Yesterday, I accidentally stumbled over an article, which was written on June 10, 2017 by Steve Banach, a retired Colonel who served the United States Army from 1983 to 2010. The article (see: https://information-professionals.org/category/blog/) referred besides others to what the US military calls the „5th Revolution in Army“.
According to Steve Banach and I cite „The U.S. military has framed and named four Revolutions in Military Affairs (RMAs) in the past 118 years. These RMAs included the Root Reforms circa 1899 to 1904, the 1919 to 1939 Interwar Period Reforms, the Post-Vietnam Reforms and the Post-Desert Storm/Desert Shield precision strike advancements. There is now an evolving 5th RMA that has been thrust upon the U.S. government and its military establishment, and it has yet to be framed and named. The newest RMA emerged over the past 28 years (note: since 1989). The 5th RMA’s asymmetric and technological advancements are exponentially more powerful than any of the previous paradigms that have changed the schema for waging war over the past century.“ Note: Another systemic model classifies „information“ as the 5th dimension of warfare in addition to „land“, „sea“, „air“ and „space“.
Steve Banach states in the first sentence of his article that „The ability to generate global influence by maneuvering one civilian population against another, along Virtual Battle Space Avenues of Approach, to produce catastrophic physical effects is a significant transformational change for warfare“ and he differentiates in course of his arcticle between the traditional „Physical Battle Space Maneuver (PBSM) and the disruptive „Virtual Battle Space Maneuver (VBSM)“
While I fully agree to Mr. Banach’s observation that „the advancements brought by digital disruption to warfare are more powerful than any of the previous paradigms that have changed the schema for waging war over the past century“, I would like to point out that this observation applies as well for the „war agains terror“ or the „fight against crime“. The borderlines between all three areas have been und will continue to be blurred by digital disruption (I will come back to this fundamental change at the end of this article).
You don’t have to think of sensation-seeking scenarios with „combat robots“ or „combat androids“, robotic technology which improves a human soldiers‘ physical or mental capabilities or autonomous intelligent driving tanks, planes or ships (to provide at least the latter is not a serious technological problem any more). Beyond these martial scenarios there is a number of interesting theoretical options, which are obvious, when thinking about digital warfare. Cyber warriors may be able to e.g.:
- perform sabotage by deactivating or at least violating an enemy’s basic infrastructure e.g. for energy (electricity, oil, gas), water, communication, or healthcare by utilizing malware such as the Stuxnet computer worm or ransomware (as already happened in course of the most recent „Wanacry“ incident)
- switch-off or destroy any kind of electronic devices used by the enemy through predetermined breaking points, e.g. microchips, fuses, simple cables, or most likely backdoors in software programs
- hamstring the enemy’s ability to gather a realistic picture on the as-is situation e.g. by manipulating information provided by reconnaissance satellites, planes or drones
- deactivate an enemy’s weapon systems or even worse take control over an enemy’s weapon systems and utilize them against the enemy itself (this includes remotely controlled drones and weapon carriers at land, sea and in space)
- disturb the chain of command by pretending that they are part of your military force and as such placing fake commands or that you are part of the enemy’s military force and your commands are unauthorized (false labeling)
Much more important than these tactical/operational scenarios is the strategic impact of digital disruption on warfare. From my perspective as an expert for strategic IT and organization management without any military education or background, digital disruption has a number of consequences or even paradigm shifts for warfare, which are not obvious at a first glance. Major examples:
- 1st Paradigm Shift: Not the nation with the most powerful military forces and most innovative and dangerous weapon systems will be the dominant global player, but the nation with the most powerful cyber warfare capabilities. Important side note: These cyber warfare capabilities can be developed even by nations with limited financial and economic power (whoever you may think of).
- 2nd Paradigm Shift: It may not be nations (USA vs. Russia vs. China) which wage wars against each other, instead it may be non-governmental organizations in a wider sense, such as activists (who use cybercrime to promote their political and ideological mission), criminals (including providers of crime-as-a-service), private international corporations and conglomerates (e.g. due to economic competition), foreign Intelligence Agencies (the famous „Russian hackers“), religious or tribal fanatics (e.g. Al Qaida, Islamic State) or just skilled individuals who are driven by a certain ideology (including your own staff members). Mid to long term even robots armed with artificial intelligence could be potential enemies of the future, if they are able to develop their own awareness.
- 3rd Paradigm Shift: Backdoors and other predetermined breaking-points can always be leveraged in both directions: either to catch and convict an enemy or to provide unauthorized access for this enemy to your infrastructure or weapon systems. Very important note: What can be misused will be misused sooner or later!
- 4th Paradigm Shift: The same logic applies for immoral or unethical behavior of public authorities (including mass surveillance or economic espionage), which will sooner or later turn against the initiator, since there will always be idealistic whistleblowers. Even worse, complaining about these whistleblowers will be perceived by the public as hypocritical and dishonest and will seriously harm the initiator’s reputation.
- 5th Paradigm Shit: In cyber warfare offensive capabilities are not necessarily identical with defensive capabilities – and you need both capabilities to be prepared.
This list is certainly not complete, however it already shows a significant need for action, since the borderlines between police, intelligence services and military will continue to be blurred. Mid-term an organizational separation won’t even make sense any more. With regard to cyber warfare all of these organizations will only keep their right to exist, if they are able to leave their old-fashioned and outdated thinking behind them and build up the necessary offensive and defensive capabilities against any kind of attackers. From a government’s perspective it doesn’t make sense to spend the money threefoldly. Any nation needs only one „cyber warfare center“ – but this needs to be world class.
Colonel (Ret.) Steve Banach concludes in his blog that policy, legal and organizational constraints need to be removed in order to allow better access of the intelligence agencies e.g. to Social Media Data. In addition he requests that „the United States needs to create a new Center for Cognitive Security, the goal of which is to create and apply the tools needed to discover and maintain fundamental models of our ever-changing IE and to defend us in that environment, both collectively and as individuals.“ I explicitly disagree with this conclusion, since I strongly believe in Benjamin Franklin’s quote „Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety“. In addition I think Edward Snowden has made a strong point when saying: „Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like arguing that you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say“.
P.S.: A quite inspiring video, which describes the potential impact of digital disruption on warfare can be found here: https://www.ted.com/talks/rodrigo_bijou_governments_don_t_understand_cyber_warfare_we_need_hackers