In the opening decades of the next century, the ability to collect, process, and apply massive amounts of information in near real time will be a crucial warfighting advantage for the US military and particularly the Air Force. American cyberpower will be the enabler for the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces and is key to the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Joint Vision 2010.
However, increasing dependence on the unfettered flow of information also will be one of the greatest threats to America’s national security and economy as the power to use-and abuse-information technology becomes readily available to the smallest national or non-state entity.
Those are some of the key themes presented by four active duty and three recently retired senior Air Force officers at a forum on Information Operations and Information Warfare, staged by the Aerospace Education Foundation’s Eaker Institute March 2425 at Lackland AFB, Texas. A large number of Air Force personnel were among the attendees at the sessions.
The conference unexpectedly featured a senior Air Force commander involved in an armed conflict-Operation Allied Force-which began on the first day. Appearing via live satellite transmission was Gen. John P. Jumper, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, from his headquarters at Ramstein AB, Germany. His report on the performance of his aircrews lent weight to his presentation on the importance, and the dangers, of Information Warfare. Jumper’s appearance, in itself a testament to the power of modern information technology, was handled by the Brooke Army Medical Center’s cutting-edge telemedicine facilities.
The importance of the topic was reinforced by a new report from the National Research Council warning that the vulnerability of the US military computer networks creates “a pressing national security issue.” That report echoed similar findings by the Defense Science Board and Rand, which sparked warnings that America could face an information calamity, one in which attacks on the interconnected computer networks caused havoc in the nation’s utilities and its governmental, financial, and national security institutions.
The conference was opened by Gen. Michael J. Dugan, USAF (Ret.), a former Air Force Chief of Staff and now chairman of the Aerospace Education Foundation. Dugan warned that, in the future, “information will be more critical to the conduct of military operations, and, at the same time,” he said, “a wide range of new vulnerabilities will be thrust on military commanders.”
“Just as classic Napoleonic maneuver tried to isolate an army from its logistics base, current strategies are looking for more and more ways to isolate warriors from crucial flows of information that provide or confound battlefield awareness,” Dugan said.
Although the services are putting “much needed resources into this arena, it is not clear, however, that the organizational issues have been identified or resolved to ensure that information operations are prudently conceived, effectively led, and coherently carried out across the wide spectrum of government and private agencies involved,” stated Dugan.
He reminded his audience that Napoleon himself took the view that “war is 90 percent information.” Though the concept has not changed in the intervening 200 years, Dugan continued, the ability to exploit the concept is radically different.
“As former Sen. Sam Nunn put it, the nation might be headed for an electronic Pearl Harbor,” said Dugan.
Jumper provided a unique perspective on the subject because of his position as an operational commander.
“We get overwhelmed, in most cases, by a discussion of Information Warfare at the strategic level,” which means the protection of America’s information infrastructure or attacks on an enemy’s information systems, Jumper said.
As a commander, he is concerned about the operational and tactical use of information, which means how to deal with targets, the general said.
“I need to be able to think in terms of … target effects,” Jumper said, picturing the “info warriors” around the same targeting table with the fighter and bomber pilots and the special operations people.
The information warriors may have the capability to take out a target but are prevented from doing so because of legal concerns, he said.
“This is an example of policy getting in the way of warfighting principles, what I define as a lack of our attention to Information Warfare at the tactical and operational level.”
Jumper also worried about the differences in definitions that can include “offensive and defensive warfare, psychological warfare, deception, and electronic warfare all captured under this definition of IW.”
Including electronic warfare mixes up electronic bashing and electronic manipulation, he said.
Jumper also disagreed with the tendency to separate offensive and defensive Information Operations, a concept that troubled other speakers as well.
“There is a very fine line between the offense and the defense, and any step that we take to separate or segregate the two will be a great disservice to us,” he said. “I think they are side by side and in many cases indistinguishable,” although they require different tools.
As a commander, Jumper said he wanted not just to take on targets but also to deceive an enemy so that an intercept operator “sees something completely different than what is really there” or a commander’s communications are so distorted he cannot act.
“That, at the operational and tactical level, is the sort of IW capability that a commander needs,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Kenneth A. Minihan, USAF (Ret.), former director of the National Security Agency, shared Jumper’s concerns about separating the components of Information Warfare.
“We act as if there is an offense and a defense, and there isn’t; it is all common technology,” he said. “It is more like playing soccer; you’ve got to know where you are on the field.”
Minihan insisted, “There is no place for computer network defense if there isn’t a place for computer network attack. There is no place for you to conduct the offense if you choose not to do the defense at the same time. … Exploiting that medium is what it is going to be all about.”
America’s “strategic coin is shifting from [an] industrial base to [an] information infrastructure technology,” he said. “But the value in that is not the infrastructure or the network; it is the content. Our job is to develop the ability to stay relevant to the nation’s strategic coin, which is going to be its knowledge or content.”
Information technology is moving much faster than the military’s adjustments to it and “if you want to know where [the] technology is going, don’t go visit the services because they are not spending any of this money,” Minihan said.
The commercial information sector is spending enormous amounts of money each year on new technology, he said, and “they plan to reinvent their companies every three or four years.”
If the services are not working closely with major commercial leaders, “we are not tuned in to where the nation’s investment is,” Minihan said.
In terms of information technology, Minihan said, “it is all global, stupid. It isn’t air; it isn’t space; it isn’t service oriented. It is all global. We are going to work in a completely different analytical paradigm than the one we are accustomed to applying to our missions,” he said.
That also means “you really are in an era when there is the death of distance,” added Minihan. “You’ve reached the point now where, in terms of affecting the battlefield, it doesn’t matter where we are on the globe.”
Minihan also warned that the military’s dependence on the public computer infrastructure increases the risk of disruption and information compromise.
The commercial investment in information technology “is building the battlespace in which we will operate,” he warned. “It is driven by commercial technology and it is all global and we are going to operate in it. That brings great opportunities and huge vulnerabilities.”
Countering the dangers requires a strategy, Minihan said, which he called “information assurance.”
Lt. Gen. Charles J. Cunningham Jr., USAF (Ret.), currently serves as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence. He noted that America has “no monopoly on all of the things that would impinge [on] or cause problems for [its technology-based economy and defense].”
“We have no monopoly on IO and IW,” he said. “We have no monopoly on information technology. We have no monopoly on information assurance or any of that kind of stuff.”
Cunningham noted that the book War and Anti-War by Alvin and Heidi Toffler said that “developed nations will fight their wars the way they make their money.” America is “essentially making [its] new money in information technology,” said the general. “We can expect to conduct a lot of our military operations very much in that way.” But, he added, the threat to that technology “is everywhere. … We must therefore redouble our efforts and do better with it.”
Cunningham recalled helping run a staff exercise in Europe last year for Jumper. In this exercise, the joint forces air commander operations involved little Information Warfare aspects. That happens because “our emphasis … is so exclusive at the strategic level,” he said.
Cunningham urged the warfighters to spell out their needs for Information Warfare “as requirements” and to develop the doctrine, the tactics, and procedures necessary for successful information operations.
Asked what the Defense Department’s developing information operations strategic plan would contain, Cunningham said: “It is largely aimed at engagement and … how you work with other entities in information operations.”
The strategy, which should be released this fall, “will key on the concept of engagement and sharing and loosen up a lot of things that are now very rigid because we feel that we are the only ones to possess certain capabilities and information,” he said.
In response to another question, Cunningham said the military’s involvement with the commercial side of information technology would increase, which would mean an increased defensive role.
But, he argued, “Perhaps we need to understand what the life cycle of information is. What is the life cycle of usefulness? It strikes me that we go overboard to protect a lot of information that is extremely perishable.”
Maj. Gen. John R. Baker, commander of the Air Intelligence Agency, said the Air Force, coming out of Desert Storm, “understood that [the service] needed to break down some of the barriers between some of the various intelligence organizations … so [it] can turn around information quicker and get it to the operator faster.”
Today, both the Air Force and the Joint Chiefs “are looking at information operations in a large way,” Baker said. “What is driving all this is technology,” he said, which “is racing faster than we are.”
Baker noted the difference between the joint and the Air Force doctrinal descriptions of Information Warfare and expressed his preference for the more comprehensive service definition.
He also explained the Air Force leadership’s decision to dismantle the 609th Information Operations Squadron at Shaw AFB, S.C., and to shift the squadron’s IO specialists into operational units throughout the Air Force.
“We are going to embed people … [who] have both offensive and defensive training so they understand both sides of the equation,” said Baker. “We will have gain and exploit, attack and defend expertise in there.”
Because the military depends on communications, understanding how to control bandwidth usage is becoming more important, he said. “The demand for information is increasing. The demand for imagery is not going to get less. The ability to move that information around the world is going to be a big challenge for us as more and more organizations compete for bandwidth.”
Air Force Brig. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, the deputy director for Information Operations on the Joint Staff, said information warfare has evolved from some “traditional military operations that we have done for years.”
With its growing importance, “today, everyone has an idea of what Information Warfare is. … All the services and the joint warfighters are right with us,” Wright said.
As a result, his office “has been very busy these days.”
His office supports the JCS Chairman, Wright said, “but more importantly,” it supports the warfighting commanders in chief, all of whom have Information Warfare programs.
Warfighting always seeks to hit an enemy’s center of gravity and “the center of gravity for Information Ops is six inches of gray matter,” he said, referring to the human brain.
The key to effective Information Operations is “to stay ahead of the bad guys’ thought process,” he said.
Wright said the Joint Chiefs are seeking to “seamlessly integrate IO in support of national objectives,” at both the operational and strategic levels.
There are more than enough challenges in Information Operations, he said, with everyone from the Russians to juvenile hackers trying to access the US information networks.
Information Operations, Wright said, can cover the entire range of military missions-from peacetime through crisis to conflict-and can affect basic public services such as power and water supplies or information systems.
Because of the potentially grave impact of an information attack, he said, “one of the major challenges is defending our information infrastructure.”
Gen. Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton, commander of Air Education and Training Command, said the control of information will be a key strength, and major vulnerability, for the Air Force in the next century.
“By the turn of the century,” Newton said, “our Air Expeditionary Force will allow us to better posture for the threat of the next millenium by allowing us to reach far beyond our borders to respond effectively to the full spectrum of crises. … Information will be the key enabler to this expeditionary force.”
But, he noted, attempts to penetrate the military’s information technology infrastructure are increasing because “the information revolution has made technology available to just about anybody and everybody who wants to have it” and “many of those are at odds with our national security objective.”
“At the same time, [US] military operations have become more dependent on fast, reliable exchange of information, so we find ourselves almost in this catch-22 of more people are becoming more dangerous to more of our operations,” Newton said.
Among the basic features of strategic infowar, Newton said, is this fact: “You can have a low-cost entry into the conflict.” Instead of the sizable financial resources or state sponsorship needed for traditional weapons technology, “information system expertise and access to important networks may be the only prerequisite for getting in,” he explained.
Another feature is the erosion of traditional boundaries, such as the lines between public and private interests, warlike and criminal behavior, and geographic boundaries between nations, he said.
Information warfare also will make it more difficult to build and sustain coalitions because of the conflicting needs to protect information systems and to share techniques and ideas with the coalition. “This will make warfare much more difficult,” Newton said.
The vulnerability of the US homeland also increases as “information-based techniques render geographic distance irrelevant,” he said. “Targets within the continental United States are just as vulnerable as those in-theater targets are.”
With the US economy’s increased reliance on high-performance networks, “a new set of lucrative strategic targets presents itself to any one of our potential enemies,” Newton said.
Because the Air Force recognizes the importance of information operations, AETC is working to “ensure that we have credible information warriors, both defensive and offensive.”
“Our goal … is to assure that all Air Force personnel are able to operate effectively in this fast-moving, information-rich environment. Information dominance isn’t something that can be left to a few one or two specialties or a few agencies or to just one command,” Newton said.
Otto Kreisher is the national security reporter for Copley News Service, based in Washington, D.C. His most recent articles for Air Force Magazine, “The Move Into Space” and “Inhofe on Readiness,” appeared in the April 1999 issue.