Information Warfare: Protecting Force Sustainment

by Chief Warrant Officer TwoThomas M. ReardonUSA, (Retired)

In the critically acclaimed book, The First Information War, contributing editor Colonel Alan Campen USAF, (Retired) emphasizes two key points in the book's preface:1
  • The outcome of the Persian Gulf War relied as much on the superior management of knowledge as it did upon performance of people or weapons.
  • History would overlook, misunderstand, misrepresent or perhaps deprecate the key role played by information systems and the people who built them. Colonel Campen went on to state in his preface that
    Western society and its military components have come to regard information as a utility; ubiquitous, commonly shared, commonly financed, uncommonly reliable, and always available or almost always...forgotten are those infrequent but terrifying moments when global finance or air traffic control networks are halted by momentary lapses in computer or human behavior [emphasis added by author].2
    The technical accuracy of Colonel Campen's circa 1992 assertions may be subject to some debate within the profession of arms and the automation community. The spirit in which he offered them must be considered as the Army (and the world) moves forward into the age of information. Colonel Campen did not intend to downplay the vital role of the combat soldier the warrior in the success of Operation DESERT STORM. To the soldier or Marine on the ground, "war" has only one meaning with very tangible consequences. Predictions of warfare by exclusive use of computers to cripple national or global economies and infrastructure in lieu of the acquisition of ground by Joint Task Forces ("software over steel"3) remains futuristic. This observation regarding the key role of information systems may be subject to discussion since the information support aspect of the Gulf war was viewed as a success. This view may lead us into a false sense of security regarding future operations.
    While understanding the human side of closing with the enemy by use of fire-and-movement and fire-and-maneuver, we must take Colonel Campen's words to heart as the "Third Wave"4 described by Alvin and Heidi Toffler proceeds globally with the force of a virtual tidal wave. Intellectually, this concept seems simple. Computers are here and now, the Army will depend upon them more and more in the future, and we have to account for this change, somehow, in our doctrine and policy.

    Information Operations Doctrine

    TRADOC has recognized that the experiences of the Persian Gulf War and the reality of the information age requires the development of new doctrine. In an accelerated effort that has reduced timelines from years to months, TRADOC has published FM 100-6, Information Operations, dated 27 August 1996. In the manual's introductory segment, TRADOC recognizes that the Army is
    embracing a new era (the so-called "Information Age") characterized by the accelerating growth of information, information sources, and information dissemination capabilities supported by information technology.5
    We identify this new era as "offering unique opportunities as well as some formidable challenges."6 These challenges include the "almost always" availability of information services mentioned by Colonel Campen (instead of the "on demand or just in time" assertions made by requirements documents) and the "terrifying moments" described by Colonel Campen.
    In addition to new doctrine, we must foster new attitudes and beliefs. We focus attention on prosecuting the immediate battle on the ground through the use of high-technology sensors and other information systems in direct support of the warfighter. Perhaps the most "terrifying moments" will occur in the logistics trail that supports the Army's ability to sustain, maintain, and transport the warfighters. "Steel on target" will remain a critical element of modern warfare. Supply and logistics will remain an equally critical element, as it was during the campaigns of Alexander the Great. A special focus on this logistics "tail" must occur during military planning in the age of information especially during exercises and war games where far too often resupply is a "given."

    Automated Logistics and Supply Tracking

    Using Operation DESERT STORM as an example, the Tofflers related in their book, War and Anti-War, that the U.S. Army was able to track via the use of computers and satellites the huge amounts of logistics required to sustain the force. The numbers are staggering from Operations DESERT SHIELD through DESERT FAREWELL where the Army -7
    This tracking was done in a fashion similar to the method used by large commercial shipping companies such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service to keep tabs on hundreds of tons of freight shipped each day all over the world. This success enabled Lieutenant General William Pagonis to state that "...this (was) the first war in modern times where every screwdriver, every nail (was) accounted for."8 Certainly one may view the accountability of individual tools and nails as "overkill." The contextual meaning of the remarks by General Schwartzkopf's logistics officer (J4) is both clear and anticipated: computers make the monumental task of sustaining warfighters in a power projection scenario workable and realistic and anticipated. Without reliable automated information systems, the concept of power would no doubt require a relook. Without a doubt, our potential adversaries are not overlooking this dependence on the "reliability" of U.S. automated information systems. The objective of these adversaries is most certainly to turn "reliable" into "not reliable," and thus order into chaos.

    Threat to Information Systems

    The term "reliable" goes beyond the context of efficient operation according to standards, both mechanical and human. This term must also account for reliable operation under the stress of information warfare (IW) or "a large structured attack with strategic intent against the United States could be prepared and exercised under the guise of unstructured activities."9 Given that a significant amount of U.S. Army communications (voice and data) travel over the public switched network (to include commercial leased satellites), we cannot discount national IW issues as being out of the Army's "lane." More than 100 nations have an IW capability, and more than 50 are known to target the United States.10 For example, Chinese military leaders have concluded that victory in any future war will ultimately depend on the capability of the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) to effectively wage IW in all phases of the conflict (not limited to command and control (C2)).11 This lack of limitations indicates an appreciation by the PLA (and certainly by others) of the value that information systems add in addition to those used to command and control lethal manuever forces are high-value IW targets.
    Traditional military thinking regarding protection of vital assets focused on strong physical barriers to keep out traditional battlefield threats and threats to rear area operations. In the information age, "physical" (in the traditional and doctrinal sense) alone is not adequate. An excellent example is a story cited by Leonard Lee in his book The Day the Phones Stopped How People Get Hurt When Computers Go Wrong.12 He discusses what happened to the operations of American Airlines and that company's Sabre reservation system in spite of strong physical barriers certainly a "terrifying moment" (which lasted 12 hours). Despite state-of-the-art physical security including retinal scans and a bullet-proof entryway, the system was laid low. A software error caused by the installation of a new memory disk drive fully disabled the system for 12 hours. In an IW scenario, the "what if's?" of an occurrence like this are endless.

    IW Technology

    The impact of technology has not been limited to military applications. Most of the high technology needed to employ IW techniques against U.S. Army operations is also readily accessible to thugs, despots, and fanatics16 as well as foreign military and commercial interests. The Department of Defense is required by Congress (and common sense) to rely on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software for a variety of sound fiscal reasons. While use of COTS software is cheaper and sensible in one respect, we must weigh the potential IW impact as well.
    Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich posed an interesting and thought-provoking question during a presentation at the National Defense University in February 1995 when he asked "...what does it mean that Madras, India, is the second largest center of software development in the world?" The Speaker's remarks, of course, refer to the potential impact foreign-origin software may have on U.S. computers supporting military operations in an IW situation. Information technology has made possible the compromise or corruption of critical information and the disruption of information services in a matter of seconds from the threat source on the other side of the continent or the world. This is a far cry from traditional frames of reference such as boundaries, lanes, and ranges of weaponry, supplemented by biographical data on opposing commanders, knowledge of enemy ground order of battle, and doctrine to assist in battlefield success.

    IW and the Sustaining Base

    The Army is a member of the global information environment (GIE). The Army shares this space with the national and international news media, academia, commerce, drug cartels, industry, and more. The GIE is interactive, and pervasive in its presence and influence it has no real master. Current and emerging electronic technologies permit nearly any aspect of a military operation to be made known to a global audience in near-real time. This factor, coupled with the ready availability of IW techniques to foreign governments, terrorists, criminal elements, or anyone else willing to pay the bill, removes the ability to cripple armies from the sole domain (and control) of the traditional warrior in uniform. Given this "global reach" and the concept of Force XXI (which envisions the use of automation to enable deployed forces to reach back to depots in the continental United States), we must not overlook the data streams and networks carrying requisitions, manifests, orders and so forth, in the seemingly mundane area of combat service support. Protecting C2 on the battlefield is important, but the force has to be on the field to maneuver and to face the enemy. IW can delay that presence if the networks and systems supporting the critical yet often overlooked sustaining base are not incorporated into Army information operations planning.
    Overlooking the impact of IW on such seemingly "automatic" chores as troop movement and sustainment can lead to enemy success without firing a shot. This planning process must include
    History will no doubt verify again and again Colonel Campen's assessment that superior management of knowledge will dictate the winners of battles. Transformed into capabilities, information is the currency of victory.13 It is debatable whether information systems such as the Sustaining Base Information Services and Reserve Component Automated System will be recognized with the same reverence as the names Colt, Springfield, Remington, and Garand. What is not subject to debate is the fact that the Army's commitment to reliance upon automation technology to support successors of Lieutenant General Pagonis (and, ultimately, the warfighter) has gone way past the point of no return. How history remembers information systems (and the people who design, operate, and maintain them) will depend upon how seriously we take the contemporary threats to these systems.


    1. Colonel Alan Campen USAF, (Retired), Contributing Editor, The First Information War, Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) Press, 1992.
    2. Ibid, vii.
    3. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War, Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Little, Brown, and Company, 1993, frontspiece. The agricultural age was first, followed by the industrial age; the information age is the third wave.
    4. Ibid, 9.
    5. Doctrine Review Advisory Group (DRAG) Draft FM 100-6, Information Operations, Headquarters, Department of the Army, October 1995, iii.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Lieutenant General William G. Pagonis with Jeffrey Cruikshank, Moving Mountains Lessons in Leadership from the Gulf War (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1992), frontspiece.
    8. Toffler, 78.
    9. Office the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, Report of the Defense Science Board Summer Study Task Force on Information Architecture of the Battlefield, October 1994, 24.
    10. Ibid.
    11. National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), NGIC-1100-55D-96, China's Focus on Developing Electronics Technology Applicable to IW (U), by Dr. E. McKenzie, 8 December 1995.
    12. Leonard Lee, The Day the Phones Stopped--How People Get Hurt When Computers Go Wrong (New York: Donald I. Fine, Inc., 1992), 134-135.
    13. FM 100-6, iii.
    Mr. Reardon is an Intelligence Operations Specialist with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, U.S. Army Signal Command (formerly called the Information Systems Command) at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He is a graduate of Chaminade University of Honolulu, with a bachelor of arts degree in General Studies. Readers can contact him at (520) 538-6255, DSN 879-6255, and via E-mail at