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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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In future warfare, the struggle for information will play a central role, taking the place, perhaps, of the struggle for geographical position held in previous conflicts. Information superiority is emerging as a newly recognized, and more intense, area of competition. In reAn Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 91 sponse to these developments, C3I systems must be designed to provide commanders at all levels the information and communications needed to direct the dispersion or concentration of their forces and, more importantly, weapons’ effects at the decisive point in time and space.

It may now be time to design the command and control system first, based on the full range of technological possibilities, and then select individual weapons systems for acquisition based upon our ability most effectively to integrate them into this C 3I system. This is not as far-fetched as it might at first seem. Throughout history, successful military organizations have based their organization and battlefield formations on existing command and control technologies. In a sense, it is the soldiers of the modern age who are out of step with history, acquiring weapons systems and platforms based principally on their mechanical capabilities, then improvising a command and control system that barely meets battlefield requirements.44 The ability of the U.S. to construct and amortize a global information network as the foundation of such a command and control system is the principal source of long-term advantage over potential adversaries. 45 While constructing this system will be expensive, the U.S.

has already made much of the necessary research and development investment to lay the foundation for these future capabilities. Moreover, many of the important components of such a future system (e.g., the Global Positioning System, worldwide communications, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, etc.) are already in place.

It is this global C3I system that will be the master weapon of the twenty-first century.

C3I systems by themselves, however, do not fight and win wars. The weapons of tomorrow must be designed to take advantage of the possibilities offered by this global system. In fact, the era of precision-strike weapons systems that require both absolute (i.e., latitude and longitude) and relative (i.e., bearing, range, course, and speed) positioning information has already arrived.46 An important feature of this RMA is that the supporting technologies are the same as those being rapidly developed in the commercial world. Thus, this revolution can be based on technologies that are also critical for our success and comparative advantage in the global 92 In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age economy. A sound national security investment strategy would focus resources not only on the acquisition of a small number of largescale, global systems or networks to provide surveillance and targeting information, but also on inexpensive weapons that can be directed by this system. These investments would provide both a significant operational advantage during the short-term, and a flexible foundation on which to build for longer-term, but uncertain security challenges.47


The primary impact of the Information Revolution is to push the envelope of the decision-making speed-limit, i.e., the speed of thought.

The result of these technological advances is that the time required to take action on the battlefield is becoming increasingly limited by the speed at which the human in the loop can make a tactical decision.48 In the past, decisions were made at a given command level because only that level had the requisite information to make the appropriate decision. But now, everyone in the chain of command can have access to the same information at essentially the same time. This has important consequences, for both good and ill. Now the President can select bombing targets in North Vietnam and direct helicopters in Iran from the White House, or he may sleep through the night while Libya is bombed. A commander now has to know when to give an order and when to hang up the telephone and let the organization execute the plan he has devised.49 For action-oriented people, as senior military officers often are, the decision to do nothing is often the hardest to make.


The future shape of military organizations was glimpsed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The dependence of modern military organizations on tremendous amounts of information, and the relative ease with which communications technology can disseminate that information, meant that supporting authority would inevitably diffuse out of theater of operations. Now, commanders can tap the expertise of large staffs and other organizations thousands of miles away to forAn Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 93 mulate plans for actions to be taken during the next several hours.

Central Command’s formal organizational scheme did not explicitly acknowledge this, but the command system rapidly became dependent on informal, ad hoc arrangements.50 This was not an aberration, but is representative of a trend that will only accelerate in the future.

This trend should not be resisted, but rather embraced and leveraged to our advantage. Implementing this information-based RMA will require that capabilities for the command and control of simultaneous, continuous operations be increased and that the current distinctions between these types of operations be eliminated. Moreover, shortening the time-constants for decision and action will require the decentralization of command authority, and a concomitant relaxation of control downward from top of the command pyramid. Many of the innovations portended by the Information Revolution are already reflected in changes in the organizational structures and decision processes found in the commercial sector, including changes in the role of management and the locus of decision-making in commercial organizations. These changes are intended to dramatically improve the speed of both decision and execution, which are increasingly viewed as the key elements of competitive advantage. 51 Waging war in the post-modern era will require major innovations in organizational design, in particular a shift from hierarchical to network structures. The traditional reliance on hierarchical designs must be replaced with network-oriented models to allow greater flexibility, lateral connectivity, and teamwork across institutional boundaries.52 In light of both the reduced costs of information gathering and distribution and the resultant increase in the capability to disseminate real-time information to dispersed consumers, we must rethink the current organizational structures designed under the old span-of-control and information processing constraints. Organizational concepts for increasing combat power that demanded massing and concentration of forces will have to be examined in light of the new opportunities to combine and synchronize disparate elements at low frictional costs; the commercial sector concept of the “virtual corporation” has obvious parallels for this military restructuring.53 94 In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age Beyond these command and control issues, the rapidly expanding operational capabilities of military forces are also challenging the traditional division of labor—the “roles and missions”—of the military services. The further that surveillance and reconnaissance systems can see and weapons systems can shoot, the greater the zone of influence—and interest—of the commanders that control them. The result is that service-specific “battlespaces” increasingly intersect with each other, and will eventually merge. 54 The coming changes cannot help but have a significant impact on the current organizational paradigm.

CONCLUSION Previous revolutions in military affairs have primarily served to enhance the combat power of military forces by improving the effectiveness of its constituent elements, i.e., mass, mobility, reach, and firepower. Although today’s Information Revolution is not a revolution in military affairs, per se, it is the foundation on which one can be built. The current RMA results not from the quantity or even quality of information in and of itself, but rather from a combined revolution in higher order cognitive processes and command and control capabilities. As Desert Storm so vividly demonstrated, this revolution promises (or threatens, depending on your point of view) to restore the capacity to achieve decisive results on the battlefield, the Clausewitzian coup de main, and to do so in a remarkably short period time.

Fortunately, the U.S. is well-positioned to take advantage of this revolution; its constituent elements are our greatest comparative strengths. As noted earlier, the U.S. is the only nation with the ability to construct and amortize a truly global information network. Such a network can provide the foundation for a significant comparative advantage over potential adversaries for many years to come. To reiterate J.F.C. Fuller’s observation, it is around this “master weapon” that we should “arrange for the cooperation of all other weapons.” This is not to suggest that traditional elements of military power are now obsolete. We must continue to be prepared to deal with lowertechnology challenges of the variety that have historically given us the greatest difficulty.55 An Information-Based Revolution in Military Affairs 95 The coming changes mirror those taking place in the commercial sector as the economic paradigm shifts from the traditional, hierarchical corporation to amorphous networks of cooperative workgroups and even individuals. The blurring of distinctions between management and labor, “physical” and “intellectual” capital, and foreign and domestic markets in the economic sphere parallels the blurring of distinctions between offense and defense and the collapsing of the strategic, operational and tactical levels in the military sphere. Profound changes are taking place that will significantly alter the way we prepare for and wage war. We would be well advised to anticipate these changes and leverage them to our advantage to preserve our security in a dangerous, unpredictable world.

NOTES 1 As Secretary of Defense William Perry noted on May 5, 1994: “We live in an age that is driven by information. It’s an age which Alvin Toffler has called the Third Wave. The ability to acquire and communicate huge volumes of information in real time, the computing power to analyze this information quickly, and the control systems to pass this analysis to multiple users simultaneously—these are the technological breakthroughs that are changing the face of war and how we prepare for war.” Quoted in “Information Warfare,” Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3 I) (Washington, DC, July 1994), p. 4A.

2 “Information is becoming a strategic resource that may prove as valuable and influential in the post-industrial era as capital and labor have been in the preceding industrial age.” John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar is Coming” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND 1992), p. 2. This article also appeared in the April–June 1993 issue of Comparative Strategy.

3 Particularly with regard to the “exceptional lethality gained by linking real-time information to precision-guided weapons and controlling them with digital command and control.” Lt. Col. Thomas X. Hammes, USMC, “The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation,” Marine Corps Gazette, September 1994, p. 35.

4 See, for example, Michael J. Mazarr, et al., The Military Technical Revolution: A Structural Framework (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993).

5 RMAs are intrinsically complex phenomena, i.e., more than just new technology.

One view holds that they are made up of four component elements: “operational innovation, organizational adaptation, evolving military systems, as well as emerging technologies.” Jeffrey R. Cooper, “Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs” (Arlington, VA: SRS Technologies, June 1993), p. 21. Unpublished manuscript; cited with permission of the author.

6 Lt. Leo S. Mackay, Jr., USN, “Naval Aviation, Information, and the Future,” Naval War College Review, Spring 1992, p. 7.

7 This adaptation and exploitation is particularly difficult for large, bureaucratic institutions since revolutions are, by nature of the extensive organizational and operaIn Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age tional changes involved, antithetical to existing cultural norms and bureaucratic structures. Cooper, “Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs,” p. 23.

8 Ibid., p. 23.

9 Arquilla and Ronfeldt, “Cyberwar is Coming,” p. 18.

10“Changes in tactics have not only taken place after changes in weapons... but the interval between such changes has been unduly long. It can be remedied only by a candid recognition of each change.... History shows that it is vain to hope that military men generally will be at pains to do this, but that the one who does will go into battle with a great advantage—a lesson in itself of no mean value.” Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660–1783 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1957), p. 8.

11“For example, if an RMA involves a fundamental shift from an attrition paradigm to one in which speed of execution is as important, then it should follow that the dimension of measurement should shift as well from questions of ‘how many killed’ to ‘how quickly’.” Cooper, “Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs,” p. 24.

12Martin van Creveld, Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present (New York:

Free Press, 1989). This is by no means the only conceptual framework that has been proposed. See, e.g., William S. Lind et al., “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” Military Review, October 1989; and Robert J. Bunker, “The Transition to Fourth Epoch War,” Marine Corps Gazette, September 1994.

13The ultimate result of this military revolution was no less important; it provided not just the ability to “conquer a neighbor, but to seize a continent—or in more modern terms, the means to wage a theater-wide campaign.” Cooper, “Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs,” pp. 15–16. Emphasis in original.

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