Strategic blindness: When aliens attack

United States doctrine and force structure is built around the domains of air, sea, land, space and now cyber. Domains as defined create cylinders of capability that can be merged and fought within. The domain construct is as much a historical artifact as it is an efficient categorical system. The military force structure to fight within these domains is an air force, army, and navy. The Marine Corps is an expeditionary force between the sea and land (and other tasks as designated). This structure as defined has inherently created a strategic blindness to the capacities, capabilities, and risks of conflict where they meet. This is especially true when dealing with cyberspace.

Hold up your left hand and look at your fingers. Each finger denotes a domain that United States doctrine defines. The palm of your hand represents the joint functions of these domains. When formed into a fist this meshing of national power assets represents a significant amount of power that is bent toward national strategic objectives. When you splay your hand fingers wide all of that space between your fingers is the vacuum of strategic blindness.  Strategic blindness is always there but often hidden by might of the fist. Strategic blindness is the unknown unknowns you can’t define because you are not even looking for them.  Strategic blindness is the hidden risks that weaken the whole of the military.

As silly as it sounds I want the reader to step out of the policy, doctrinal, and literature heavy world of United States centric thought on military affairs. As such I’ve constructed a little thought exercise to help see how strategic blindness is inherent in the process. Suspend disbelief, have some fun with it, and please do expand beyond the trivialities provided here.

Later today huge alien ships without warning or prior detection appear orbiting the world. As such you are expected to provide an assessment of what their military capability and capacity might be, and how they might fight a war against the earth a non-space faring race. At first timidly you have to think about concepts such as order of battle, what represents the high ground, and how an adversary who has advantage against the Air Force might fight. Then a few things become apparent.

1)    The artificiality of the domain construct and joint fighting strategy are meaningless to a space faring race.

2)    The “natural” environment features are superfluous to the larger feature of planetary and solar system.

3)    The artificiality of the domain construct has led to a blindness in getting air craft off the ground, refueling, rearming and arranging for rest of pilots exposes them to periods of significant risk.

4)    From space any significant desire to hide submarines in the thin film of an ocean is overcome by deep radar or even pulsed neutrino scans.

5)    The intersections between “domain” entities are actually strategic chasms that joint operations doctrine has actually increased.

After reviewing the principles that such an analysis starts to illuminate it becomes apparent that only two domains exist. There is the domain of conflict regardless of tangential surface features and the domain of command, control, communication, coordination, data and cognition. You have conflict and cyberspace. You realize that any entity that can move between star systems is going to have some form of cyberspace. The question is what can you do with that insight (other than silly things like infect them with a virus)?

We see strategic blindness in how order of battle is being prepared and constructed currently to fight in cyberspace. The focus is on attacks against the confidentiality security service (hiding secrets) and minimally focused on attacks against the availability security service (distributed denial of service). Unfortunately the focus is also on the World Wide Web (DNS), Internet (TCP/IP), or global information grid (GIG).

The thought that constrains us to considering these elements ignores the Internet of things that are wired into pieces or portions of these other structures but aren’t defined by those structures. The protocol J1939 as part of the CANBUS standard wires cars to features of the Internet but isn’t part of the Internet. The ubiquitous Industrial Control Systems are often running on low voltage systems, but are controlled from a human interface computer. Large data warehouses represent significant repositories of information that could be used to determine capability, capacity, and level of persistence a nation might exhibit. Remember all of those old science fiction movies and how the aliens breached the computer systems and read the databases of the intrepid explorers space ships to determine intent and capability?

So, there is strategic blindness within the domains and at the seams of the domains. I know the use of aliens will cause some harassment, but you need a totally foreign construct to allow for stepping outside the steeped military traditions that enforce strategic blindness. You can see blindness arise as people invoke their favorite strategists Clausewitz or Sun Tzu as if that will solve the problem. The issue is that large militaries can afford that kind of blind spot right up until they meet a peer or superior adversary. If you had to fight a superior adversary what would the domain construct and silos within those constructs mean to strategic capability?


*Strategic blindness is created when doctrine, operations, plans, tactics, techniques and procedures ignore a significant risk or adversary capability or capacity to invoke change. Strategic blindness can be outward facing (not seeing an impending attack), but most often is inward facing (we didn’t know we had to do that)*

2 comments for “Strategic blindness: When aliens attack

Leave a Reply