Emerging Military Instruments
With its victory in the Gulf War, the United States demonstrated an unprecedented mastery of conventional warfare--especially in the area of information technologies. Yet, the resources available to maintain such excellence are increasingly limited.
The Department of Defense is thus at a crossroads. On the one hand, it can incorporate the information revolution into its existing structures and doctrine, replicating present platforms in ever more sophisticated forms and creating a force designed to master today's challenges, notably the deterrence and suppression of major regional conflicts. On the other hand, the Defense Department may recognize that opponents in the mid-1990s pale in comparison with their potential successors and that sometime beyond the next decade, more sophisticated competitors will present far greater challenges. A strategy to prepare for the latter eventuality would emphasize technology, education, and doctrine rather than replicating today's platforms, albeit in more capable versions.
An important factor in deciding which approach to pursue is the extent to which current and future technologies can enable new instruments of national power--instruments whose utility would greatly transcend the goal of winning simultaneous major regional conflicts. This chapter explores three such new instruments.
The first, dubbed the "system of systems" by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral William Owens, creates operational synergies by combining three systems normally considered separately--those that provide battlespace awareness, those that enhance command and control, and those that create precision force. Successful integration of such capabilities may permit entirely new instruments of military force that are far more precise and can be wielded from far greater distances than could anything in the arsenal of the mid-1990s.
The second instrument, extended information dominance, takes U.S. capabilities to acquire information dominance on the battlefield, and gives the results not only to U.S. forces but to allies. Providing bitstreams helps the United States influence the outcome of distant conflicts while avoiding many of the risks and costs of conducting warfare overseas. Such an instrument is particularly valuable when the United States's freedom of action is curtailed or when leaving fingerprints is undesirable.
The third instrument, hacker warfare, would permit the United States to corrupt or override information systems of potential foes and even put the latter's information infrastructures at risk without the direct application of force.
Major improvements in U.S. military capabilities should arise from simultaneous developments in battlespace awareness; advanced command, control, communications, computing, and intelligence (C4I); and precision force. Some of the developments in these areas are the harvest of investments made in the 1980s; others were spurred by the Gulf War.
Individually, these new systems portend sharply increased effectiveness. Collectively, they promise to widen the lead of the U.S. military over its competitors, even in the face of declining defense budgets. Their integration would permit U.S. armed forces to see and respond to every militarily relevant object within a notional theater of operations--a cube of 200 nautical miles on a side. By contrast, systems of the mid-1990s can see fixed objects and groups of moving objects within a notional battlefield but not individual moving targets, and rarely in real time or with requisite precision for a direct unaided hit.
With the sytem of systems, the U.S. military will be able to engage in parallel warfare, that is, simultaneous strikes carried out with high precision against targets in widely separated locations.
Where Should the Systems of Systems Put Its Smarts?
Tomorrow's system of systems can distribute its smarts in one of two ways. One method is to use intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and C4I systems to find and locate targets with such precision that externally guided PGMs need little further smarts to land on a particular point (they need only know where they are and where the target is in real time). The alternative is to use ISR and C4I systems to locate targets roughly and put enough intelligence in each internally guided PGM to hit the target on its own (examples include sensor-fused weapons and brilliant antitank munitions).
Internally guided PGMs have the advantage of working despite disrupted communications or degraded targeting systems. Yet, internal guidance requires more complex sensors; higher costs lead to smaller inventories (and higher costs in turn). Each sensor package must also be specifically tailored to a given target. Externally guided PGMs (such as glide bombs with GPS kits) are more sensitive to system disruptions but can use cheaper guidance and control units; they may be used in larger numbers, getting through on the basis of swarming.
If the trend in the U.S. military is toward internally guided PGMs, budgetary logic will discourage the development of very sophisticated ISR and C4I systems; conversely, dependence on externally guided PGMs requires the acceleration of sophisticated ISR and C4I systems. In the former case, the bitstreams that Washington can offer allies will have scant usefulness unless the United States supplies expensive internally guided PGMs to go with them. Yet, as the U.S. experience with Stingers for Afghan rebels suggests, such PGMs may end up in the wrong hands. Conversely, supplying externally guided PGMs and bitstreams may permit the United States to control the usefulness and thus effective proliferation of the latter under adverse conditions.
See It. The first element of the system of systems, advanced battlespace awareness, couples digital sensor technologies with enough computer power to extract useful information from digital signals in near-real time. In the mid-1990s, battlespace awareness depends, in large part, on space-based systems for collection and distribution. Over the next decade, these systems will be supplemented by sensors on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and by cellular grids for robust multipoint to multipoint wide-area communications.
Advanced technologies will shift the role of battlespace intelligence. Traditionally, intelligence informed command decisions by providing information on such matters as whether a tank unit lay over the hill and what its strength might be. By contrast, tomorrow's intelligence will inform operational decisions by sending back the latitude and longitude of each individual tank in real time to precision-guided munitions (PGMs). In the same shift, platforms will move from the primary foci of engagement to units that service targets determined and located externally.
As the system of systems evolves, it may be increasingly understood as an autonomous entity that ladles information to a variety of users. But a robust entity capable of generating such streams of data bits to whomever needs them would take further work. Information from space satellites already comes in bitstreams. Similar capabilities from other long-range sensors (such as AWACS, and JSTARS, aircraft and Aegis cruisers) may have to migrate to networked swarms of less individually powerful forms to ensure survivability in an increasingly hostile environment where other nations perceive the United States's system of systems as the U.S. center of gravity. New families of in-close sensors being developed for counterproliferation, as well as other types of sensors, would have to be adapted for tactical roles, such as listening for sounds that characterize weapons' discharges or sniffing the air for evidence of fuel expenditures. As human operators are taken away from sensor nets, new communications structures would become necessary to link sensor and shooter, and data links would have to become more cellular. Meanwhile, the fusion of data from various sensors, which is required to make a target determination, and the defenses against attacks on the dense communications required among disparate sensors all would have to be enhanced.
Potential Coverage by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
State It. The second element, C4I communications and data links, is growing apace with the advances in battlespace awareness. These enhanced capabilities allow the U.S. military to send information where it is most needed, whether to the front lines or the top of the chain of command. Key efforts include the Global Command and Control System (which can link the various command centers of the U.S. military in real time and near-real time) and C4I for the Warrior (whose goal is to deploy interoperable data terminals to give each echelon access in a convenient format to the data streams it needs). Improvements in interoperability should lead to increased efficiency in the conduct of multiservice, that is, joint, operations. For instance, in 1995, Patriot missiles are typically slaved to a Patriot radar, a bulky and hard-to-deploy unit. If Patriot missiles could be guided by Aegis radars, then the United States could deploy more rapidly under some conditions. Only the missiles would have to be moved; the Aegis radar ship could get there on its own, if not there already.
If tomorrow's defense is to be conducted by multinational, that is, combined, forces, then the systems for U.S. information generation would need to be capable of being integrated with foreign command and fire-control systems. External systems integration would have to occur at several levels simultaneously: between U.S. data systems and those of allies; between the data flows that matter in U.S. doctrine and those required by the doctrines of allies; and between U.S. sensors and allied weapons platforms. Good standards can help here, but many problems still would have to be worked out on a country-by-country basis.
Vigilant Warrior illustrates the promise--and limitations--of stand-off warfare. In October 1994, the number of Iraqi tanks facing Kuwait rose sharply. To forestall a repeat of the August 1990 invasion, the United States dispatched aircraft, naval assets, and ground forces to Kuwait. This operation, ostensibly a joint military exercise, served as a reminder that the United States could and would intervene rapidly and decisively in the region. Iraqi forces pulled back, ending the crisis. A disengagement zone in southern Iraq was subsequently established.
Geostrategically, the operation worked; operationally, there was room for improvement. Although 165 aircraft were deployed, more than half of these were needed simply to achieve air superiority, leaving far fewer for ground attack. The 36,000 ground troops still took two weeks to deploy, and there was not enough weaponry to wage precision stand-off warfare. The total cost of the exercise exceeded half a billion dollars.
Stop It. The third and final element of the system of systems is precision force, made up for the most part of PGMs. Such weapons can put any locatable target at a high risk of destruction. Most targets can be dispatched with one shot; few can withstand a volley. Even though most of the PGM revolution has already occurred, PGMs continue to advance along three lines: human-guided weapons (such as fiber-optic-guided missiles and laser-guided bombs); signature-guided weapons (such as those guided by infrared, radar reflection, or acoustic homing); and location-directed weapons (those that aim for a given point by knowing where the target is and where it, itself, is). The U.S. military is developing new generations of fire-and-forget cluster munitions (such as sensor-fused weapons and brilliant antitank munitions), but the larger trend here and especially overseas is to develop weapons that can be guided to exact locations.
Long-range strike capability lets U.S. military forces target and destroy enemy platforms while operating beyond the reach of enemy weapons and sensors. This capability arises not only from accurate, long-range missiles but also from platforms that can operate far from their bases (such as refueled aircraft) or remain on extended station (such as nuclear submarines). Because technologies of range--jet and rocket engines, cruise-missile motors, nuclear reactors--tend to be expensive and improve rather slowly, the U.S. advantage in this area is relatively secure (in contrast to much of the U.S. lead in high-tech weaponry, which is based on information technologies' advancing everywhere at the same rate).
Another aspect of precision force is the tactical use of nonlethal technologies. (For a discussion of these technologies, see the chapter on Unconventional Instruments.) Carbon-fiber warheads on cruise missiles, for instance, were used in the Gulf War to short out Baghdad's power grid without causing permanent damage. Future warheads may include microwave bursts, which harm electronics more than they do people.
Finally, information technologies, notably distributed interactive simulation, also permit precision training. Simulation promises increasingly accurate emulations of friendly and opposing forces (both hardware and tactics) without the otherwise expensive cost of live exercises. It also permits tomorrow's forces to what-if a wide variety of future capabilities in an equally wide variety of potential but hitherto unseen environments. A software tool which combines topographic data and imagery has been used to create fly-through terrains to train U.S. pilots (e.g., going into Port-au-Prince, and Sarajevo). The same system was also used to help determine cease-fire lines in the Bosnian negotiations.
As an example of the new economies of sensors,
$80 million sent five cameras and other rangefinding sensors to the moon, mapping the surface for less than a tenth of what NASA estimated it would cost.
As an example of the new economies of sensors,
Applications. Apart from a greater assurance of prevailing in major regional contingencies, a system of systems presents two other major advantages: the U.S. military can, under more circumstances, conduct stand-off warfare (that is, operate beyond the reach of most hostile weapons); and force can be used in a far more discriminating manner.
Stand-off warfare allows forces to engage an enemy with minimal exposure and without the need for constant sentinels, which in turn permits faster engagement and wider latitude in evaluating intervention. Consider the following scenario. With little warning, a hostile state launches a full-scale attack on a neighbor. It seeks to capture a target that will provide a hard position for subsequent thrusts, claims, negotiations, or defenses. The United States intervenes to thwart the capture of this target. Space-based assets deliver detailed imagery of the enemy order of battle; this imagery is supplemented by data from naval sensors in international waters. Baseline intelligence data on the attacking country are quickly converted into an inventory of strategic targets. Within hours, UAVs are dispatched from local air bases and surface ships to collect more data; some drop ground-based sensors along potential attack corridors. As the data arrive from space, sea, and air, they are fused at a command center, converted into target assignments, and apportioned to various attackers: cruise missiles in offshore ships and submarines, nearby aircraft, strategic bombers from North America and regional bases, and offshore ground-strike forces readied for deployment. The resulting counterattack by U.S. and local forces destroys enough of the attacking force that the aggressor retreats.
New Military Information Technologies and Deterrence
The destructive power of a battleship or a nuclear bomb is apparent to all. The power of information warfare is far less obvious. Thus, replacing tanks and warships with buried missiles that are linked to information systems may increase warfighting power, and yet prove too inconspicuous to deter.
Yet, if potential aggressors know that anything visible can be hit, then proving that their assets can be seen in sufficient detail may suffice to deter aggressive acts. Consider, first, a plausible U.S. strategy for conflict characterized by heightened sensitivity to casualties on either side. The United States locates a first set of targets, broadcasts their locations, hits them, and broadcasts their destruction. After this demonstration, each finding of a new target is broadcast, and U.S. forces allow enough time for its occupants to disable their platform and escape.
For peacetime deterrence, the United States might demonstrate to potential foes that their platforms are under continual, reliable, and precise surveillance. Such a policy carries risks; an opponent with such information may use it to gauge its own hiding techniques. Thus, the United States would need to hint that it knows more than it tells--clearly, some fine tradeoffs need be made. Nevertheless, a certain degree of openness could add deterrence value to efficient but subtle warfighting technologies.
It is also possible, at least in theory, that the deterrence aspect of some intelligence-based warfare technologies can be further demonstrated by putting together a simulation and making it available to potential aggressors. Doing so credibly is unfortunately problematic.
Air traffic control cneter on USS Abraham Lincoln.
Many features of this scenario are attractive: a large share of the attacking force is quickly located and defeated; the enemy's near-term objectives are frustrated; and U.S. forces present few targets, thus suffering few casualties. This last feature could be of growing importance if more and more adversaries acquire the means and will to use weapons of mass destruction. Under such conditions, it may be inadvisable to mass U.S. forces within the range of such weapons--and range is what differentiates the possession of such warheads (which is relatively easy) from the ability to deliver them and threaten U.S. forces (which is harder). Thus, stand-off capabilities permit U.S. operations to proceed with less risk, making such warfare an important component of U.S. power-projection capabilities.
Benefits also accrue in peacetime from the potential to carry out such an operation. The ability to project power at a distance, responding quickly to aggression, gives the United States considerable influence even where political or economic considerations inhibit the stationing of troops. The faster the United States can respond, the more easily U.S. forces can wait until the other side makes unambiguous moves to attack. U.S. forces do not have to rush to the ramparts with every twitch, and opponents cannot weary them with endless feints. Accidents that occur when two nervous forces face each other in close proximity can be avoided.
Logistics benefits from precision-warfare techniques in two ways: from the transition from dumb to smart rounds and from the use of information technologies. Without major requirements to move dumb rounds and the attending ground-support infrastructure, forces can be deployed more quickly and at less cost; the need for lift capacity can be minimized. That, in turn, eases scheduling pressures (for example, ships can be moved when opposing forces are least prepared) and enables logistics dumps, because they are smaller (if not necessarily less valuable), to be more easily hidden and protected. With just-in-time delivery technologies, the amount of material that has to be stored in theater can be further reduced. During the Gulf War, thousands of containers were never opened and their contents remained unknown. Since then, the DoD has used information technology to develop logistics systems which have containers, in effect, identify their contents and location in response to remote electronic polling. Supplies need only a theater of operations only when they are needed and not before. Both permit local bases to be replaced by offshore supply, either afloat or at mobile offshore bases constructed for that purpose. This reduces the logistics footprint and removes valuable targets from the battlespace.
Some applications of a system of systems also promise to limit unnecessary destruction. For instance, improvements in intelligence may permit U.S. forces to locate the command tank within a battalion; destroying it first could reduce the effectiveness of the remaining vehicles. Similarly, disruption of an enemy's command system or the networks that connect it to the field might cripple that enemy's ability to fight. The plight of Iraq's army in the Gulf War was a powerful reminder that forces cut off from their leadership typically become grossly ineffective. Indeed, one of the attractions of information warfare is that nonviolent means--for example, electronically disrupting C4I systems--can precede or even replace violent conflict. The loss of much of its command system might well deter an enemy before it has embarked on an irreversible course. Nevertheless, casualty-free command-and-control warfare is not yet a realistic prospect.
Minimizing civilian casualties and collateral damage makes it easier for the United States to take the moral high ground, reduces domestic opposition to military operations, eases rebuilding efforts (which could save the United States money in postwar aid), and lends credibility to U.S. claims that it is targeting a state's political and military leadership rather than its people.
Limitations. Systems integration will remain both the biggest opportunity and greatest liability of tomorrow's system of systems. The information revolution is driven by commercial technology that becomes available to everyone simultaneously. The U.S. military's advantage in applying information technology to warfare does not derive from special access to this technology but from competence at systems integration. This reflects superiority in software, experience at solving military-integration problems, and the adaptability and high level of training of the U.S. armed forces. Yet, future systems integration cannot be taken for granted. Despite the lip service paid to the ideal of a joint interoperable information system, interoperability is often considered a cost add-on in service-acquisition decisions. Similarly, whereas the instruments of the system of systems are being inserted into the budget, an agreed-upon structure for such an integrated system is only starting to be developed--even as the need to connect computers and not just people makes it all the more necessary.
Tying precision-strike warfare to intelligence-based warfare has a long way to go. In certain environments, U.S. forces might not be able to acquire dominant battlespace knowledge. Dense or thickly foliated terrain is harder to read than desert. Cloud cover inhibits collection of optical imagery. The farther from open ocean or U.S. bases that a battlespace lies, the harder it is to observe or target. Although known, fixed targets (as well as ships and some aircraft) can be engaged from a distance, attacking mobile ground targets is more difficult.
What is a Bitsream?
One of the glories of the digital era is that, in time, any piece of information, regardless of its original format, can be reduced to a series of bits, that is, 1's and 0's. Thus, facsimiles, maps, photographs, audio and video tapes, sheet music, radar reflections, game software, training manuals, and personnel records can all be expressed in the same way. Furthermore, they can all be conveyed in any media capable of transmitting a stream of bits, that is, a bitstream.
Ultimately, the only useful distinction between bitstreams would be between those that represent events as they happen (e.g., live video feed) and those that convey everything else. To be truly useful, for instance, UAV imagery of a battlefield ought to be in real time so that all information on various movements is current. By contrast, an instruction manual that contains video sequences need not be delivered as it happens.
Stand-off warfare can be frustrated by foes who disperse their forces (making them easier to camouflage, conceal, and decoy) and limit their dependence on fixed sites and easily identifiable platforms. By so doing, they might ride out a U.S. stand-off attack and emerge with most of their punch left. Dispersed, inexpensive targets are cheaper to make than to destroy using stand-off weapons. A cruise missile, for instance, costs $1-2 million. The few stealth aircraft operations (which are equivalent to stand-off in terms of putting air crews at risk) in the U.S. inventory are expensive to replace, difficult to maintain, and carry light bomb loads. Using nonstealth aircraft against robust air-defense systems greatly increases the risk of losses and prisoners. Standing-off from not so far away may permit cheaper short-range weapons to be used but increases the exposure of U.S. forces accordingly. Because other countries are also honing their own battlespace acuity, U.S. assets, over time, will themselves become more visible at all ranges, particularly close ones. Most nations understand that Iraq blundered in letting the United States take six months to deploy; tomorrow's foes are unlikely to repeat this error and will be inclined to attack U.S. deployment from the outset.
Funding will limit the growth of the PGM stockpile. As long as other conventional munitions persist, units designed to use (or at least manage) them will also be limited. Pressure for their deployment and thus use will remain. Further, adverse environments, both meteorological and electromagnetic, reduce the accuracy of precision weapons. An enemy playing upon the sensitivity of the American public to collateral damage might try to frustrate the casualty-reducing potential of precision weapons by locating strategic targets in or near sensitive sites, such as schools or hospitals--a technique reportedly used in both Bosnia and Iraq.
Disabling enemy systems by targeting key nodes or by using less destructive soft-kill techniques might also be frustrated by the difficulty of knowing exactly what is connected to what. There is considerable difference between taking down an individual target and taking down a target system. Suppressing Iraqi air defenses was easier because they were based on the well-studied Soviet model; key nodes were therefore understood by the U.S. military. As the Soviet influence wanes, so wanes U.S. understanding of opposing defenses.
The success of precision attacks is heavily dependent on good intelligence (for example, identifying military command centers and leaders). Although the U.S. capacity for collecting electronic intelligence is keeping pace with the information-technology revolution, advances in encryption may reduce the U.S. ability to read the content of intercepted messages (although deriving intelligence based on message traffic patterns may remain valid). Gauging the intention of forces often requires human intelligence, and there is no reason to expect dramatic improvements in the efficiency of collection. Techniques to divine the structure of hostile information systems are not as yet well validated.
Lastly, even in the best of conditions, targets cannot always easily be found. With U.S. forces in control of Panama, General Manuel Noriega was hard to find. Despite overwhelming U.S. technological superiority in Iraq and Somalia, Saddam Hussein and Mohamed Farah Aideed could not be found at all.
Providing Bitstreams Versus Providing Arms
In some ways, providing bitstreams to an ally is similar to providing arms. Both help the ally with minimal risk to U.S. forces and are only as effective as an ally's ability to use them. Sometimes the two forms of aid are inseparable. A system to supply targeting data for use by PGMs has little value to a nation lacking such munitions.
Yet, these forms of assistance differ in several important ways:
* Multiplication. Arms add force; information multiplies it. Information can often have more leverage than can more arms--particularly as military contests take on a hide-and-seek, rather than force-on-force, character.
* Delivery. Once war starts, arms transfers become hazardous. Lines of communication, ports and transfer facilities, and warehouses become targets. Even smuggling small arms to insurgent groups (Afghan rebels, Nicaraguan contras) can be difficult, and larger transfers are more problematic still. Wartime delivery of bitstreams may also be interfered with, but there are more ways around the various obstacles, and their protection is generally less risky and labor-intensive.
* Control. Arms shipments can precede war. Yet, once the United States hands weapons over, it starts losing control over their use. Sometimes the ally has other plans for the weapons. At other times, an ally ceases to be: an enemy of our enemy (e.g., Iraq in its war against Iran) may later become an enemy of our friend; regimes tumble (e.g., the Shah's Iran); and nations fall (South Vietnam). Sophisticated arms that fall into the hands of enemies may deteriorate if U.S. maintenance is withdrawn, but they are still useful for a while. A bitstream can be turned off instantly if conditions warrant it--even if valuable archived data, as well as information on sources, methods, and capabilities, are left behind. Both arms and bitstreams can fall into enemy hands in the chaos of war; security regimes that can minimize the cost and likelihood of bitstream diversion appear more feasible.
* Cost. Tanks for allies are tanks that the United States no longer has. With bitstreams, once the data has been collected, software developed, and distribution established, the marginal cost of providing services to allies is generally cheap. How cheap depends on what adapting bitstreams for particular clients and exigencies, who pays for training, how much new infrastructure is needed, and how many new local sensors are required.
* Fingerprints. Arms are hard to supply in secret. Physical movements leave tracks, and captured material often can be traced back to the supplier. Bitstreams leave fewer tracks, are easier to disguise, and are harder to intercept. A captured M-1 tank makes a great visual on CNN; a captured bitstream, less of one.
* Perspective. The careful choice of what information to provide and how to provide it reflects and conveys the U.S. perspective on the meaning and purpose of conflict (in other words, what is important and what is worth doing). Our donated imagery, so to speak, is our vision. The ability to provide a similar perspective by selective weaponry supplies is more limited.
Warfare in the information age is becoming a high-technology game of hide-and-seek, with the seeking done by U.S. intelligence-based warfare systems--normally coupled with U.S. precision-strike forces.
Yet, there is no inherent reason that the United States cannot take these same capabilities, create a bitstream of information from the results, and feed this bitstream to other forces. By so doing, the United States can enhance its allies' effectiveness by making available to them the output from cutting-edge U.S. information systems--a vertical coalition, as it were.
Already, U.S. preeminence in long-range mobility and information systems is being recognized through the assignment of roles and missions within alliances and coalitions in which the U.S. military participates. Tomorrow's model is likely to be a mix of the United States using its own information dominance for its own forces and sharing some of it with allies. At one end, however, it is conceivable that U.S. military involvement in a conflict may be limited to whatever liaison is necessary to ensure the correct and efficient transfer of information to allies. Coalitions may arise in which the United States provides sensor data, analysis, and command data as bitstreams, while local allies supply human observation, command, and weapons delivery. While stand-off warfare promises to reduce U.S. casualties, limiting U.S. involvement in a campaign to the provision of information might reduce U.S. casualties to nearly zero and, in many cases, leave few fingerprints. Extended information dominance, as such, is an ideal type, but, as such, is an instrument of national power worthy of its own examination.
Precedents exist for helping allies by providing bitstreams. The United States shared intelligence with the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviets, who, themselves, shared information with the Argentines fighting British forces. In a sense, such an operation resembles arms sales.
Applications. The ability of U.S. forces to influence distant conflicts without being there may become a powerful new instrument of national power, filling in the current void between engagement and nonengagement. Six examples may be illustrative: fulfilling alliance obligations, substituting for stand-off warfare, exercising covert leverage, protecting borders, encouraging regional stability, and contributing to peace operations.
* Bitstreams may let the United States fulfill its alliance commitments with far fewer deployments, and could ease the integration of new countries into its alliances. Indeed, the United States is already emphasizing the provision of C4I systems to Partnership for Peace countries as a step toward full integration. Unlike alliance membership, such assistance can be finely graded and thus doled out in degrees to specific countries.
* Bitstream supply may reduce pressure on U.S. forces to undertake stand-off warfare. For example, a country such as Kuwait could defend itself by installing a system of medium-range PGMs that are guided to specific locations using a combination of inertial navigation and global positioning; the locations are in turn, fed from U.S. bitstreams. Each missile could then be assigned to a moving armored vehicle with fairly high precision. The cost of such munitions may compare favorably with the one-time cost of the exercise Vigilant Warrior.
* If the United States chose to support one side in a murky conflict--say, Muslims in Bosnia--without risking U.S. troops or compelling other great powers to intervene, surreptitiously providing that party access to U.S. bitstreams could be an effective option. Though major powers friendly to the other side of the conflict may suspect the United States is providing such assistance, its covert nature would elicit less of a reaction than would overt assistance.
Emerging Concepts for Using Systems
Source: Joint Staff
* Bitstreams may help allies protect their borders against hostile infiltration without the need for cross-border incursions, such as Turkey's 1995 pursuit of Kurdish rebels into Iraq. Data collected remotely can substitute for costly and risky border patrols--and, unlike manned patrols, the cost-effectiveness of such surveillance rises sharply every year parallel with similar improvements in digital systems.
Bitstreams may bolster regional security. Nations distrustful of their neighbors often turn to stocking armaments; this feeds arms races. If each nation could see the effect of its existing stockpiles multiplied as a result of access to U.S.-supplied bitstreams--and if nations understood that such access depended on defensive orientations and good behavior--the incentive for arms races might be reduced. For example, in Asia, where countries formally aligned with the United States nonetheless suspect each other, extending information dominance (in part to substitute for arms acquisition) might assuage old fears without generating new ones.
* Peacekeeping may be the most promising application of extended information dominance. The Sinai agreement between Israel and Egypt, for example, was reinforced by U.S. sensor systems that let each side monitor potential precursors of attack. Information systems that may be deployed in the Golan Heights can generate not only indications of impending attack but targeting information as well, thereby putting hostile encroachers at immediate risk.
It might be worthwhile to open certain information sources to all. Open access would ease operations with unexpected allies and promote confidence-building, but capabilities so opened may be unavailable as discretionary instruments of U.S. national power.
Information Warfare Chart
Limitations. The amount of information needed to support stand-off warfare (to locate structures and major platforms) is large, but the data needed to support close-range warfare (to discover troops and their machines, and localize reports of activity) is much larger. Space and airborne sensors may suffice for the former, but the latter calls for far more intrusive sensors, as well as closer integration with friendly troops, platforms, and data. The placement and management of such sensors require either U.S. manpower or highly trained allies. Bitstreams may be subject to electronic attack; their receivers may be subject to broader information-warfare attacks. Sensors must come in much cheaper packages before they can be considered a cost-effective supplement to what ground forces (for example, reconnaissance units) can supply. Favoring the development of signature-guided PGMs might also reduce the richness of potential bitstreams the United States has to offer. If not worked through in advance, systems integration between U.S. bitstreams and allied systems may not function smoothly. Further, if an ally is small, weak, or technologically incapable of assimilating digital information, U.S. assistance will be of limited help. Just providing information and nothing else would not work where there are no or very small local allied forces, as would be the case, for example, in the Caribbean.
Relying on information rather than more committed efforts may also deprive the United States of sufficient influence over the ends and means of conflict. For the most part, nations under attack may have little choice but to take what help they can get. At other times, a nation may have the choice between standing up to a bully or deflecting its wrath to a neighbor; U.S. commitment may make the difference in collective regional security.
Further, in a horizontal coalition, each side is responsible for what happens in its sector. In a vertical coalition, there is no such neat division of responsibility. U.S. data flows might enable recipients to engage in activities of which the United States does not approve, such as attacking nonmilitary targets. Short of pulling the plug, Washington's options for controlling such an ally may be limited.
Lastly, if bitstreams are easy and effective, the United States might tend to intervene too readily. Secret assistance provided through intelligence agencies can escalate into a deeper entanglement, and the United States could find itself involved in a conflict that, upon further reflection, it would have preferred to avoid.
When farming was the essence of national economies, taking land was the essence of war. As agriculture yielded to industry, war too was industrialized; nations defeated foes by destroying their productive capacity. If this pattern holds for the information age, might war follow commerce into cyberspace, pitting foes for control of this undefinable but critical ground?
Information warfare can cover a great deal of ground, some of which is discussed in other chapters. The first two instruments covered in this chapter concerned the application of intelligence capabilities to war. This third instrument covers attacks on critical national information systems themselves.
B-2 Stealth Bomber
Applications. Motives for attacking the networks of an enemy include theft of services or data, corruption of information, denial of the network's service to its users, and control of the systems to which networks are attached. Networks can be attacked via inside paths or outside paths. The former mode of attack includes inserting bad hardware or software components at the source and also gaining the cooperation of insiders. Both of these methods, like intelligence recruitment, run a high risk of detection, and success is often fortuitous. Outside paths refer to unauthorized access over external routes, such as phone or Internet lines, and may yield two levels of access. User access--the ability to see and manipulate an individual's files and tap into common resources--is of some value to saboteurs. Even more valuable is super-user access--the ability to see and manipulate the files that make a system run. Outside paths are less risky and easier to repeat, but they are also easier to defend against.
If the United States could override an enemy's military computers, it might achieve an advantage comparable to neutralizing the enemy's command apparatus. Such attacks can be expected in future conflicts. However, since potential foes of the United States range from network-illiterate to network-dependent, the value of targeting military information systems will vary greatly in different situations.
Military systems designed for field use tend to be difficult to penetrate. Not meant for public access, they are often entirely independent systems. Instead, the hot-button issue of information warfare is an attack on a nation's commercial computer systems--telecommunications, power, banking, and safety systems. Making potential aggressors know that the United States could abjure brute force but still wreak havoc on their societies would be a powerful new instrument of power. Such influence could be exercised in a gradual way; a tap here and there (in other words, evidence that the United States can affect a nation's systems at will) might suffice to remind a nation's leaders of their vulnerability. If provocations persist, a harder stroke (such as corrupting the integrity of highly visible services but not necessarily damaging them) may cause the populace to feel that their leaders cannot protect them. If such deterrence failed, wholesale attacks on opponents' computers could undermine the advanced sections of these opponents' economies, hinder the mobilization of military power, and put heavy pressure upon hostile leadership.
Information technology can also permit the United States to push information past barriers and directly address citizens of other countries. The Internet is one such tool for disseminating information. Proposed satellite systems, such as Motorola's Iridium, promise relatively low-cost global access to anyone past the reach of national censors. Perhaps the most ubiquitous means of reaching others may be direct broadcast satellite. In the mid-1990s, technology lets a system operator cover most of Asia offering up to one hundred separate channels for less than a billion dollars. For most foreign-policy purposes, simply letting others access global news streams (e.g., CNN, BBC) is good enough. However, it is not inconceivable that the technologies that created the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park or the morphed Presidents of Forrest Gump could be employed in creating entirely synthetic imagery as well.
Defensive information warfare, employed as a tool to preserve the integrity of U.S. and other friendly nations' information systems, may be understood to be an instrument of national power in the same way as home guard forces have been. It is clear that the vulnerability of the U.S. information infrastructure is growing more acute. Not only are more activities becoming dependent on information systems, but these information systems are becoming more open to outsiders and, in the process, adopting technologies that make them less secure (for example, open operating systems, Web browsers, and distributed objects). Security technologies are themselves advancing, but hacker tools are becoming more sophisticated and easier to get and use.
Doctrine on how to defend the nation's information infrastructure is in flux. Some would designate a central government guardian; others hold that the responsibility for protecting various systems must rest with their owners. Protection is likely to be a matter of operator and user diligence coupled with third-party software tools and expertise. With minor exceptions (e.g., intelligence data on likely threats), everything one needs is likely to be commercially (and internationally) available. Whatever additional help the U.S. government can offer its friends (above and beyond what they can buy on their own) is likely to be modest.
An Open Global Defense Information Network
Access to a potential stream of bits is akin to an electrical outlet. Friendly nations plug their command systems, operators, and sensors into it and vitalize their defenses. The United States can cut off the power as it wishes. That said, there may be some advantages in making some information flows (with appropriate limits on coverage, acuity, and revelation) generally and globally accessible even during periods of tension.
What advantages may accrue from providing open connections? First, open (that is, widely known and frequently used) connection standards make vertical coalitions easier to establish by reducing obstacles to interoperability. Secondly, because a system's architecture reflects the interests and priorities of its owners, an open network based on U.S. capabilities will be geared toward looking for what concerns the United States most (such as armaments of a major regional contingency) rather than objects of little military concern (such as internal dissidents) or assets that only the United States has in abundance (satellites, long-range mobility assets, or blue-water submarines). Buying into the network would mean buying into these priorities. Thirdly, the United States would profit from other nations' contributions of their own bitstreams and software. Some offerings would be voluntary; others would be a quid pro quo for access to the system. Fourthly, letting nations benefit from a global network may make them more amenable to intrusive sensors in their spaces.
Even great powers might be willing to buy into the network for the purposes of confidence-building, easing interoperation in peace operations and ad hoc coalitions, and gaining tools that facilitate national management in such areas as the environment, disaster relief, national resources, transportation, and law enforcement. If the United States does not allow minor disagreements to prejudice open access, the system will be increasingly trusted as a global utility. The provision of more information about the United States and its allies might assure others. Nations that know they are being scrutinized by everyone may shy away from provocative measures. Despite most nations' desire to avoid dependence on systems that they do not own, access to the network, if reliable, might prove seductive. Then, if some nation should buck the system, it would find itself denied access precisely when it is most threatening--and for that reason, threatened. A gap in coverage may not last forever, but the time required for another nation to duplicate formerly available bitstreams may suffice to buy the time required to turn potential adversaries around.
Yet, openness has its costs: loss of discretion, technological leakage, exposure to malevolent intelligence. If access is always available, Washington cannot manipulate its provision to affect lesser conflicts or exercise influence over potential allies. Systems integration is a key U.S. core capability, but system standards (which make systems integration work) and other software capabilities, once viewed in their open form, may be copied by other nations. Open systems are also, for that reason, more vulnerable: sensitive data must be tightly secured, useful data must be authenticated and protected, valuable software must be controlled, and information should be culled so that its presence does not reveal too much about U.S. doctrine or intelligence methods.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a good illustration of the pros and cons of openness. Originally, GPS was supposed to be more accurate for U.S. forces than for others; but technology (notably, differential GPS--being installed all over Europe and East Asia) has levelled the playing field. The United States has gone far to assure nervous users elsewhere that it will not degrade the system for trivial cause (although local jamming in conflict zones is not so hard); even so, Russia's Glonass is used as a back-up and European systems are being contemplated.
Increasing Percision/Effectiveness of Weapons
Note: CEP is circular error probability,that is, the circle within which there is a 50% probability the bomb will land.
Limitations. The issue of information warfare as an instrument of U.S. national power raises two fundamental questions: Are the technological means available? And, if so, would Washington use them?
Even if the United States has programs to wage information war, as has been frequently hinted, these are and will likely remain highly classified. Herein lies a drawback: unannounced weapons make poor deterrents. Yet, the tools of information war, once announced, may depreciate quickly. Networks are vulnerable because they are poorly secured; poor security persists because the probability and cost of intrusions are judged to be low. Once the U.S. information-warfare threat is unsheathed, there is likely to be an increased emphasis on security. By then, some systems may already have been compromised, but countermeasures are available to restore service and files while limiting further intrusions.
Further, the special vulnerability of the United States's own networks has been widely trumpeted, thus raising the question of whether residents of glass houses should threaten to throw stones. More generally, attacks on civilian targets are always difficult for the U.S. national command authority to authorize. Not only would the victims of information war include noncombatants but the risk of collateral damage may be unknowable; the networks we trash may be our own.
At present, most computer systems are vulnerable to information attacks even if most intrusions are more annoying than dangerous. Yet, the frequency intrusions is rising, and the possibility of a digital Pearl Harbor cannot be dismissed out of hand. That being so, a nation's critical systems can be engineered to limit access sharply. Although neither quick nor free, the cost of such security measures would be small in comparison with a nation's overall defense costs. Indeed, defense of the nation's information infrastructure is more likely to become an instrument of U.S. national power than offensive information war. Such defensive measures would permit other avenues of U.S. power to be exercised with less fear of counterattack against its information infrastructure.
There is considerable debate over whether the injection of information technologies into defense systems can provide a basis for undertaking a revolution in military affairs (RMA). One good test is whether a new instrument of power is indeed revolutionary--whether it can alter relationships among states. Ancient innovations, for instance, shifted the balance of power back and forth between dismounted and mounted forces, and, consequently, between civilized and barbaric cultures. The advent of gunpowder doomed the isolated city-state. Napoleon's levée en masse redrew the map of Europe, setting off nationalistic reverberations that echoed for the next century. The Third Reich's blitzkrieg ushered in new forms of international coercion. And nuclear weapons, originally conceived as a force multiplier for conventional operations may have had the reverse effect; they made conventional conflict among nuclear powers a potential first step to mutual suicide and hence of sharply decreased utility. Whether or not the new military applications of information technologies constitute a true RMA will therefore depend on the new uses to which a military so equipped can be put.
The emerging military instruments of this section are in various stages of development. The United States is on the verge of having a system of systems that is capable of conducting stand-off and precision warfare, at least in favorable situations. A 1993 study argued that a fleet of stealth bombers armed with brilliant antitank munitions could stop an armored attack all by itself. The optimism may be premature, but clearly, the U.S. armed forces are moving in that direction.
Defining the Revolution
Military Technological Revolution (MTR): the incorporation of radically advanced capabilities into existing military forces as equipment turns over--a passive revolution.
Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA): the adoption of radically more effective operational procedures and organizations in response to the opportunities offered by the MTR--an active revolution.
Revolution in Security Affairs (RSA)--the RMA plus other interesting changes in the security environment, many brought about by technology (e.g., the CNN-ization of war)--a passive revolution.
The U.S. ability to extend information dominance is far less developed. The potential of such capabilities can be glimpsed, however, in the emerging role-sharing debates within NATO and in the United States's ability to supply certain intelligence data to selected allies under crisis conditions.
Many of the means for hacker warfare were becoming available in 1995. However, the well-wired United States remains more vulnerable to such attacks than most potential opponents.
With luck, these instruments will allow the United States to exercise a high degree of control over the emerging global security structure through its unique ability to intervene all over the world quickly, effectively, and at little cost. Even more impressive would be the ability to make a large difference in potential conflicts just through the supply of information and related software without leaving fingerprints, much less footprints. As with any new military instrument, particular attention may be necessary to turn new means of conducting war into effective means of deterring it.
As the U.S. military stands at a crossroads in deciding what it wants to be, it is by no means certain which way it will choose. Institutions, particularly triumphant ones--such as the U.S. military in the wake of its victories in the Cold War and Desert Storm--tend to avoid fundamental change. Technology will be sought and absorbed, but largely in the context of pre-existing assumptions about the organization of military force. The instinct of the U.S. military services will remain to confront aggression by projecting forces into harm's way and engaging the enemy until victory is secured. Stand-off warfare permitted by the system of systems deviates from that model; the provision of bitstreams alone is even further removed. If these instincts prevail, then the resulting choice may be made by default--the United States will have the preeminent military of the twentieth century just as this century is coming to a close.
Yet, the U.S. military may not have much choice but to change if it wishes to have a role in shaping the international security structure. With the Cold War over, the American public is finding it increasingly difficult to identify interests that merit the expenditure of U.S. blood. Even as the military enjoys high public esteem, the will to use military power to support the United States's ability to lead the world seems to be fading. Rather, the U.S. public would maintain its military power primarily to ensure that other nations do not directly challenge the United States with impunity.
If a peer military competitor emerges in a decade or two, however, the situation will be quite different. Strategic Assessment 1995 rates hedging against this possibility as the most important long-term U.S. national-security challenge. Such a competitor might not openly challenge the United States but could seek undue influence in its region, perhaps supporting belligerent proxies or otherwise attempting to bend neighbors to its will. U.S. policymakers may wish to use instruments of U.S. military power to deter or defer the emergence of such a peer competitor without asking the American public to bear great risk or suffer casualties for such an end. Therefore, Washington will have to find ways of exerting military influence that will minimize such costs. The emerging instruments discussed above, particularly the extension of information dominance, may be the best methods available for achieving this end.
Table of Contents