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Institute for National

StrategicStudies

 


WHAT IS INFORMATION WARFARE?

MARTIN LIBICKI

Chapter 4

Intelligence-Based Warfare

IBW occurs when intelligence is fed directly into operations (notably, targeting and battle damage assessment), rather than used as an input for overall command and control. In contrast to the other forms of warfare discussed so far, IBW results directly in the application of steel to target (rather than corrupted bytes). As sensors grow more acute and reliable, as they proliferate in type and number, and as they become capable of feeding fire-control systems in real time and near-real time, the task of developing, maintaining, and exploiting systems that sense the battlespace, assess its composition, and send the results to shooters assumes increasing importance for tomorrow's militaries.

Despite differences in cognitive methods and purpose, systems that collect and disseminate information acquired from inanimate systems can be attacked and confounded by methods that are effective on C2 systems. Although the purposes of situational awareness (an intelligence attribute) and battlespace visibility (a targeting attribute) are different, the means by which each is realized are converging.

Offensive IBW

Sharp increases in the ratio of power to price of information technologies, in particular those concentrated on distributed systems, suggest new architectures for gathering and distributing information.

Platforms that host operator, sensor, and weapon together will give way to distributed systems in which each element is separate but linked electronically. The local-decision loops of industrial age warfare (e.g., a tank gunner uses infrared [IR] sights to detect a target and fire an accurate round) will yield to global loops (e.g., a target is detected through a fusion of sensor readings, the operator fires a remotely piloted missile to a calculated location). Because networking permits the logging of all readings and subsequent findings (some more correct than others), it can generate lessons learned more efficiently than a system that depends on voluntary human reporting. Note 16

The evolution of IBW may be understood as a shift in what intelligence is useful for. Traditionally, the commander uses intelligence to gauge the disposition, location, and general intentions of the other side. The object of intelligence is to prevent surprise -- a known component of information warfare -- and to permit the commander to shape battle plans. Good intelligence allows coordination of operations; great intelligence allows coherence, which is a higher level of synchrony. Note 17 The goals of intelligence are met when battle is joined; when one side understands its tasks and is prepared to carry them out while the other reels from confusion and shock -- thus, situational awareness.

Today's information systems reveal far more than yesterday's could, permitting a degree of knowledge about the battlespace that accords with situational awareness. The side that can see the other side's tank column coming can dispose itself more favorably for an encounter. The side that can see each tank and pinpoint its location to within the effective radius of an incoming warhead can avoid engaging the other side directly but can fire munitions to a known, continually updated set of points from stand-off distances. This shift in intelligence from preparing a battlefield to mastering a battlefield is reflected in newly formed reporting chains for this kind of information. Although the direct reporting chain to the national command authority will continue, new channels to successively lower echelons (and, eventually, to the weapons themselves) are being etched. An apparent loss in status perceived by the intelligence apparatus (thus one resisted) is turning out to offer a large gain in functionality.

Tomorrow's battlefield environment will feature a mixed architecture of sensors at various levels of coverage and resolution that collectively illuminate it thoroughly. In order to lay out what may become a complex architecture, sensors can be separated into four groups: (i) far stand-off sensors (mostly space but also seismic and acoustic sensors); (ii) near stand-off sensors (e.g., unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] with multispectral, passive microwave, synthetic aperture radar [SAR], and electronic intelligence [elint] capabilities, as well as similarly equipped offshore buoys and surface-based radar); (iii) in-place sensors (e.g., acoustic, gravimetric, biochemical, ground-based optical); and (iv) weapons sensors (e.g., IR, reflected radar, and light-detection and ranging [lidar]). This complexity illustrates the magnitude and complexity of the task for those who would evade detailed surveillance. Most forms of deception work against one or two sensors -- smoke works for some, radar-reflecting paint for others, quieting for yet others -- but fooling overlapping and multivariate coverage is considerably more difficult.

The task of assessing what individual sensor technologies will have to offer over the next decade or so is relatively straightforward; globally available technologies will come in many types for use by all. The task of translating readings into militarily useful data is more difficult and calls for analysis of individual outputs, effective fusion of disparate readings, and, ultimately, integration of them into seamless, cue-filter-pinpoint systems. If the Army's demonstration facilities at Ft. Huachuca Note 18 are indicative, the United States has done a good job of manually integrating sensor readings in preparation for the next step -- which is automatic integration. Automation removes the labor-intensive search of terrain through soda straws and takes advantage of silicon's ability to double in speed every two years. Automatic integration will depend, in part, on the progress (always difficult to predict) of artificial intelligence (AI).

Defensive IBW

Equally difficult to predict (or to recognize when they succeed) are defenses developed to preserve invisibility or, at least, widen the distance between image and reality on the battlefield. IBW systems can be attacked in several ways. On one hand, an enemy would be well advised to make great efforts against U.S. sensor aircraft (such as AWACS or JSTARS). On the other, using sensors that are too cheap to kill may be wiser (e.g., it is expensive to throw a $10,000 missile against a $1,000 sensor). Sensors can also be attacked by disabling the systems they use (e.g., hacker warfare), and their systems can be overridden or corrupted (e.g., EW). Note 19

The most interesting defense, in relation to likely opponents of the United States in the next ten or twenty years, would be to use a variant of the traditional cover (concealment) and deception with an admixture of stealth. Note 20 When sensor readings are technically accurate (that is, when the readings reflect reality), countering IBW requires distorting the links between what sensors read and what the sensor systems conclude.

In high-density realms (e.g., urban areas, villages crowded together, forests, mountains, jungles, and brown water) counterstrategies may rely on the exploitation or multiplication of the confusing clutter. Note 21 In realms where the assets of daily civilian commercial life are abundant, military assets would need to be chosen so they could be confused with civilian assets (which tend to be more numerous and less directly relevant to the war effort and so are not such valuable targets -- contrary rules of engagement notwithstanding).

Decoys, broadly defined, will probably be popular, on the theory that hiding a tree in a forest may be more practical than surrounding it with an obvious brick wall. The success of such measures will vary with the architecture of the IBW systems they are designed to fool. Systems based on multiple and overlapping sectors are more difficult to elude than single-sensor systems.

For the foreseeable future, battlefield sensors will not be able to look at all information at the same time in sufficient detail. Note 22 Thus, the sensor system will need to use a combination of cuing, filtering, and pinpointing (e.g., as a JSTARS system does to indicate a group of moving vehicles so UAVs can be dispatched to identify each of them). What sensors would be assigned which functions? Would ambient sensors (e.g., acoustic, biochemical) be used to cue while electro-optical ones pinpoint? Would IR readings be used for cuing, neural with net devices as filters and ambient sensors as discriminators? Which sensor readings would be discarded as least reliable? How would the system compensate for areas of relatively weak coverage?

An object may look like a duck, walk like a duck, but honk like a goose; which is it? By carefully offering fowl for examination by the other side and then noting which are classified as ducks and which as geese, defenders may be yielded a clue to how an observing system draws conclusions. Conversely, an observing system observed may deliberately let ducks dressed as geese go free to promote an illusion of its own inability to distinguish between the them. This is an old technique in the game of intelligence: IBW inserts the ethos, tendencies, and practices of intelligence Note 23 insistently into the battlefield.

Information technology can be viewed as a valuable contributor to the art of finding targets; it can also be viewed as merely a second-best system to use when the primary target detection devices -- a soldier up close -- are too scarce, expensive, and vulnerable to be used this way. Open environments (tomorrow's free-fire zones) aside, whether high-tech finders will necessarily always emerge triumphant over low-tech hiders remains unclear.

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