Information operations - coming of age?

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Information operations - coming of age?

A new paradigm of warfighting or the greatest failure of NATO's Operation 'Allied Force'? Andrew Rathmell examines the advances made in information operations and looks beyond the 'cyber-hype'to the reality behind the myths.

TEN YEARS ago Operation 'Desert Storm' was hailed as the 'First Information War'. However, since the conclusion of NATO's Operation 'Allied Force' over Kosovo, senior US officers have complained that the USA is still not using Information Operations (IO) effectively.

According to Admiral Ellis, commander of the air campaign: "

roperly executed, IO could have halved the length of the campaign", but the IO operators were "too junior and from the wrong communities to have the required impact on planning and execution". Noting that "all the tools are in place... [but] only a few were used," he has concluded that IO was "perhaps the greatest failure of the war". Outgoing NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark has expressed similar views, arguing before the US Senate that effective use of IO, if integrated with other measures, could have obviated the need to use conventional military force.

These sober assessments refute media hype about the extensive use of 'cyberwar' and 'netwar' in the Kosovo campaign. While a variety of IO tools and techniques were used by all parties in the Kosovo conflict, the vision of IO as a new paradigm of warfighting remains a goal rather than a reality. The US Department of Defense (DoD) is investing heavily in turning IO into a core capability, but IO remains an emerging concept. For other nations, future opportunities and problems proffered by IO visionaries remain further away still.

In the civilian and commercial arenas, a parallel set of developments is underway. E-business and e-government are on an exponential growth curve, with ever more corporations and governments rushing to join the network economy.

The Internet economy has grown annually by an average of 175% since 1995 in the USA. It is predicted that European spending on e-commerce will rise from US$5.6 billion in 1998 to as much as $420 billion in 2003.

Information security and infrastructure dependability are recognised as key enablers of this new economy. The commercial market for information security products and consultancy is booming, and governments worldwide are engaged in a range of legislative and research and development (R&D) initiatives to ensure that they have the underpinnings for trustworthy information infrastructures.

Recognition of the potential for strategic disruption of information infrastructures by hostile nations or groups has spread more slowly. It is only now, in the wake of 'Y2K', that many nations are starting to take the issue of Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) seriously. As with IO, comprehensive and co-ordinated CIP policies remains a thing of the future.

A decade after the 1990-91 Gulf War and half a decade after CIP emerged onto the US national agenda, this article examines the reality behind the often exaggerated claims made in defence of IO and Information Warfare (IW).

Dr Andrew Rathmell is Executive Director of the International Centre for Security Analysis, King's College London.

The commanding officer of the USS Enterprise monitors the first wave of strike aircraft launched in support of Operation 'Desert Fox' against Iraq on 17 December 1998. Iraq has started to investigate the potential benefits of IO. A study has recommended producing counter offensive programmes to the 'US war against Iraq'.
(Source: PA News)

Despite the availability of IO tools in Operation 'Allied Force', NATO planners preferred to work with what they knew - almost a century's experience with conventional airpower. However, this was not without its dangers. A British C-130 Hercules transport aircraft exploded on landing at a military airfield in northern Albania on 12 June 1999. Nor was the strategy foolproof: an unexploded cluster bomb (behind), dropped during an April 1999 bombing of Pristina, is destroyed by NATO in a controlled detonation.
(Source: PA News)

NATO's widening of the air campaign to strike at Serbia's economic and political infrastructure also demonstrated use of IO tools and concepts. 'Soft kill' tools, such as graphite bombs, were used against the electrical power infrastructure. Efforts to bomb the Serbian media or other symbolic political targets were, in part, designed to influence Serbian perceptions.
(Source: PA News)

©Jane's Information Group 2000
Posted: 23 May 2000
Source: Jane's Intelligence Review
Also Online: Jane's Intelligence Review

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