The Significance of the Information Age

Despite the apparent recognition that information warfare is the next revolutionary technology, there remain fundamental disagreements among individuals, groups and nations about the significance of the Information Age in general and information warfare in particular. Some of the traditionalists in the military see IW as simply part of an evolutionary process that began with the longbow and has continued through gunpowder and repeating rifles, guided missiles and stealth technology. For those on the evolutionary wing, IW is both a promise and a threat. IW may allow for better use of existing forces but if it develops too far, it may threaten the very existence of those forces.

The real revolutionaries believe that for countries like the United States, IW offers the possibility of fighting and winning wars without the commitment of troops on the ground -- something that is considered heresy to military historians, who argue that troops will always be needed to take and hold ground. The revolutionaries argue that even the very definition of "ground" is changing as the world migrates from earth to cyberspace.

A conventional military view would suggest that information is simply a message or set of messages that flows from commanders to their troops and back again. In the context of information warfare, disrupting the flow can have a critical impact on the course of a war. But information is also a medium or glue that holds systems together. For example, a modern Abrams tank has fifty microprocessors, many of which talk to each other and are dependent on each other to work effectively. Disrupt their ability to communicate -- destroy the medium -- and the system becomes ineffective.

Finally, information can also be the actions taken to obtain intelligence from an opponent's information flows or databases. For example, the CIA might use computers to go inside the database of a criminal gang in Moscow to obtain the organisation's financial records. The information gathered from that operation could be exploited to help combat global organised crime.

Information warfare therefore seems to break down into three distinct pieces: perception management where information is the message, systems destruction where information is the medium, and information exploitation where information is an opponent's resource to be targeted.

Making full use of today's information revolution implies not only adopting new technologies but also rethinking the very bases of military organization, doctrine, and strategy. All this requires reformulation in order to fulfill Clausewitz's exhortation that 'knowledge must become capability' in the information age. The information revolution is not simply technological in nature; it has powerful conceptual and organizational dimensions as well. The new meanings of power and information...favor the argument that wars and other conflicts in the information age will revolve as much around organizational as technological factors.

The struggle confronting modern societies is how to incorporate the opportunities presented by information warfare while holding on to the foundations that have made societies and cultures function effectively. The scale of this challenge is enormous and the stakes just as large, for as the information revolution gathers pace, so information warfare in all its aspects can threaten us all. Just how this struggle will be resolved is unclear and will probably not become clear for some years.

The Chief of the Russian General Staff, Marshal Ogarkov used the phrase the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) over two decades ago to point out the impact of technology on future warfare. His writings and those of other Russian military theorists on the RMA are proving to be very prophetic. Ogarkov in the mid-70s correctly envisioned the type of warfare that was demonstrated in Desert Storm. Russian military theorists are evaluating not only the impact of computer viruses, but also all other types of information weapons, logic bombs, special microbes, and micro-chipping. They are also studying the impact of other new technologies (such as precision-guided munitions, third-generation nuclear weapons, and weapons based on new physical principle.
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