Academic journal article Military Review

Infosphere Threats

Academic journal article Military Review

Infosphere Threats

Article excerpt

ON 3 JULY 1988, the USS Vincennes, located in the Persian Gulf, picked up an Iranian plane on its Aegis system radar. Seven minutes later, the ship's Phalanx gun system blew the plane from the sky. The aircraft turned out to be a civilian airliner and not an F-14 as indicated by the Aegis system. One analysis of the incident noted that "the U.S., and by extension other countries using high-tech weapons, may have become prisoners of a technology so speedy and complex that it forces the fallible humans who run it into snap decisions that can turn into disaster."1

This unfortunate incident highlighted some of the emerging problems of the information age: first, the inability of analysts and equipment to visualize the intent of electronic images often causes an inaccurate operator "perception-reaction" response; second, a dangerous game of digital roulette results from the inability of software's embedded scenarios to handle all of the anomalies and asymmetric options that develop, by design or otherwise; and third, the impact of electronic input can overwhelm the human dimension of decision making. The analysis suggests the need for a "military software science" to help understand these new phenomena. Such a science would provide a better interpretation and forecast of the scenarios that countries embed in their military software and improve our response posture.

Implications of the Switch to a Digitized Force

Force XXI's digitization represents a massive shift away from analog representation data. Analog systems process continuous voltage amplitudes and are costly and specially designed, causing difficulties when sharing information with other systems. Digital systems use rapidly switching "on" or "off states of binary "1" or "0" as data representations. Digital technology permits a vast decrease in electronic hardware's size and cost and it allows processing in software rather than hardware. The digital format's resulting flexibility explains our increased reliance on it.

The underlying commonality in all digital signal processing hardware and the ready ability to convert formats and process the information by using software have caused the explosion in information sharing among digital systems. But it is this very ease of transmission, extensive processing, changing software and widespread digital data sharing that make intrusion both possible and frightening. If intrusion and corruption succeed, stability disappears and the software's Is and Os start failing into unpredictable places, much as the ball that lands unpredictably on a spinning roulette wheel number. If the scenarios embedded in the software are unable to handle unexpected anomalies deliberately introduced by an opponent, stability could suffer.2 Nations play this game of digital roulette every day with the software in their advanced warning systems, rockets and satellites. Such a game could result in some serious mishaps or instigate some catastrophic chain reactions of events. For example, what would happen if one side could project false radar blips on a joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) in a manner so realistic, extensive and threatening that a potential opponent expends an arsenal of cruise and other precision- guided missles on the illusory threat? Could it result in command and control decisions that put nuclear forces in a rady-to-launch status once other assets are exhausted? The world could be thrust on a computer display. There are no guarantees that all cultures and nations will include "fail safe" rules in their software to guard against such an accidental launch.

A programmer writes code to fulfill a task but as Ellen Ullman noted, "it is a task as a human sees it: full of unexpressed knowledge, implicit associations, allusions to allusions. Its coherence comes from knowledge structures deep in the body, from experience, memory."' Human knowledge mechanisms, as they relate to culture, language and the means of expression, are quite complex. …

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