This from DoD this afternoon:

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced today that the President has nominated Navy Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett for reappointment to the grade of vice admiral, and assignment as deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance, N2/N6, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations/Director of Naval Intelligence, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. “

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“Information Dominance?” Who was the Legion-of-Merit wearing 05 or 06 who thought THAT one up? Do we actually think we dominate the information spectrum?

Nothing against VADM Dorsett, but this type of terminology represents a badly flawed understanding of “information” as it pertains to warfighting. This seems like the Cult of Cebrowski. Network-Centric Warfare as a concept is found very much wanting where the rubber meets the road. It might work if the enemy we are fighting is the United States Navy, who has elevated information technology to a place on Olympus.

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But for the rest of the world, our obsession with a flattened information hierarchy is much more of a vulnerability than an advantage. That obsession treats information like a drug. The more we have, the more we want. We are convinced that the key gem of information that will clear away all the fog MUST be coming in the next data dump. Except the data dump is increasingly difficult to sift through to find the critical information, if we are even aware of what is critical in light of so much unfiltered and unverified gatherings. The effort required to produce pertinent and actionable intelligence, or even timely and worthwhile information, oftentimes suffers from such an approach to information and intelligence gathering.

Without launching a long dissertation regarding NCW and the problems created by “information inundation” resulting from a sensor/shooter marriage across a massive battlefield, I believe such a term as “Information Dominance” pays short shrift to a less sophisticated enemy whose extensive low-tech networks of informants are capable of negating billions of dollars of maritime “stealth” technology (or finding the right merchant ship in a 400-mile long shipping lane) by using the eyeball, the messenger, the motor scooter, or the sandal.

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Such an enemy, I would argue, has a much clearer and simpler set of information requirements, and is far more skilled, more disciplined, and much more successful at meeting those requirements than we are. So, who is dominant in the information game? One could argue very effectively that it is not us.

Terms such as “Information Dominance” ring of a grandiose bit of self-delusion that is part plan and part capability, with a large measure of wishful thinking. In the words of a certain retired Marine Corps General, “words mean things”. They also reveal a lot about who uses them, and how. The term “Information Dominance” gives me the willies. Can we call it something a little less presumtuous?




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Maritime Security, Navy, Uncategorized


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  • Cap’n Bill

    Pray Tell, does anyone have the ability to post the Job Description of this Vice ADmiral. There should be quite an education in that alone.

  • Cliffy

    GoRemy’s job interview for “Information Dominance.” Couldn’t resist.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Hey Cliffy,

    Well-played.

  • http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog Schmedlap

    To poo-poo the notion of a DCNO for Information Dominance because we can’t always dominate the information domain seems akin to poo-pooing the notion of a Defense Secretary because we can’t always defend our forces against attacks. It assumes that the job title is indicative of the daily achievements rather than an ideal.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    It assumes the terminology is a peek into the mindset, IMHO. And, I assert, it displays the lack of perspective regarding information warfare. It would be like having Department of Defense be called Department of Victory. It assumes a hell of a lot not yet accomplished.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    URR:
    Remember when Galleys became “Dining Facilities,” and the enlisted barracks ashore suddenly transformed into “Unaccompanied Enlisted Personnel Housing”, etc.? Remember the Carter years where appearance trumped capability to actually fight a war? They’re baaaack!

    Information Warfare rocks, but sadly you’re right. Someone needed a FITREP bullet (and accompanying medal) somewhere within the beltway and, voila! you have “Information Dominance.” Somewhere there are JO’s picking themselves up off the floor, they’ve been laughing so hard.

    Oh, and for the record: You’re a heretic! Unclean! Burn him at the stake! (He turned me into a newt!)

    Thanks for pointing out the ridiculous and the sublime,
    Andy

  • Lukas

    The concept of “information dominance” reminds me of nothing else than two similar ideas–”command of the sea” and “command of the air,” perhaps most particularly the former. The two apostles of naval strategy, Mahan and Corbett, both wrote from the perspective of the dominant naval power. Mahan stressed the naval clash of arms; Corbett argued that “command of the sea…means nothing but the control of maritime communications, whether for commercial or military purposes.” The development of the French Jeune Ecole, with its emphasis on a cumulative strategy of attrition rather than naval battle, which occurred at the same time the works of these two men were written, caught Britain, the dominant naval power, by surprise. Wedded to the Mahanian concept of naval strategy, they were woefully unprepared for the first major practice of the Jeune Ecole, that of the German u-boats during the First World War. How could one fight the decisive naval battle with an enemy that did not fight except by stealth and attrition? The Royal Navy proved very reluctant to turn to convoys even though history could attest that this was the answer; it was not battle and furthermore was viewed as defensive. The Mahanian concept of offensive decisive battle seemed at odds with the seemingly defensive concept of convoying. Clay Blair points out in his seminal work, Hitler’s U-Boat War, that convoying, being the only reliable method of detecting–much less destroying–u-boats during the Second World War (and this holds true for the First as well) was convoying. Thus, convoying was an offensive strategy, rather than a defensive one. Blinded by Mahan, the Royal Navy had forgotten its Corbett; the u-boats seriously threatened British maritime lines of communication. The navy’s primary job was not the decisive battle, but the control of the lines of communication.

    Though I have but barely dipped into the literature of Network-Centric Warfare, it seems to me that the United States has taken to Corbett too much, while neglecting the Jeune Ecole, in the realm of intelligence. The idea of information dominance seems to be about getting information, which tends to work well, notwithstanding the snowballing of information mentioned in the blog already. The lines of communication are thus assured, certainly against the enemies the United States currently faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is not the issue. The issue is that the United States must deny the enemy information in the best Jeune Ecole fashion.

    How did Great Britain deal with the threat posed by the Jeune Ecole? First, they tried to render its precepts illegal. This did not work for them and it will not work for the United States. The United States must itself turn to the basic concepts of the Jeune Ecole. For use against the enemies now faced, less the battleships (or stealth technology) and more the small, nimble and cheap craft. Translated into terms relevant to current-day situations, this boils down to the same tired concept of hearts and minds. But hearts and minds are not won simply by providing services, but by giving the locals in whichever warzone a stake in the victory. Thucydides wrote 2,500 years ago that men fight for “fear, honor and interest.” There must be an interest in what the United States can offer, there must be a commitment made by both parties to unite and achieve what has been offered, and there must be the fear that should the commitment fail, those who pledged their aid would stand to lose something. First and foremost, however, there must be a sufficiently strong vision of final achievement and victory that the fear precludes cooperation, through security. Once a community is taken in, in this way, an opponent’s basic information capabilities will begin to unravel, for otherwise the community stands to lose should the enemy be successful.

    Hmm, this came out a little longer than I originally envisioned. This was just a sort of stream of consciousness that resulted from reading this blog entry.

  • http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog Schmedlap

    You really think this title was chosen because they are assuming that information dominance has been achieved, rather than it being an ideal that they are shooting for? The fact that they made a DCNO billet for this suggests to me that they realized it was a pressing issue that needed to be addressed, rather than a challenge that we have already met.

  • ADM J. C. Harvey, Jr

    Schmedlap has pretty well nailed it – in a networked world, where the quality of our information drives the quality of our decisions and the employment of our forces, solutions to the pressing need to improve the gathering, flow and understanding of information cannot be effectively derived from a primarily platform-based organizational construct.
    This position is not about developing a “see-all, know-all” view of warfare that has commonly been associated with the term netwrok-centric warfare; this position is all about the imperative to recast OPNAV, and realign supporting organizations/commands down-echelon, to focus on the whole, rather than continually optimizing platform-based networks, C2 systems and system components that are increasingly difficult to bring together in a common architecture that enables the commander to effectively deploy/employ the forces assigned.
    We have great vulnerabilities in the rapidly-developing cyber domain, and great opportunities as well. It will be VADM Dorsett’s task to focus Navy programs and policies to reduce those critical vulnerabilities and capitalize on the opportunities
    All the best, JCHjr

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Schmed,

    I think that to attempt to achieve “information dominance” displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the tasks at hand. The term itself is badly flawed and more than a little arrogant.

    Information is not an either/or proposition. Both sides can know it. In this age of sensors and instant communications, we seem always to be looking to know EVERYTHING, and have lost the ability to decide on and find out the RIGHT things. I have seen it evolve in my 20+ years from a fairly focused doctrinal task in the planning process at all levels to an open-ended, wildly undisciplined, poorly-understood aspect of planning for and executing combat operations.

    We exceeded long ago the human capacity to process, prioritize, disseminate, and put to use the avalanche of information AND intelligence that our incredibly sophisticated sensors of all shapes and sizes gives us.

    And if “information dominance” is evolving into what we euphemistically call “information operations”, then it is an even worse term and should be discarded immediately. IO is something we are improving at, but unfortunately we are going from completely incompetent to merely awful. Our ability to understand and exploit what resonates to different societies, cultures, nationalities, and religions among which we operate is almost completely stymied by a set of very thick occidental and uniquely American glasses through which we look. Nearest I can tell, we are still stuck on IO messages that appeal much more to Des Moines, Iowa than Ramadi, or Helmand.

    To quote a great movie, with regards to “information dominance”;

    “You keep using that word. I do not believe it means what you think it means.”

  • http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog Schmedlap

    Ultima,

    Information dominance can be, has been, and occasionally still is achieved at the tactical level. It seems that your focus is on the big picture (strategic?) level. If so, then I agree that we will never achieve information dominance in a realm that large. But at the tactical level, we got very good at synchronizing capabilities/TTP to achieve information dominance. It is also worth nothing that it was not, and need not be, permanent. If you are conducting a raid to achieve some objective, you only need information dominance up until the point when you have returned to base. After that, if the enemy figures out what just happened, it’s not a big deal.

    To that end, we do leverage many of the assets that are often regarded as falling under the umbrella of IO. Some of those are (thinly spread) big money assets, some are (often undermanned) units with specialized skills sets, and some are mere TTP that have been around forever. But given how thinly spread and undermanned those assets/units were, and yet how valuable they proved to be, I see it as a good thing that there is now someone with a little more rank and authority to advocate on behalf of those capabilities. That will hopefully help to secure more funding and better allocation of time and resources to continue improving.

    Regarding your concluding quote – I think we’re in mutual disagreement.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Admiral Harvey,

    To your assertion that “in a networked world, where the quality of our information drives the quality of our decisions and the employment of our forces, solutions to the pressing need to improve the gathering, flow and understanding of information…”, I would say that such conditions and imperatives have always existed. And always will. The idea of a “networked world” is not nearly as revolutionary as we often attribute it to be.

    If, as you say, it will be VADM Dorsett’s task to focus Navy programs and policies to reduce those critical vulnerabilities and capitalize on the opportunities, then I would submit that we ought not to be talking about dominance in any way, shape, or form. As far as the “see-all, know-all” aspects, I would also tell you that at all three levels of war, the concept of “network centricity”, even before ADM Cebrowski assigned the term, had led to just such an attempt. It manifested itself in our doctrine, our TTPs, our planning process, and often in our effectiveness in making critical decisions, or even understanding when those decisions were called for.

    If what VADM Dorsett’s responsibilities are as you describe, I would point to “information warfare” as being a much more appropriately descriptive term. With the associated implication that it will be a struggle in which the enemy has a vote, and such a fight likely will be a friendly CG. And I am not at all comfortable describing a potential center of gravity by using the word “dominance”. As I noted above, that is like calling the USAF the US Air Supremacy Force. By using such terms we miss the mark of just how much influence an intelligent and adaptive enemy can have which will cause us to fall short of success, let alone dominance or supremacy.

    I will assert that it is much more important to understand WHAT information is needed and why, which we are far from disciplined enough in doing, than any technical solution of platform interoperability that limits US forces in the IW game.

    Schmedlap,

    “If you are conducting a raid to achieve some objective, you only need information dominance up until the point when you have returned to base”

    I disagree entirely with such an example, as it again misplaces the importance on information. In such a raid, I need to know a number of critical things, and depending on the raid force, objective, and enemy capability, the list is shorter or longer, and with different items. Knowing those things is hardly “information dominance”. I may know all of those things, every one.

    But if the enemy, with a simpler set of PIRs, and a more responsive “network” of human sensors able to gather that intel, can do so, (ie: how many vehicles or helicopters, and which direction are they heading?) then despite friendly force ability to gather, evaluate, disseminate, and absorb every single piece of critical information, and pass over compatible C2 systems, then have I achieved “dominance” with information? I doubt it.

    To call it “information dominance” shows our lack of understanding of the role information (and intelligence) plays, and how we should use it.

  • http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog Schmedlap

    In such a raid, I need to know a number of critical things, and depending on the raid force, objective, and enemy capability, the list is shorter or longer, and with different items. Knowing those things is hardly “information dominance”.

    I did not assert that it is.

    But if the enemy, with a simpler set of PIRs, and a more responsive “network” of human sensors able to gather that intel, can do so, (ie: how many vehicles or helicopters, and which direction are they heading?) then despite friendly force ability to gather, evaluate, disseminate, and absorb every single piece of critical information, and pass over compatible C2 systems, then have I achieved “dominance” with information?

    No, you haven’t. Information dominance is not a competition to see who can collect the most information or who can do it quicker. It is achieved by being able to collect, process, and understand information while denying the same to your adversary and leveraging this advantage in furtherance of the objective that you set out to accomplish. So if your objective is to conduct a raid to kill/capture someone, then even if the enemy is tracking your movement, you can have achieved information dominance if he simply does not understand that your intent is to kill/capture him.

    I don’t think information dominance is a doctrinal term, which may contribute to the disagreement. I have always heard the term information dominance used in reference to being able to exploit information superiority (doctrinal term) in furtherance of, and until, achievement of an objective.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Schmedlap,

    “Information dominance is not a competition to see who can collect the most information or who can do it quicker.”

    I would argue, then, that we are not doing what we should be. Because it IS a race, between who can collect not the most information, but the MOST IMPORTANT information, the quickest.

    Tempo, tempo, tempo, and tempo. Ask the French in 1940. Outnumbered the Wehrmacht in tanks, trucks, artillery tubes, infantry. Near parity in the air. Quick, bad ending. Tempo.

    There are a couple of major issues I take with your assertions.

    First: “being able to collect, process, and understand information while denying the same to your adversary”

    The first clause, absolutely. As long as we are collecting what we need instead of casting a huge net to get everything.

    But the last part, that speaks to an underappreciation of the enemy. The less sophisticated the enemy, the smaller our technological superiority means. You’d think we would have learned that in Vietnam, and now in the Middle East by now. Our ability to deny the enemy critical information gleaned from a semi-sympathetic populace, from diplomatic sources friendly to his cause, from our own indiscreet public pronouncements, is very doubtful.

    Second: “you can have achieved information dominance if he simply does not understand that your intent is to kill/capture him”

    You are speaking of security, as it applies as a principle of war. Of which deception is a part, as is concealment, and camouflage. Those elements are as old as war itself, and re-defining them in such inappropriate terms raises doubts as to whether we are silly enough to think that some sort of “transformational” technology that we have made central to our capabilities somehow negates those principles of war that have stood for millenia.

    I see it manifest itself in the highly dubious concept that the sensors and speed of the LCS will be sufficient to keep it out of harm’s way. And in the assertion that “the MEF commander needs to know where every Marine is at all times!” (Actual quote from II MEF staffer some years ago, prodding enthusiastic nods of approval.) It is also manifest in orders briefs I have sat through where an attack in zone by a Regiment required more than a dozen PIRs, and twice that in CCIRs!

    Like the above examples, the term “Information Dominance” connotes a badly misconstrued and misunderstood appreciation for what is necessary, and what is achievable in the realm of IW, and how it relates to combat operations at all levels.

  • http://www.schmedlap.com/weblog Schmedlap

    I really don’t know where to begin. Here’s a vignette. Does this not demonstrate an example of achieving “information superiority” (to use a doctrinal term)?

    (Altered slightly for brevity and OPSEC)
    Iraq, 2007, we convince a tribal Sheik who is allied with AQI that we are willing to supply his men with weapons if he cooperates with us. He knows that we are coming. So does every man in his tribe. We do this in cooperation with a lesser sheik within the tribe who is next in line to lead, without knowledge of the top sheik. He “leaks” (with our permission) our arrival to AQI operatives and “tips them off” on the best place to lay an ambush on our exfil route. We go to the top sheik’s home for the meeting. Meanwhile, the AQI operatives attempting to emplace the ambush are interdicted and killed by another unit. While at the sheik’s home, we wait for the report from the adjacent unit that their objective is secure. Then we detain the sheik. Short firefight ensues with bewildered tribesmen as we exfil with no friendly casualties. We return to base. The lesser sheik, allied with us, asserts himself as new head of the tribe. Is that not an example of achieving information superiority in pursuit of an objective? Every enemy and adversary knew our route, timing, location, strength, etc. Our target invited us into his home. We duped every enemy fighter into adhering to our playbook.

    Maybe it’s different for the Army than the Navy. Your posts invoke a lot of references to technology, sensors, and things like that, which I guess is how things are at sea. Most information work on the ground is done by person-to-person interaction and by revealing or contriving indicators to make people believe or disbelieve certain things or to get confused by what they’re taking in. Granted, people can be viewed as a type of “sensor” but they are significantly different from a mechanical one, since observations are filtered through whatever peculiar biases the human sensor has. I think it is telling that you view them as “sensors” whereas I would view them as “conduits.” Different paradigms – neither necessary right or wrong, better or worse; just different ways of looking at it.

    I agree with many of your basic points (simpler enemy IRs and more human sensors to collect and report, etc), but don’t see how they contradict much or any of what I wrote. In the bigger picture, I still think the root of our disagreement is scope (strategic versus tactical), terminology (what is information dominance?), and familiarity with particular modes of operation (Navy’s highly technological bent versus the Army’s highly interpersonal bent).

    Conversing via blog post has some downsides – the older posts eventually fall to the bottom of the screen and then disappear into the archive, the comment feature isn’t really designed for writing or reading lengthy entries, etc. This might be worth continuing (or starting anew) on a message board, such as at SWJ.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Schmedlap,

    I would submit that your rolling of the AQI Sheik was some fine work of old-fashioned deception. I have a hard time seeing how the term “information superiority” or “dominance” is appropriate. Had the Sheik made a different decision, one of the Sheik’s front room boys might have detonated a suicide vest and taken a number of you with him.

    Allied efforts to deceive OKH and OKW as to the target of OVERLORD included information deception, decoys, and “feints” in the form of NGF and tactical air strikes on and behind the Pas de Calais. Calling that effort “information dominance” is a fair amount of revisionism.

    And neither your example in Iraq ca 2007 or in the Spring of 1944 has all that much to do with ADM Harvey’s decription of what we once called CNO.

    Agreed on the limitations of deep discussions on the blog. Would I spend the time I would like cruising the various fascinating message boards (SWJ among them), I would certainly be fired from my day job! I would have no wireless connection while living under the overpass….

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Many insurgent groups outperform GIRoA and ISAF at information operations. Information operations drive many insurgent operations as they work to shape the cultural and religious narrative.They have carefully analyzed their audience and target products accordingly. They use their Pashtun identity, physical proximity to the population, and violent intimidation to deliver immediate and enduring messages with which ISAF and GIRoA have been unable to compete. They leverage this advantage by projecting the inevitability of their victory, a key source of their strength.”

    Seems the insurgents have learned quite a bit more of the IO game from Iraq than we have.

    Before we begin to tout “Information Dominance”, at DCNO or elsewhere, we ought to pay heed.

2014 Information Domination Essay Contest