or, worst yet, wrong; decide with generally incomplete, imperfect, and possibly biased information; and act without first being able to forecast the probability of success of the action or having direct and immediate access to employment tools. Gaps and weaknesses in each step widen and exacerbate as each cycle begins anew.
In 2025 operating near the speed of light will be a common feature of military engagements. Future architectures envision a new array of ground- and space-based sensors, uninhabited combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), and missile defense technology which will take advantage of developing directed energy capabilities. If a kill mechanism operates at the same speed as the flow of information, a defender cannot possess the requisite time to observe the attack, orient himself, decide how to respond, and act on that decision. As a result, the attacker would get inside the defender's OODA Loop, destroying the ability to conduct an active defense.
This paper proposes a solution to these challenges confronting commanders employing future airpower. The optimum solution should integrate the functions within the OODA Loop and allow the commander to control the momentum of the cycle. Further, the solution should enable commanders and decision makers to have in-time access to the battlespace, characterize the nature of the engagement, determine the calculated probabilities of success from the various lethal or nonlethal options authorized, decide what to do, employ the weapons chosen, and receive in-time feedback on the result of the engagement.11 Simply stated, the solution should go beyond just giving commanders useful information; it should empower them with the ability to leverage information to conduct warfare.
For planning to achieve information dominance, the following assumptions are plausible for 2025:
The remainder of this paper discusses the proposed solution and its implications. Chapter 2 explains the required capability by outlining the need for OODA Loop integration and momentum control. Chapters 3 and 4 take the reader through the technology evolution that synergizes in the solution called Cyber Situation. Chapter 5 discusses vulnerabilities and countermeasures. Chapter 6 outlines how the Cyber Situation functions and its implications on doctrine, tactics, organization, and force structures. Finally, chapter 7 recommends areas requiring additional research and chapter 8 offers a conclusion to this paper.
Overall, this paper focuses on the conceptual fusion of information operations. Other 2025 papers deal specifically with various aspects of information operations.20 Furthermore, other papers focus on technologies this paper assumes will be available in 2025, including space lift, uninhibited aerial vehicles (UAV), and other lethal weapons.21 This paper serves as the integrator of future information operations technology-a concept that enables military commanders to observe the battlespace, analyze events, and direct forces from within a single entity.
Contact: Air Force 2025
Last updated: 11 December 1996