If we look at the basic precepts of what we mean by cyber warfare and conflict it is that we create a political effect upon an adversary where they either do something or stop doing something. That word cyber crops up again and again, but in essence any cyber weapon must create an effect similar to the effect kinetics would create. Whether the effect is upon the tactical, operational, or strategic is immaterial to the overall existence of the weapon. What is important is understanding the basic effect and methods of employing the weapons system.
Cyber weapons are not cyber war anymore than naval ships are naval war. The weapon does not make the war, but the strategic and consequential attributes of attack make the war. Why the word cyber? Cyber is nothing more than the container of concepts, technologies, techniques, analogies, metaphors, of the modern information world. You can talk about a network, a social factor, logical factor, and physical factor all in the same breath. The word is much abused, but has extreme utility when thinking across the breadth of the technology stack and not simply the depth of the stack. Those who focus on singularly or purposeful points within the different aspects of the technology plane tend to denigrate the concept of cyber. As a friend quipped recently, a fish doesn’t know he’s in water.
The focus of of military cyber is on the command, control, communication, coordination, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of targets. You would expect a military dual-use model focused on command and control. The breadth of this domain is overshadowed by the budget and mission objectives that ignore the pattern and largely place resources into the intelligence and surveillance aspects. This in the United States is one of the perils of having an intelligence organization in the role of primacy. If you were to rank the current military uses of cyber they would be intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, command, control, coordination, and communication. This clearly shows a focus on the offensive side of the equation. It is also backed up by current stories and news on the topic. A budget would not illuminate this more due to the nature of cost in the system, but a brush through doctrine does.
The concept of a cyber weapon is to degrade, disrupt, or destroy adversary targets without relying on kinetic means. An often cited example is that I can blow up a telephone company with a bomb making their systems unavailable, or I can exploit a telephone company systems and make them unavailable. The impact for some window of time would likely be the same. This example though is not “strategic cyber warfare”. The red herring of “strategic” is a significant problem. Lots of things referred to as strategic really are not. That does not decrease their utility in a conflict. The examples of many things that are not labeled as strategic being such are also indicative or thinking that encompasses weapons systems.
The word strategic is often used as a synonym for “aspirational goal”.
Strategic cyber warfare aside for the moment is there such as thing as strategic cyber conflict and can that be framed in some way that is more holistic than simply network centric conflict? Individuals and groups following conflict through networks and technology other than kinetic have a tendency to focus on the near and not far. The networking and fans of TCP/IP based technologies claim to own cyber. Those who study malware as an insidious form of processing attacks claim to own cyber. There are likely those out in the large-scale network storage world that would claim to own cyber Does it really matter?
The concept of information communications technologies (ICT) is not new but focuses on the tools. The Global Information Grid construct from the United States military has the elements of the ICT within it and inclusive of radios and non-terrestrial systems is more holistic. Both constructs ignore the true battleground of the human being as central to the conflict. In very few occasions would the military ignore the human component in any other domain. The focus on technologies and tools though ignore the larger context of the domains and thereby create seams upon which adversaries prey.
This focus on the tools has corollaries in other areas of conflict. The general rarely was a weapons designer. As an example John Browning who designed and built many weapons systems had little in the way of understanding in waging a theater conflict. Still, we did expect the general to have a more than passing understanding of how to generate effects using the weapons of Mr. Browning. In the world of cyber we are currently missing that tie between the tactical asset and the strategic thinker. In many cases we ignore the requirement to have more than a passing familiarity with the weapons systems to be utilized.
Some passing thoughts on a monday morning.