Best Defense

High time for a cyber service

Information dominance is critical to modern warfare.

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By Brian Hill
Best Defense guest columnist

Information dominance is critical to modern warfare. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force have all stated its importance and postured to support it. However, operations in the information domain will always be subordinate to the primary operational domain of each service. To truly realize the goal of information dominance, it may be necessary to create a fourth branch of the military dedicated to operating in the information domain.

In his recent article, “Why USAF is Overdue for Reorganization,” “Jess DeFacks-Mamm” notes the importance of information superiority and argues the need for immediate reorganization to establish a Major Command (MAJCOM) that gives cyber and ISR the attention it deserves. This is an excellent idea, and one endorsed by Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh. However, it likely won’t maximize our commitment to information superiority while under the umbrella of the Air Force. The idea that the service will place information above fighter sweeps and bombing runs seems to run counter to the idea of an AIR Force. The Air Force’s primary purpose is to execute through the air. Space is at least in part a natural extension, but cyberspace and the information environment represent a completely different domain.

The rise of the information battlespace parallels the rise of airpower in the early 20th century. At the time, the air domain cut across the previously acknowledged domains, land and sea, while presenting a completely new problem set. Similarly, the information domain cuts across and affects all of the physical domains in which we currently operate, while presenting problems unlike any in those domains. After World War II, the United States realized having an Air Corps under Army auspices wasn’t enough; we needed an entirely new military branch to maximize the capabilities of air power. This may once again be the case.

This would be a massive undertaking and certainly won’t happen in the near future. Just as when the Air Force became a separate branch, the services will likely be unwilling to give up their stakes in the information environment. Further, the cost of standing up a new service in time, manpower, and financial resources would be enormous, and the task of establishing its roles and relationships as part of the joint fight is a very complicated one well beyond the scope of these few paragraphs. Creating an Information MAJCOM in the Air Force is an easier solution and can bridge the gap, but by the very nature of being in the Air Force its activities would still come second to aerial operations. Another possible solution is the creation of a Joint command combining the current USCYBERCOM with all other operations in the information domain. However, this would still leave many of the cyber and information resources in the services and would not entirely solve the “neglect” noted by DeFacks-Mamm.

The next step is the Department of Defense must critically evaluate whether it wants to treat the information domain only as an enabler or as an interdependent yet equal piece of today’s global battlefield. If it is only an enabler, steps to elevate its importance under the umbrella of the existing services like DeFacks-Mamm’s proposed reorganization are viable. This may be the more prudent move, elevating information dominance without the tremendous resource cost of establishing a new service, but it must include an acknowledgement that activities in the cyber and information environment will always take a backseat to traditional ground, sea, and air operations. However, if the DoD truly sees the information environment as a critical domain in modern warfare, the only way to give it the appropriate operational weight is to establish a separate branch dedicated to the cyber and information domain.

Brian Hill is a USAF Intelligence Officer with seven years experience in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  He’s touched on many subjects but particularly enjoys analyzing how the information environment affects global cooperation, conflict, and influence. This article represents his own opinions, which are not necessarily those of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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