Information Dominance

By Libicki, Martin C. | Strategic Forum, November 1997 | Go to article overview

Information Dominance


Libicki, Martin C., Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Information dominance may be defined as superiority in the generation, manipulation, and use of information sufficient to afford its possessors military dominance.

* It has three sources:

--Command and control that permits everyone to know where they (and their cohorts) are in the battlespace, and enables them to execute operations when and as quickly as necessary.

--Intelligence that ranges from knowing the enemy's dispositions to knowing the location of enemy assets in real-time with sufficient precision for a one-shot kill.

--Information warfare that confounds enemy information systems at various points (sensors, communications, processing, and command), while protecting one's own.

Technical means, nevertheless, are no substitute for information dominance at the strategic level: knowing oneself and one's enemy; and, at best, inducing them to see things as one does.

The Role of Information

It is now widely accepted within the U.S. Department of Defense that its military capabilities will be decisive to the extent that the United States can enjoy information dominance over its foes extant and potential. Behind this simple formulation, however, is a set of complex interrelationships between knowledge and action. Information has always been part of conflict, but in times past it has been almost entirely at the human level: who is my enemy, what are his intentions, what can I see and hear of him, and how can I best confound him. Today, human-level analog information is being supplemented by a wealth (perhaps a flood) of machine generated information that can be further processed and distributed through electronic means. Although the United States sees itself as second to none in the quality and training of its manpower, its status as a leader in the production and use of digital information is what undergirds its claim to information dominance.

Information dominance may be defined as superiority in the generation, manipulation, and use of information sufficient to afford its possessors military dominance. But information dominance per se is not particularly meaningful, for three reasons. First, unlike air combat, where one air force can keep another one grounded (e.g., Coalition forces in the Gulf War), information power on one side does not prevent its use on the other (with some specialized exceptions such as radio-electronic combat).

Second, every side to a conflict has its own requirement for information depending on its strategy, operations, and tactics. A modern (information age) force needs more information just to function than does a pre-modern force. In Somalia, the United States enjoyed information superiority at the tactical level--its forces could see objects from great distances. But, its insight at the operational level and the political level was inferior to what its adversaries enjoyed.

Third, as Sun Tzu observed 2500 years ago, the most important knowledge one can bring to the battlefield is knowledge of self (what one wants, why, and how badly), and second, a corresponding insight of the other side. Human knowledge forges strategy; machine knowledge produces tactics. Poor strategy can rarely be saved by tactical information superiority.

Information superiority can be analyzed in terms of three elements: command and control, intelligence, and information warfare.

Command and Control

In Command in War, (1987, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA) Professor Martin Van Creveld identified the primary problem of command and control as knowing where one's forces were (and secondarily, in what shape). John Boyd, a U.S. fighter pilot, posited that conflict was a matter of observing the battlespace, orienting yourself in it, deciding what to do, and doing it (his Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) loop); those who could run the cycle better and faster would win. …

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