Senior Colonel Wang Baocun and Li Fei

This paper was excerpted from articles in Liberation Army Daily, June 13 and June 20, 1995. The authors work at the Academy of Military Science, Beijing.

While the military officials of all countries have not yet defined information warfare (IW) authoritatively, military experts in many countries have delimited its implications. While such definitions may be imperfect and even somewhat biased, they are certainly of great benefit to our understanding of the innate features of information warfare.

In Army magazine (1994), Lieutenant General Cerjan, former U.S. National Defense University President, notes, "Information warfare is a means of armed struggle aimed at seizing the decisive military superiority and focused on the control and use of information." General Sullivan, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, holds that "information is the most crucial combat effectiveness," with the essentials of "battlefield information warfare" being to "collect, process, and use enemy information, and to keep the enemy from acquiring and using our information." A U.S. combat theory analyst sums up the substance of information warfare in six points:

Information warfare is combat operations in a high-tech battlefield environment in which both sides use information-technology means, equipment, or systems in a rivalry over the power to obtain, control, and use information. Information warfare is a combat aimed at seizing the battlefield initiative; with digitized units as its essential combat force; the seizure, control, and use of information as its main substance; and all sorts of information weaponry [smart weapons] and systems as its major means. Information warfare is combat in the area of fire assault and operational command for information acquisition and anti-acquisition; for suppression [neutralization] and antineutralization; for deception and antideception; and for the destruction and antidestruction of information and information sources.

We hold that information warfare has both narrow and broad meanings. Information warfare in the narrow sense refers to the U.S. military's so-called "battlefield information warfare," the crux of which is "command and control warfare." It is defined as the comprehensive use, with intelligence support, of military deception, operational secrecy, psychological warfare, electronic warfare, and substantive destruction to assault the enemy's whole information system including personnel; and to disrupt the enemy's information flow, in order to impact, weaken, and destroy the enemy's command and control capability, while keeping one's own command and control capability from being affected by similar enemy actions.

The essential substance of information warfare in the narrow sense is made up of five major elements and two general areas. The five major elements are:

The two general areas are information protection (defense) and information attack (offense). Information defense means preventing the destruction of one's own information systems, ensuring that these systems can perform their normal functions. In future wars, key information and information systems will become "combat priorities," the key targets of enemy attack.

Information offense means attacking enemy information systems. Its aims are: destroying or jamming enemy information sources, to undermine or weaken enemy C&C capability, and cutting off the enemy's whole operational system. The key targets of information offense are the enemy's combat command, control and coordination, intelligence, and global information systems. A successful information offensive requires three prerequisites: 1) the capability to understand the enemy's information systems, and the establishment of a corresponding database system; 2) diverse and effective means of attack; and 3) the capability to make battle damage assessments [BDA] of attacked targets.

Information warfare in the broad sense refers to warfare dominated by information in which digitized units use information [smart] equipment. While warfare has always been tied to information, it is only when warfare is dominated by information that it becomes authentic information warfare. Information warfare in the broad sense has many manifestations, as follows:

Innate Features of Information Warfare

While information warfare in the true sense has not yet arrived in the battlefield arena, the repeated live-troop maneuvers and simulated drills of the armies of Western nations such as the United States, as well as the Gulf War, have enabled us to determine certain innate features of information warfare:

A Digitized Battlefield

A digitized battlefield is a composite network system covering the whole operational space. It is made up of a communications system, a command and control system, an intelligence transmission system, a computerized battlefield database, and user terminals, all of which can provide users with large amounts of operation-related information in real time or nearly real time. This network system's function is to use information technology to acquire, exchange, and use digitized information in real time, promptly meeting the information demand of commanders, combat personnel, and combat support personnel, so that they can clearly and accurately grasp all battlefield conditions needed to draw up and apply operational plans. This system can transmit information such as voice, graphics, text, and data, and can also provide users with a battlefield image portrayed by a common database and the supreme battlefield command knowledge-base (including substance such as one's own posture, the enemy's posture, combat readiness, logistics conditions, and operating environment).

This picture is dynamic, changing with the movements of both combatants and changes in terrain and weather. A digitized battlefield is a prerequisite for information warfare. The establishment of a digitized battlefield has many advantages. For instance, information sharing clarifies the position of the enemy and one's own units, sharply lowering accidental injuries; it enables battlefield commanders to amass key units at crucial sites at critical times; it can effectively coordinate short-distance, in-depth, and rear operations, providing intelligence support for all-out, in-depth, simultaneous offensive operations. As all come to know the battlefield conditions, subordinate commanders can bring their initiative into play, acting promptly at their own discretion in line with their superiors' intentions; it makes logistics support "very accurate," for such activities as material provision variety and quantity "accuracy," logistics support provision-time "accuracy," and wounded treatment "timely accuracy."

The establishment of a digitized battlefield is a sort of systems engineering. Many U.S. military specialists claim that this project is more challenging than the Manhattan Project. To carry out this project, the United States is taking many steps.

In line with Clinton's Presidential Order #29 issued in September 1994, the U.S. Defense Department has set up the National Security Policy Commission and the National Information System Security Commission. The former is charged with formulating military security policy and digitized battlefield establishment principles, while the latter is responsible for controlling the security and secrecy of classified and sensitive information on the military information superhighway and the digitized battlefield. The U.S. Army set up in January 1994 the Army Digitized Special Taskforce under the direct leadership of the Army's first deputy chief of staff. In June 1994, that taskforce was expanded into the Army Digitized Office, and charged with the design and establishment of the digitized army battlefield. In July 1994, the U.S. Navy set up the Theater of Operations Information Warfare Center; in January 1995, it established the Fleet Information Warfare Center. Their joint responsibilities are to study and design the technology and software needed for the digitized naval battlefield. The U.S. Air Force Information Warfare Center was set up in October 1993, and charged with establishing a digitized air battlefield.

To build a digitized land, sea, and air battlefield, the computer system structures, operating programs, program design languages, software applications, database languages, and communications rules of all information systems must be standardized and interchangeable throughout all branches of the military. Thus the U.S. military is now pursuing two information resource standardization plans: 1) the all-service command, control, communications, computer, and intelligence system standardization plan, which will set up a global military information database and a global joint network system, thus deploying throughout the world global information sharing for the U.S. military; and 2) the defense information control standardization plan, which is aimed at upgrading the interchangeable software technology of all Defense Department information systems, to eventually make information control and usage standardized and interchangeable.

To achieve battlefield digitization for all arms of the service, the U.S. military is now pursuing a diversified C&C digitized joint-network plan. For instance, the U.S. Army has seven plans:

An Informationized Military

The second major support for information warfare [IW] is an informationized military. While many developed Western nations are now considering the establishment of technology-intensive informationized armies, the United States is the only one that has drawn up and started to implement plans for an informationized military establishment.

An informationized army is a brand-new "information-based" military category, with its combat theory, system establishment, personnel quality, and weaponry being completely suited to IW needs. The U.S. informationized military establishment plans are in two stages, which are estimated to be completed by the mid-21st century.

In the first stage, the U.S. Army will first be digitized. While digitized units will be essentially the same in authorized strength and structure as units with ordinary equipment, they will be units with digitized communications technology; integrated command, control, communications, and intelligence; smart weaponry; and networking of all operating systems. The major signs that a unit is digitized will be that its main outfits will be equipped with digitized communications equipment, second-generation forward-looking radar, identification friend-and-foe [IFF] equipment, and the global positioning system [GPS]. Such equipment will include M1A2 tanks, M2A2 fire support vehicles, M2A3 fighting vehicles, Black Eagle command helicopters, Apache attack choppers, Kiowa Brave reconnaissance choppers, M109A6 Warrior self-propelled guns, and M106A2 mortars. The U.S. Army now has a digitized battalion and will have established a digitized army by 1999, with all Army units digitized by 2010.

To test the combat capability of digitized units, the U.S. Army has conducted repeated simulated tests and live-troop confrontation exercises between digitized task forces and nondigitized units. The simulated tests show that digitized technology can shorten the time of choppers going into action from 26 minutes to 18 minutes, while raising the hit rate of antitank missiles from 55 percent to 90 percent. The live-troop exercises show that using conventional communications means to send on-site reports to battalion headquarters takes 9 minutes, while digitized communications means takes only 5 minutes; that the repetition rate is 30 percent for (telegram) text sent by conventional means, but only 4 percent for that sent by digitized means; and that the completion rate of on-site reports is only 22 percent by phone, but as high as 98 percent by digitized means. Through repeated demonstrations the U.S. Army has reached the initial conclusion that "digitized units have enormous combat potential," with their combat effectiveness being "about three times that of ordinary units."

In the second stage, the U.S. Army will grow more informationized on that digitized foundation, as well as build the entire U.S. military, including the Navy and Air Force, into a fully informationized force. After 2010, the U.S. Army will probably be the first to draw up "IW theory," as well as act in line with that theory to reform its system establishment, carry out military training, and develop weaponry, to informationize its units. For two reasons this will probably take about three decades, with completion by 2040:

While IW has not yet occurred or at most has only started to show up, as it is an exceptional and new form of warfare with milestone significance, it will have an enormous impact on all aspects of the military arena.

The IW Impact on Combat Concepts

The IW proposition will have an impact on many aspects of combat concepts:

The IW Impact on Military Organizational Structure

Wars during the industrial age have had military structures determined by the "firepower casualty system" base, but wars in the information age will require an "information-based" troop organization. With a changed base, the military system establishment will also be bound to change significantly.

Alvin Toffler noted recently that in the information age, "as the winning of wars will rely on military quality, not quantity, the military will shrink in size." Therefore IW in a certain sense is "precision warfare," with objectives achievable without using large amounts of troops or arms.

The military makeup will change. To adapt to IW needs, changes in military makeup will experience the following trends: In the balance of army, naval and air force might, the ratio of army troops will decline, while that of naval and air force troops will grow; in support units, technical support will grow, while logistics support will decline; in the officer-to-men ration, there will be more officers and less men; in the officer makeup, there will be more technical officers and less commanding and ordinary staff officers. Also, there are likely to be new service arms such as a space force and computer soldiers.

The unit establishment will tend to be smaller, more integrated, and more multifunctional. While Western nations have not yet determined the IW unit establishment, they hold that these units will have the following features: "The best combination of men and machines," with quality personnel and high-tech arms both being as efficient as possible; flexible mobility suited to command, control, and information flow; light equipment that is easy to deploy; high combat effectiveness, fewer command levels, multifunctional commanders, and crack commanding organs.

There are two implications for smaller units. 1) Unit might at all levels will be smaller. For instance, U.S. Army divisions will be cut from 18,000 to 12,000 troops each, with British and French Army divisions likely to be reduced from 12,000 to under 10,000 troops each; 2) The status and role of units at all levels will be obviously higher. For instance, the U.S. military plans to raise the role of the army in campaign planning to the group army level, replacing the division with the brigade as the basic tactical operations unit equipped with all sorts of combat and support platoons. The Russian military is also planning to institute an "army brigade system." The factors in the appearance of such a situation include higher-quality officers and men, weaponry advances, and robot-equipped units.

Unit integration means that composite units will reach new heights, with a transition from composite service arms to composite armed forces. For instance, the U.S. military is considering the establishment of two units, one being a composite army-air force unit the "flying tank" or "air mechanized unit," and the other a land, sea and air "joint task force." This latter unit will be made up of an army brigade task force, an air force fighter squadron, a naval fleet unit, and a marine expedition platoon, suited to countering low-force conflicts and breakouts overseas.

Multifunctional units will mean that units at all levels will have to fulfill diverse combat missions in wars on all combat terms and all degrees of force, including "noncombat operations." Meanwhile, army, navy, and air force combat units are also likely to break the traditional service arm operating limits, and perform the combat operations of other service arms. For instance, land units will fight naval and air battles, with naval and air force units fighting land battles. Therefore, some Western military experts predict that as units diversify, unit establishment categories will decrease.

The IW Impact on Organizational Structure

Because of the "effects" of IW and military spending shortages, developed nations are adopting an equipment establishment policy of "more research and new technology, and less production and arms purchases." To implement this policy, they are taking three steps:

To be able to fight IW in the next century, developed nations such as the United States will place priority on the development of equipment such as the C4I system (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence system), personal digitized equipment, and stealth weapons.

Chinese Views of Future Warfare
[National Defense University Press, 1996]