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Air Power and Information

Air Power and Information

Speech delivered at the Aviation Week & Space Technology Executive Symposium on Information Management, Long Beach, Calif., Oct. 28, 1996, by General Ronald R. Fogleman, U.S. Air Force chief of staff (US Air Force photo).

General Ronald R. Fogleman

I suspect the term "information revolution" has become one of the most overused and least understood terms in the military lexicon.

Every executive and senior manager knows that our information capabilities -- the combination of computing power and communications links -- have radically changed the world. It's also clear the information age is transforming all military operations by providing commanders with information that is unprecedented both in terms of quality and quantity.

The best examples of the information transformation come from our own personal experiences. I started out in the fighter business flying F-100s. I thought the F-100 was a great airplane but it only had a couple of black boxes, mostly associated with radios and navigation gear, and not very sophisticated.

When I get a chance to fly an F-16 or F-15, I find myself surrounded by computers, sensors, and all kinds of things to exploit information and make it useable in the cockpit. Today computers are not only part of the airplane, they're also in the weapons we employ.

But the changes within our weapon systems pale in comparison to the information flow going into the support structure required to generate the sortie. That includes everything from the intelligence system supplying the material to prepare crews for the mission, to the maintenance support and diagnostics that determine what's wrong with the aircraft.

While we are aware of these changes and many others, on a personal and professional level they affect all our organizations in different ways. I'd like to briefly focus on information warfare.

At the grand strategy level, nations seek to acquire, exploit, and at the same time, protect information in support of their objectives. This exploitation and protection can occur in the economic, political or military arenas. Obviously, this is not new. The struggle to discover and exploit information started the first time one group of people tried to gain an advantage over another.

Information warfare, as we define it today, consists of targeting an enemy's information and information capabilities while protecting our own, with the intent of degrading his will or capability to fight. This definition provides the basis for assertions we make about carrying out this type of warfare.

To begin with, information warfare is any attack against an information function, regardless of means. If you want to take out a telephone switching facility, you can take it out with lethal means: Put a bomb on it. Or you can take it out by electronically destroying the software inside the facility. Either way, it's a target of information warfare.

The second assertion is that information warfare is any action to protect our information functions, again regardless of the means. It may be something as simple, but expensive, as hardening and defending the switching facility against air attack, or it may be using an anti-virus program to protect the facility's software.

It's important to remember however, that information warfare is a means, not an end. In precisely the same manner air warfare is a means, not an end. We may use information warfare to conduct strategic attack and interdiction, just as we may use air power to conduct strategic attack against some vital facility, or to interdict forces trying to get to the front. Both are done in order to achieve a political objective.

Militaries have always tried to gain or affect the information required for an adversary to effectively employ forces. In the past, such strategies typically relied on measures, such as feints or deception to influence decisions. Because these strategies influenced information through the perception process, they attacked the enemy's information indirectly. For deception to be effective, the enemy has to do three things: observe the deception; analyze the deception as reality, and act upon the deception according to the deceiver's goals.

Today, the modern means of performing information functions has given information an added vulnerability: direct access and manipulation. Modern technology now allows an adversary to change or create information without relying on observation and interpretation.

It is the characteristics of modern information systems that create vulnerability. One of the characteristics is concentrated storage, which makes it possible to target only a few systems, yet achieve widespread effects. Concentrated storage, along with access speed, widespread information transmission, and the increased capacity for information systems to direct actions autonomously, offers many advantages, but also makes these systems susceptible to disruption. Intelligent security measures can reduce but not eliminate this vulnerability.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, U.S. Army) recently published "Joint Vision 2010" in which he looked at how the joint services will fight in the 21st century. In this document there are four operational concepts. The first one is called dominant maneuver, the second precision strike, the third full-dimensional protection, and the fourth is termed focused logistics. Success in achieving the goals in each of these concepts depends upon information as a starting point.

Dominant maneuver basically means that you have the ability to put yourself in a position to own the other guy's airspace or battlespace. The different services each have a specific capability they provide to this joint vision. In the Air Force, we talk about air and space superiority and air dominance as a means of taking away somebody's sanctuaries and denying him the ability to penetrate our airspace or know things about us.

Precision strike is pretty self-explanatory. It not only involves being able to precisely destroy something, but also the ability to not destroy. Especially in the information realm. You may want to avoid destroying something because you have the ability to exploit information coming from that system.

Full dimensional protection involves the whole idea of force protection in the physical sense, as well as the information protection that prevents an adversary from gaining an advantage inside your information system.

Focused logistics comes from the idea that in the past spare parts were relatively inexpensive, but transportation to move them was expensive or in short supply. The way we overcame this problem was simple. Before beginning any major military operation we would move forward a massive stockpile of spare parts, equipment and munitions. If we consumed all those materials in the stockpiles, that was all well and good. If we did not, we would end up giving them away or pushing them into the ocean because it was more expensive to move them back to the United States than it was to destroy them in the field.

Today spare parts and black boxes are very expensive, but the ability of information systems to track and provide total visibility of the assets in transit, combined with the cheapness of our transportation systems, makes it possible to move to the focused logistics concept. The Air Force pioneered this idea about four years ago under the term "lean logistics." Instead of moving large stockpiles forward, we are able to try something very similar to the "just in time" inventory approach for maintaining combat capability. It has a tremendous advantage because it makes you lighter and more agile. When you have a national security strategy based on having the bulk of the forces in the continental United States and going forward to aid allies, provide humanitarian assistance, or defend some vital U.S. interest unilaterally, you have to put a premium on being able to move quickly.

All of these operational concepts depend upon information superiority captured in a term we call "dominant battlespace awareness." That's something every theater commander wants. The responsibilities of the services under Title 10 is to organize, train and equip forces so that we can produce this capability that the theater commanders require.

I get involved in information warfare from the doctrinal perspective, the equipment perspective and from the recruiting, training and retaining of quality people. These things are the responsibility of our military services, and the capabilities the Air Force provides are spelled out in core competencies.

The core competencies of the Air Force derive from the fact that airmen view the world from the vantage point of air and space. Whether they are aviators, space technicians, members of our security force or whatever, airmen should have an understanding of the benefits that derive from operating in a medium that encompasses and touches 100 percent of the earth's surface and population. In a nutshell, this ability provides air and space forces with unparalleled access and global awareness. When you combine that with the speed of the forces we have, this global nature provides the nation an ability to respond quickly to crises.

These capabilities also make it possible for an air and space force to find and hit an adversary's strategic centers of gravity directly, while also operating at the operational and tactical levels of war. What has changed very subtly over the last few years is that information systems have become strategic centers of gravity.

Although I talk about what air and space forces do, this is not the same as saying you can do everything with air power. Both now and in the future, warfare will require contributions from all the services. But as the nation's air and space experts, the Air Force has the responsibility for providing national leaders air and space options for defending our nation and its interests around the world.

People talk about the fact that there are four air forces in America. There are not four air forces. There is one Air Force in America. There are services that have air arms, but that's not their primary reason for existing.

The Air Force has as its primary reason for existing, providing air and space forces to this country. We're involved in everything -- from science and technology through research and development, test and evaluation, production, fielding and sustaining those forces. That's all we do. Air power isn't something that competes for other resources within the force -- it's what we focus on full time, all the time.

As we move into the first quarter of the 21st century, air and space power are going to become even more important. We believe that it will be possible to find, fix or track and target anything that moves on the surface of the earth, and the command and control systems that move them. When people begin to realize that fact, they will begin to engage in a serious discussion about what this means for the totality of warfare.

We completed a long range planning effort in the Air Force. It culminated when the senior civilian and military leaders gathered in Colorado Springs (Colo.) to look out and focus on developing a strategic vision for the 21st century.

We discussed a number of topics, but one thing really stuck out: The ability to handle information will become more important in the future, not less.

In some ways this is nothing new. Military commanders of all ages have always tried to gain an advantage in information. In recognition of the importance of this area, one of the six core competencies we defined for understanding air power was information superiority.

In the future, we want to expand our ability to find targets, to communicate that information, and to get that data to whatever service, whatever weapon we want, whether it is lethal or non-lethal, on the battlefield. And we want to protect our own systems while we do this.

You can never hope to achieve information superiority if an adversary is able to interfere with your own operations. So we believe the first step in moving towards information superiority -- one of the key steps -- is gaining and maintaining air and space superiority. If you can dominate somebody else's air or space assets, you deny them the opportunity to attack you.

Before, during and after gaining air and space superiority, we are going to be gathering information about air, surface and space forces, through a variety of platforms. They'll come from all the services, across the breadth and depth of the battlespace. They include ground-based systems, Air Force platforms like the AWACS (airborne warning and control system), JSTARS (joint surveillance and target attack radar system) and the U-2. We'll also use things like the Navy's EP-3, and the Army's guardrail common sensor system.

But I believe all those systems are sunset systems. Within the first quarter of the 21st century, we're going to see most of the capabilities now appearing on those air-breathing systems migrate to space-based platforms. Those that do not migrate to space will move to the uninhabited or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

At Nellis Air Force Base (Nev.), I visited with our 11th Reconnaissance Squadron. It's the first operational unit of its type in the U.S. military. They're the people operating the Predator in Bosnia right now. One of the decisions that came out of our long-range planning conference was to focus this unit on operationalizing the Predator to its full potential.

We're also going to set up a UAV battlelab that is going to move this business forward as quickly as we can. Right now we are looking at the Predator in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role, and we plan on moving very quickly into the communications relay business. Putting UAVs into additional combat missions, such as the suppression of enemy air defenses, might occur fairly soon, while others will not happen for some time. Shifting other missions to these vehicles will depend on thespeed with which we can perfect the technical capabilities and the cost of the effort.

We have other efforts ongoing to get information where it is needed in a timely manner. In Europe we took some small steps in this area. The project, rapid targeting system or "Gold Strike," was designed to increase our ability to find and hit mobile targets, whether they are enemy troops or mobile ballistic missile launchers.

The system takes the images collected by the U-2, the Predator, or the Pioneer UAVs, sends them to a relay station which then data-links them to an Air Force F-15E or Navy F-18 or A-6.

The results of this test showed we are beginning to see we really do have the ability to provide near real-time information from the "sensors" to the "shooters."

While we have focused on technological improvements, we've also looked at organizational arrangements for exploiting information technology in warfare.

In September 1993, the Air Force established the Air Force Information Warfare Center at Kelly AFB (Air Force Base), in San Antonio, Texas -- the leading information warfare facility in this country in both defensive and offensive aspects. It was started to support information warfare planning, to gather intelligence, and to analyze weapon systems. The center provides support teams for overseas commanders who may need their staff augmented, and allows deployed units to reach-back from overseas for assistance.

We have also started to look at how we use our people in information warfare. Up until now we've taken existing specialties and re-roll them into the information business. We've been somewhat successful using this approach, but not totally. Over a year ago, we stood up the first information warfare squadron, the 609th at Shaw Air Force Base (S.C.), a unit totally focused on information warfare. We probably violated every rule in the book when it came to organization and business practices with this unit. We stood up an organization, told them to figure out what tools they needed, how they should be organized and what resources they needed. But they handled it well.

This squadron is our starting point for turning a lot of theoretical ideas into reality, and they are concerned with both the offensive and defensive sides of the equation. One of the things we discovered: There is a new breed of individuals that needs to be recruited, trained and supported in the force. While we are probably in the infancy of employing the capabilities of the squadron, I think it is a good first step.

Since World War I, the aim of airmen has been to control the air environment, to employ air power, and to make it possible for surface forces to operate. Information is the next realm we must control to operate effectively and with the greatest economy of force.

I've stated that competition for information is probably as old as man's first conflict. It involves increasing and protecting our own store of information while limiting and penetrating the adversary's. The recent explosion in information technologies is prompting the current discussion on the topic of information warfare -- targeting the enemy's information functions while protecting ours, with the intent of degrading his will and capability to fight.

I am convinced that if we are to prevail in the conflicts of the future we must stay engaged in this effort. Not just within the military, but also within our commercial sector, within our government sector, and across the full spectrum of the information battlefield.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).