How the Nature of Warfare Is Changing in the Information Age

Every member of the military should be considered a cyberwarrior.

“A revolution is an idea that has found its bayonets.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

History is never kind to warriors who miss tectonic shifts in warfighting doctrine. That is especially true when the shifts are caused by breakthroughs in technology. Just ask the soldiers at Gettysburg felled by newly rifled muskets or the infantrymen overtaken by the treads of lightning-fast armored vehicles. These shifts typically follow major changes in global economic focus — revolutions where the old order is swept away and replaced by new norms, new powers and new bayonets.

The digital revolution known as the Information Age quietly arrived in the late 1970s as computer miniaturization took root and proliferated through the industrial economy. Mechanical systems were quickly modernized or replaced by digital devices that made almost every task easier, from remotely monitoring and controlling industrial equipment to flying jet aircraft. Software became its currency, and the Internet its enabler. Networking technology expanded its global reach into every facet of society. The Navy was not immune: Digital systems transformed the way we think about, plan for, defend and fight the nation’s wars.

The revolution is here. It is time to hone our cyber bayonets.

Data Creates Opportunities and Challenges

Cyberpower fundamentally changes the nature and focus of modern warfare. It provides both opportunity and vulnerability, and we have to man, train and equip Navy forces to deal with both simultaneously. Let’s focus first on opportunity. Cyber provides a nonkinetic means to deny, degrade, disrupt or even destroy an adversary’s ability to fight and function. Bits instead of bombs can render an adversary’s command and control, critical infrastructure or logistics useless — without firing a shot. We have to redesign the way we think about warfighting doctrine and operational planning to fully integrate cyber into the combat commander’s arsenal.

Bits instead of bombs can render an adversary’s command and control, critical infrastructure or logistics useless — without firing a shot.

The U.S. Cyber Command and Navy mission partner Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet are performing that redesign today. At the same time, cyber opens unlimited possibilities in information superiority. As technologies rapidly evolve, we can tap the potential to share, integrate and utilize data in unimaginable ways. Our warfighters will see more, hear more and know more than our adversaries, giving us an asymmetric advantage on the battlefield. The Navy’s Information Dominance Corps was established to leverage that technology promise, but at the very core, every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Guardsman is a cyberwarrior. We have to think that way; we have no other choice.

New Threats Surface in the Information Age

There is a dark side, however, because the cyber vulnerabilities we exploit are the same vulnerabilities we have built into our own systems. From the microchip to the operating system, cyberthreats abound and proliferate at lightning speed among nation-state actors, terrorist cells, organized crime syndicates, hackers and others. Some of the threats we see and thwart — but some are clandestine, hidden in the digital clutter ­performing their covert thievery or just waiting for the right moment or vulnerability to strike. Our cyberdefense strategy must deal effectively with both. We need to think differently about the way we eye, buy and fly our cybersystems, so defense is agile, adaptable and built in from the ground up.

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and the other Navy systems commands are knee-deep in that fight. By adopting a common defense-in-depth framework and enforcing information assurance through expanded technical authority, we are starting to address the fundamental cyber issues that exist in Navy systems. We are also working closely with resource sponsors to align funding to the biggest cyber risk areas. It is a long fight, but one we absolutely must win to ensure the Navy survives and thrives in the Information Age.

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Jul 26 2013