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«Chapter Four AN INFORMATION-BASED REVOLUTION IN MILITARY AFFAIRS* Major Norman C. Davis, USMC The world is on the cusp of an epochal shift from an ...»

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The Soviet argument for a dawning RMA focused less on military hardware than on technological advances making possible qualitative transformations in conventional, non-nuclear warfare. Soviet strategists maintained that in the near future, “reconnaissance-strike complexes” would enable commanders to detect targets, then rapidly and effectively attack them at long ranges. These combinations of sensors and weapons would blur the traditional distinctions between the offense and defense and allow the conduct of war over much greater distances than ever before.22 Ogarkov believed that, in modernizing military theory and practice, “stagnation and a delayed An Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 85 ‘perestroika’ of views... are fraught with the most severe consequences.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he lobbied persistently for a timely incorporation of these new non-nuclear technologies into the Soviet conventional military force structure.23 The 1991 Persian Gulf War was the prototype of this future kind of war. It was characterized by the widespread availability of precision, deep-strike delivery systems on land and aboard ships and aircraft, together with a large inventory of extremely lethal conventional munitions directed by sophisticated target-acquisition systems to designated targets under near-continuous surveillance. Soviet experts, for example, stressed repeatedly that the coalition won so quickly, and with minimal losses, because of its “overwhelming superiority in contemporary methods of warfare: in aviation, advanced conventional munitions, and means for reconnaissance, command and control, and electronic warfare.”24 Desert Storm demonstrated that an important advantage of U.S.

forces was their ability to execute complex, orchestrated, hightempo, simultaneous, parallel operations that overwhelmed the enemy’s ability to respond. This advantage was built not only on advanced sensors and advanced conventional munitions, but perhaps more importantly on forces supported by modern command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) systems and technologies that allowed the U.S.-led coalition to collapse previous spatial and temporal constraints on simultaneous operations.


Advanced conventional munitions have made spectacular advances in lethality by linking near-real-time information to precision-guided weapons controlled by digital command and control systems.25 Bombing has become so precise that weapon systems can routinely attack not just the building or the room, but “the corner of the room that will bring everything down—even the vent shaft that will put the bomb inside the shelter.” 26 This may enable us to view the venerable military principle of mass from an entirely different perspective and alter the traditional relationship between the offense and the defense. A defender, equipped with these sophisticated munitions, can now inflict unacceptable casualties on an attacker before the latter 86 In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age can close for battle, while a similarly equipped attacker can likewise reciprocate.27 The sensor revolution, which was enabled by the computerization of individual platforms and weapon systems, complements these advances in weapons lethality. An individual platform—manned or autonomous—can now detect and track individual vehicles, ships, or aircraft well beyond visual range, and provide targeting information on a near-real-time basis to long-range offensive attack systems.

Additionally, these sensors are becoming fully integrated with traditional command and control systems to achieve synergies never before possible. The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and the new E-8A Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft, which couple high-technology sensors and communications with command personnel, are but two examples of this kind of C 3I.

In the past, military commanders have not had the C3I capabilities to manage military forces to the limit of their potential effectiveness.28 They have had to rely on increases in the individual components of combat power—i.e., mass, mobility, reach, and firepower—or the exploitation of an opponent’s failings, to make up for these inadequacies. The associated costs were high not only in resources, but also in organizational distortions and operational constraints. What was often referred to as the “fog of war” is in reality disorder—the inability to maintain unity of action due to shortcomings in the C3I systems. 29 The post-modern battlefield stands to be fundamentally altered by the Information Revolution at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels (if these distinctions even remain valid). The increasing breadth and depth of the battlefield and the inexorably improving accuracy and destructiveness—and therefore lethality—of even conventional munitions have heightened the importance of C3I to the point where dominance in this domain alone may, if exploited properly, yield consistent war-winning advantages.30


While the structural foundations of the post–World War II international system remain in place, there have been profound changes in An Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 87 how this system actually functions. In addition to the dramatic increase in the number of nation-states, there has been a significant change in character of the participants in the international arena.

Nation-states remain the primary actors, but increasingly international organizations such as the United Nations, the European Community, the Organization of American States, and a wide variety of other non-governmental organizations, such as Doctors without Borders, are making their presence felt on the international scene. In addition, transnational actors including the media, religious movements, terrorist groups, drug cartels, and countless others exert considerable influence in international relations. In essence, the world is organizing itself in a series of interconnected networks that, while in contact with each other, are not controlled by any traditional hierarchy. Nation-states find themselves pulled simultaneously in fundamentally opposite directions—toward integration by international security, trade, and social organizations and disintegration by subnational movements that seek to splinter the state.

Furthermore, modern (mostly Western) nations are developing postindustrial, “third wave” economies that are built on information as the fourth critical factor endowment (the others being land, labor, and capital). This trend carries at least three significant implications for the future international security environment.31

• This new factor endowment is dependent neither on unchangeable physical resources nor on large, fixed-capital investments that have long depreciation and pay-back periods. As a result, economic power built on this foundation can be developed far more quickly.

• This source of strength is also far more agile and adaptable, and can respond with shorter time constants to changes in the environment; it may well be capable of greater surprises.

• This factor is also more mobile and potentially more transferable; and power growing from it may be subject to greater diffusion.

Unless Mexico or Canada are suddenly transformed into aggressive regional powers, the U.S. will not, in the foreseeable future, be the direct object of aggression. Therefore, we can expect to fight in conflicts at extended distances, and, with the exception of a regional 88 In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age power that develops weapons of mass destruction coupled with intercontinental delivery systems, without a direct threat to our national survival. Additionally, the collapse of the Soviet Union means that it is unlikely, in the immediate future, that we will face a new security threat of that magnitude.

It is possible that, in the future, few rational opponents will be likely to challenge, or will even be capable of challenging, the U.S. in a contest with large, multi-dimensional military forces. It is certainly conceivable, however, that a future challenger might choose to strike directly against the developing international networks that support the increasing internationalization of trade, culture, and politics.

Such an adversary would seek to destroy not the military power, but rather the underlying fabric of the international system and its core values, especially if these values are fundamentally at odds with deeply held cultural, religious, or ideological beliefs.32


Although we cannot definitively predict the precise course a future conflict might take, we can almost certainly expect a significant broadening of the extent of the battlefield with the operational tempo increasing by yet another order of magnitude to the point that the levels of war—the strategic, operational, and tactical—essentially merge. Lethal, precision-guided munitions will be able to be launched at ever-increasing ranges, often well beyond the visual range of the enemy. Smaller, combined-arms combat formations with advanced indirect- and direct-fire weapons will be able to dominate even larger areas than in the past.33 Furthermore, surprise may become the decisive factor in determining both the “course and outcome” of a war; in fact, these may now be described as “a single phenomenon.” As a result, the initial period may now be in effect the only period in future warfare.34 Operational campaigning under these circumstances must be viewed as an integrated, seamless process in which the time constants of the individual elements are critical to the effectiveness of the overall plan.

Indeed, the analogy between this campaign paradigm to “just-intime” operations and the older campaign model, with its pre-planning, clearly delineated phases, and reliance on reserves, to an inventory-based manufacturing process is noteworthy.35 InventoryAn Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 89 based management and production systems, which are the industrial counterparts to existing military command and control architectures, reflected the high likelihood of both information and control failures in the subsidiary production systems. To deal with these imperfections, industrial manufacturing systems use[d] time and excess resources, i.e., inventories, as the “slack variables.” Not only did this require carrying large stocks of parts and in-process work, but this method of operations also often resulted in the production and maintenance of large inventories of finished products for which there was no longer a demand.36 The traditional military reliance on reserves and redundancy often has been the only method of hedging against operational failures—of overcoming the “fog of war”—by also using time and excess resources as the slack variables. Command and control imperfections increased reliance on pre-planning, thus forfeiting the benefits of the local situational awareness and responsiveness of subordinate commanders to unfolding developments on the battlefield. Under the old limitations on synchronization capabilities, there was no choice but to create hierarchical organizations and processes to enforce centralized direction. Even with pre-planned actions, shortcomings in the supporting information systems did not allow commanders at the top to know, much less fully understand, what was happening.

This made it virtually impossible to exercise effective command and control of ongoing operations.37 Thus, synchronization efforts have been constrained by the availability of what has been, at best, partial information; and shortcomings tended to keep commanders below the level of “understanding.” Modern C3I systems now offer the opportunity to alter the existing command paradigm. The locus of the decisionmaking can be shifted down the command chain to those who must actually execute the overall plan. These subordinate commanders can now share in the global situational awareness provided by worldwide, near-real-time, integrated C 3I systems while at the same time retaining the benefits of local situational awareness.38 This promises a significant advantage on the battlefield to the side that can best accomplish it.

90 In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age


It is certain that careful implementation of the RMA will be needed since revolutions are, by nature of their potential for dramatic operational and organizational changes, antithetical to the cultural norms of existing bureaucratic structures. Detailed theories of innovation relating specifically to military organizations have only recently emerged, but it has long been the conventional wisdom that only catastrophic military defeat can move a military organization to embrace innovation. 39 No one experienced in dealing with military bureaucracies could possibly doubt that innovation in the military sphere is extremely difficult; however, there are many instances where military innovation was preceded by victory, not defeat. The interwar period is a case in point.40 Despite this, the historical tendency of military organizations has been to use new capabilities to support existing missions, and to oppose new capabilities that threaten existing missions.41 For real innovation to occur, the doctrinal and operational implications of new capabilities must be translated by senior officers into new critical military tasks and missions for the entire organization.42 This takes time, typically a generation or more, to effect.


The renowned British strategist, J.F.C. Fuller, argued that with each change in weapons, organizations and tactics must also change.

Then a determination must be made as to the most dominant weapon around which to arrange the employment of other weapons.

It is important to note that it is not necessary for the “master weapon” to be the decisive weapon on the battlefield. Its qualifications for mastery are found in its ability to immobilize or upset the enemy’s tactics and so enable other weapons to be decisively used.

In short, it sets the tactical pace.43 The key to exploiting this revolution in military affairs will be correctly identifying what system constitutes the “master weapon” in this new era.

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