I made my way to the USNI/AFCEA West 2014 Conference because the theme is an important one. Shaping the Maritime Strategy. And because I was fairly certain it wouldn’t be snowing in San Diego. Sure enough, the speakers and panel sessions have not disappointed. And, there is not a snowbank in sight.

This morning’s keynote event was a roundtable on Information Dominance. Moderated by Mr. David Wennergren, VP for Enterprise Technologies and Services at CACI, the panel consisted of RADM Paul Becker USN, Director of Intelligence J2 from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, RADM Robert Day USCG, Assistant Commandant for C4I for Coast Guard Cyber Command, Mr. Terry Halvorsen, DoN CIO, and BGen Kevin Nally USMC, Marine Corps CIO.

Each spoke eloquently of the need for protecting trusted information networks in an increasingly interconnected military, as well as the complexities of the dependence on trusted networks for myriad systems, capabilities, and decision support of command and control functions. Not surprisingly, the emphasis of most of the discussion was on countering the threats to our use of the electronic spectrum, which is to say “cyber” security. Each of the roundtable speakers were insightful in describing the problem of data overload, and how that overload actually stymied efforts to retrieve information. And each commented in turn that “information dominance” was not synonymous with “cyber”, which merely represented one aspect of the concept.

The discussion amongst the roundtable members did fall disappointingly short in two critical areas. The first was the focus on technical solutions for managing data and information. Connectivity and data transfer capability dominated what should have been a cultural discussion about information management. It is not the lack of sensors, or data feeds, nor connectivity shortfalls which have hampered our attempts to wring the maximum value from our information systems. We have become so enamored of the colossal capability to access raw data that we have become less than disciplined about what we NEED to know, when we need to know it, from whom we should expect it, what form that data needs to be in, and how it is to be analyzed into information useful for decision support for C2. Little of that was directly addressed, which was unfortunate, as such lack of acumen about our information and intelligence requirements will render any system to deliver those products far less effective than they should be.

By far, however, the biggest shortcoming of the roundtable discussion was the inability of any of the panel members to actually define the term “Information Dominance” in any meaningful way. I had submitted precisely that question for the roundtable via the electronic submission system in use at West this year, but someone asked it ahead of me. The attempts to define “Information Dominance” would have made a junior high English teacher cringe. We heard what information dominance is similar to, and what the supposed goals of information dominance were, but neither was in any way a real definition. (This is not a surprise. Two years ago, the Navy had an “Information Dominance” booth on the “gizmo floor”, staffed alternately by a Captain and two Commanders. I asked each, separately, over a couple days, to give me their definition of “information dominance”. None of theirs were remotely similar, nor any more adequate than what we heard today.)

The problem, of course, is the term itself. Information cannot be “dominated”, despite assertions to the contrary. An enemy with a very specific information requirement that he can fulfill reliably and in a timely manner can be said to have information “dominance” over our massive sensor and communications networks that commanders and staffs pore over in attempts to see through the fog of war. The dust cloud from the dirt bike as the teenager rides from Baghdadi to Hit to tell the insurgents of the Coalition convoy headed their way trumps our networked, data-driven ISR platform links that cannot help prevent the ambush that awaits us.

We have much work ahead of us to make most effective use of our incredibly robust data collection systems and information networks. The solution to the problems of analytical capacity resident in C2 nodes with which to turn raw data into useful information and intelligence will be far more human than digital. Commanders have to insist on a philosophy of “Don’t tell me everything, tell me what I need to know”. And then go about ensuring that those who collect, compile, and analyze data have a very good idea of what they need to know.

And we can start by retiring the troublesome and ill-suited term “Information Dominance”. As General van Riper is fond of saying, “Words MEAN things!”. They’re supposed to, anyway.

Cross-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Cyber, Innovation, Marine Corps, Naval Institute, Navy, Training & Education

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  • Kevin

    The author is “absolutely” correct regarding the lack of a definition for Information Dominance. However, the Navy has defined it, but it conflicts with the exisitng definition of Information Superiority, which is defined in Joint Publication 1-02, The Department of Defense Dictionary for Military and Associated terms.
    In discussions for nearly the last three years, there are those who are educated in the operational art of planning that endured to educate senior leaders of the Navy that Information Dominace efforts should be focused on the Corps of professionals (Information Dominance Corps), as well as the portfolio management requried for the development of various Information Related Capabilities.
    Operationally, there is no authority to conduct Information Dominance, nor is it remotely possible to achieve Information Dominance. The goal, as stated by the author, is to ensure the right information needed at the required time to support a commander’s C2 decision making. As a commander, I certainly did not require Information Superiority or Dominance to achieve my operational objectives. Conversely, a self-proclaimed dominance or superiority of infomation does not guarantee that I will achieve my military objectives.

    • jlc

      “As a commander, I certainly did not require Information Superiority or Dominance to achieve my operational objectives.” Unfortunately, you are playing right into our adversary’s game. This negative stance on Information Dominance is exactly what a technology savy adversary would like you to embrace.

      An adversary’s view: Let’s hack their information systems and force them to go back to the way they used to do it (the senior commanders will insist because this new environment is not what their accustomed to). If we can do that and continue to have our technology fully operational we can effectively counter their advantage.

      The solution is to not lean backward, but to lean forward. Our adversaries are not looking to build 12 carriers, a better tank, or a more advanced machine gun. They’re looking for the cheapest way to get into the game. A laptop and an internet connection. We’ve never yielded an advantage in the past. Why do we do that with our C2 and information systems? ID is about advantage in the cyber domain. Similar to air superiority in the air domain. Before they defined the term “air strikes” they were called “some guy in a plane dropping bombs.” Cyber is still in the early stages. The ID and cyber “widgets” are not completely built, but in time, will be fully understood. Either by us or our adversaries.

      • UltimaRatioRegis

        I would submit that one of the biggest fundamental problems is the labeling of “cyber” (which is a horribly imprecise and misleading term in its own right) as a “domain”.

        There is a difference between “talking to other ships” (or ground units) and the running conversation we generate in the information age in a risk-averse and micromanaged combat environment.

        Mission orders. Commander’s Intent that does not become a seven-page CONOPS. Competent juniors. A feel for one’s craft as a warfighter and a trust in well-developed subordinates. And training, training, training.

        Reliance on the massive information networks and technical capabilities as a prerequisite for even crossing LD is the problem. We must understand that the right information, turned into actionable intelligence through an RSTA plan that provides effective input, is the way to lean. Always has been. It is not a matter of backward or forward, and the vast majority of the solution is cultural and not technical.

      • NG36B

        Define domain. If it’s where something exists, your data exists in the cyber domain. Or in the electromagnetic spectrum. Take your pick. But the cyber domain is quite real. You touch it every time you go to the bank, get electricity, talk on a phone, or work on a computer.

        The IDC’s job is to fight in this domain. Fighting involves hurting the enemy to further our interests. When you drop a bomb on someone’s country, you break something. If you use a jammer, you can get the same effect, or even through a computer. All are warfighting. Sure, you can say the jammer guy or the cyber guy isn’t really fighting. But if you did harm to their system, they would probably beg to differ.

        If someone hacked your account and stole money electronically, its the same as them mugging you. Granted, we treat it differently in the courts, but the end effect (you losing money) is the same. Fighting in the cyber domain is no different.

        And, like all domains, you can choose to not fight in it. Plenty of countries fight wars with land armies only and ignore the maritime domain. Washington did that early on in the Revolution, and the British used their dominance in the maritime domain to completely out maneuver him. Our adversaries are attempting to do the same in the cyber domain.

      • UltimaRatioRegis

        How you “fight” in that “domain” is rather poorly understood by the USG in general and DoD in particular. We have to put down the mirror. There are adversaries who are NOT networked intentionally because they calculate the threat to a networked system is higher than the benefit of rapidity of information. I am not prepared to tell them they are wrong.

        And no, the “cyber domain” is no more real than The Matrix. A domain is a PLACE. “Cyberspace”, for all of the references to it, is no such place. No more so than Marconi’s radio waves were a place or domain.

        Besides, any such assertions are at best (or should be) secondary to the idea of decision support in C2. Which, IMHO, should be what this notion of “information dominance” is focused on. “Cyber” is, like EW and SIGINT and ELINT, a combat support function. While the efforts of those perpetrating network attacks may degrade enemy systems, they are not facing the dangers of someone who walks the battlefield engaging the enemy in a lethal contest of arms.

      • jlc

        You’re still holding on to dated warfare concepts with no room for something new. The only constant is change. “…they are not facing the dangers of someone who walks the battlefield engaging the enemy in a lethal contest of arms.” The battlefield is changing. Our adversaries don’t seek to engage us face-to-face in trench warfare. Whether we like it or not, unmanned systems is a technological eventuality that will replace hand-to-hand combat. I submit, it makes combat even more lethal because the experience of war is relegated to clicking targets on a computer console for a UAV (or other unmanned system) to destroy. We will soon see all flavors of unmanned systems: sea, land, and subsurface. Which removes the requirement for a person to physically “walk the battlefield.” Continuing to cling to dated warfare concepts is a dangerous mindset. As people will be unnecessarily put in harms way. It seems in your vision of future warfare there is no room for cyber and unmanned systems to be the primary combat operation.

        When avaition was first introduced to the Navy the battleship commanders at the time dismissed the concept and insisted on more battleships. The only battleships you find today are in museums and in every recent conflict the first order of business is establishing air superiority. Times are again changing. Either we become masters of this new capability or we become servants to those that do. Still don’t think warfare is changing? Ask Iran and their hackers how’s our Navy doing. Or you can continue to swallow the blue pill and believe the character of war doesn’t change.

      • UltimaRatioRegis

        Your fanciful views of yet another RMA have little basis in reality. You can expect your enemy to fight you in precisely the capability gap you have neglected. One would think we would learn that by now. Network-Centric Warfare is a fatally-flawed concept for myriad reasons, most of which are unalterable. You can call what I say “anathema!” and old-speak, but warfare has been with us for millenia, without its basic nature changing.

        I have flown UAVs, and I have walked the battlefield. We may want more of the former, but we damned sure need to be able to do the latter.

        Which still is quite tangential to “information dominance”.

      • jlc

        It seems many are in disagreement with you. Cyber and Information Dominance are here to stay.



        I agree with you. Warfare has been with us for millenia. The nature of war doesn’t change, but the character of war constantly changes.

        A quote from Vice ADM Branch in the article above: “We will have arrived when we have our internal audience, the information
        dominance corps, thinking of themselves as warfighters,” he said. “And probably
        more importantly, when the rest of the guys, the kinetic guys, the trigger-pullers
        start thinking of the information dominance corps as warfighters, we’ll get

      • UltimaRatioRegis

        I am not sure you can even tell me what “Cyber” and “Information Dominance” are, to any effective degree. Elements of communication networks and information management have been with us for centuries. Not sure either of these “RMA” concepts are not precisely the same in a slightly transmogrified form.

        I do disagree with Admiral Branch. When the “kinetic guys” see you next to them on the battlefield, sharing the hardships, danger, privations, and comraderie, they may think of you as warriors. But until that time, Admiral Branch would seem to have a lot to learn about the “trigger pullers”.

      • silencedogoodreturns

        VADM Branch is a career jet naval aviator, with thousands of traps aboard carriers, and numerous combat missions flown. How many do you have?

      • jlc

        Mission orders. Commander’s Intent. Wonderful concepts that had outstanding applications during their time. A plan doesn’t survive first contact. In today’s environment commander’s intent is a fallback for people that haven’t embraced real time strategy. We have the ability to bring the Generals back to the battlefield. Complete global awareness with the ability to remotely command down to the unit level is technologically feasible. In a future conflict, I would place my money on the forces that are more aware, more connected, and more able to quickly make the most prudent computer aided decisions than a gaggle of units operating on commander’s intent. I hear critics saying, “But what if we lose all that fancy tech stuff?” Then we play the adversary’s game. Our efforts and focus should be on maintaining our advantage rather than “wishing” it away.

      • UltimaRatioRegis

        “Real-time strategy” and “global awareness” are concepts that do not survive first contact. As is “remotely command”.

        I would place my money on the better trained and more autonomous force whose decision cycle is more rapid and effective than the other. Particularly if that enemy has the ability to disrupt our information networks, which he knows we have come to rely on entirely too much.

        To believe otherwise is to misunderstand so fundamentally the operational arts as to be almost irredeemable.

    • NG36B

      “As a commander, I certainly did not require Information Superiority or Dominance to achieve my operational objectives.”

      Doubt it. From a CSG perspective, can you fight without being able to talk to other ships? Share COP data? Trust that your COP isn’t compromised by the enemy? Send targeting data to other ships? You certainly can fight independently, but if the enemy is fighting cohesively and you aren’t, it doesn’t work so well, see Battle of the Java Sea.

      I agree that the IDC needs more definition, but to say that you don’t need information superiority is borderline foolish. Every time we take away comms or COPs in an exercise, our commanders OODA loops slow down. If the enemy gets inside our OODA loop because we didn’t take information seriously, who do you think will win in the end?

  • Zurga

    Good discussion and themes. In general the ID vision is sound even if the semantics are a bit fuzzy. Here is the working definition I am using: Information Dominance is a dynamic state, or temporary condition, during which a commander’s information readiness is higher than his adversary. This working definition allows me to develop metrics for, and levels of, information readiness in the context of specific missions. We can then tie the ID metrics back to the existing readiness reporting system. In this context ID then becomes the highest state of information readiness achievable.

    • UltimaRatioRegis

      Define “information readiness”. Those metrics have been defined a long time ago, and we seem to be relabeling with less and less precise terminology. CCIRs and EEIs have been with us since the 1930s.

      • jlc

        There in lies the difficulty. We’re trying to use old concepts to define ID. Imagine being in the 70’s and trying to describe social media. People would scratch their heads and look at you funny. They would try to understand it by saying, “That’s like a bulletin board” or “Kind of like sending a letter.” Some would even say, “How is that possible?” While there may be some benefit in attempting to understand ID with dated terminology, I believe ID is more about future capability. A nuke was described as a really large bomb, but people (even the scientists) truly didn’t understand its power until one was dropped.

  • Joe Rochefort

    Why is the panel on ID dominated by a bunch of CIOs? Why is there only a single J2 officer and no J3/J39 types? ID should be focused on the enemy. The J6’s job is to get info to the commander and J3, not run the show.


    The quest for information is as old as warfare itself. Sun Tzu discussed the value of spies at length, and now cyber is the technological means to attempt to get information, albeit faster.

    Cyber (or whatever you call it) is both an extreme vulnerability and opportunity for exploiting the enemy, but there’s a big mistake in thinking that the solution to the vulnerability is more of the same. The solution is to ensure that warriors and their systems fail gracefully when attacked in the cyber domain. That means reversion to autonomous, non-networked, non-cyber susceptible means of delivering violence upon the enemy as a design feature or all platforms.

    Even purely mechanical systems fail, and they’re invulnerable to cyber attack. Computer based, networked systems will fail on their own and all the more so when attacked. Designing weapons platforms that have any cyber component that can keep them from delivering weapons is just silly. Nobody with half a brain would design a ship or aircraft that could be rendered incapable of performing its mission without computers. Performance may be significantly degraded, but that’s life.

    The bottom line going in position for any weapons platform should be that a sophisticated enemy will penetrate its cyber component, thus that platform must have a manual method for the operator to override the computers and network feeds and take over all aspects of its operations manually.