Thoughts on the Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review report (January 2009)

The Quadrennial roles and mission review report is from the Department of Defense (DOD) to congress and highlights key aspects of the core mission areas and competencies of the military. The documents as written also includes a section on roles and missions focus areas which are a) Irregular warfare; b) cyberspace; c) Intratheater airlift; d) Unmanned aircraft systems/intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance.  As a document it can stand-alone but when considered against the larger backdrop of military activities it is quite interesting.

In discussing irregular warfare the framers of the document identified early on that the general purpose force and special operation force each have roles and responsibilities. This is incredibly important as there is a specific tension between these sides, with each constituency eroding through leadership (or lack thereof) the personnel pool, and restricting through the political process the resources of the other side. The report specifically states that since 2006 the armed forces have been working at achieving mastery of irregular warfare that is comparable to the mastery of conventional warfare.  Cagey to a fault the writers identified foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, unconventional warfare, and stability operations as the forms of irregular warfare.

Of specific interest though is the view on cyberspace (not two words, no hyphen, within the document).  The document describes cyberspace as “a decentralized domain characterized by increasing global connectivity, ubiquity, and mobility, where power can be wielded remotely, instantaneously, inexpensively, and anonymously“. That is a pretty unwieldy definition that doesn’t answer the question if cyberspace is a battle space.

The report specifically discusses developing capable forces, with the necessary skills, structuring forces and processes to execute policies and priorities, and employing the forces to achieve desired effects across the full range of military operations. This of course begs the question can the military by treaty, charter, and as respects posse commitatus act with impunity in cyber space?  What would a force look like that serve an all hazards, all roles, and all missions profile in cyber space look like? Something tells me that cyber space is still ill defined and an all government approach has not been considered.

The report delineates the problem eloquently when saying “cyber actors can operate globally, within our own borders, and within borders of our allies and adversaries“.  It is interesting that the writers allowed for a cognitive break to occur within a few short pages. Where they discussed ubiquity and likely pervasiveness the hallmarks of the global information grid they later shorten it to simply a global domain within the information environment consisting of information technology infrastructures. This is a woefully negligent restriction on the realm of cyberspace. The construct of cyberspace is a cognitive, physical, information construct following the information operations paradigm. It however is also the ubiquitous and pervasive network of cybernetics found in man-machine command and control. Cyberspace is the terrain of technology mediated communication. So the network in your car, the activation system for your air-bag, the different portals to sensory control systems, and so much more make up cyberspace.

This was an egregious error on the part of the writers. Cyberspace is much more than the Internet protocol addressable space that their definition allows for. Though they do discuss “telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers” they artificially limit the scope of cyber space. Simply saying that is “global” shows a true lack of understanding. Never mind the deep space network, or the already proven criminal abduction of satellites.

Their vision is to insure freedom of action in cyberspace, a global situational awareness in cyberspace, the ability to provide warfighting effects within and through cyberspace, and the ability to support civil authorities.  It would likely be a good idea for the framers of policy to consider further the scope and depth of cyberspace. The first part being you cannot defend against an attack you will not imagine. The second part is that the use of cyber weapons to create kinetic effects is found at the depth and not the breadth of the Internet. Said another way, at the portals from cyberspace to the real world, is found the gateways to kinetic results.

The military is already involved at the periphery of cyberspace. There are a dedicated cadre of government and military types who understand the application space and herald a new Web 2.0 collaboration.  Writing on a BLOG or Wiki though is not cyber warfare. Diving deep past the operating system and the network protocol and Internet Protocol address space we can find the opening of a new world. Below the level of intrusion detection/protection and firewalls exists another world. Where telemetry runs on hundreds or thousands of different protocols. Silently clicking to keep the rest of the world warm or cool, opening car doors automatically, or implementing elevator protocols.  Down deep where ignition systems and safety devices work. That is where you find cyber warfare with kinetic results. Wish the writers QRMR were listening.

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