America’s Future—Defense Policy Principles, Part III

I wrote about fundamental principles of Defense policy here.  In this post, I want to talk about some of the Defense policies themselves that are necessary to implement those principles; in a later post I’ll talk about force structures needed to begin to give concreteness and bite to our Defense.  I won’t go into identifying those policies that are suitable and already in place, or unsuitable ones that should be removed, nor will this post presume to be an exhaustive list of policies.  Instead, I’ll  identify what I consider the important with a view to offering a point of departure for continued discussion.

For the sake of review, these are the fundamental principles:

  • defense must be built around the concept winning across the full spectrum of conflict, and across the full spectrum of kinds of enemy combatants;
  • control of the high ground, which means space: LEO today, near-lunar space and at lunar altitudes in the very immediate future, Mars and along Mars’ orbit around the sun within 20 years, and Jupiter and beyond by the end of the century; and
  • flexibility, which includes mobility, agility, and adaptability of both weapons and their support systems and of the soldiers themselves.

There are a broad range of defense policies, from procurement through training, that I’ll ignore in this post.  The overriding policies about which I’ll write here are those involving the nature of combat, cyberspace, communications, and space.

Modern warfare is no longer limited to the classic set-piece battles of the last century.  Those will continue to be a major component of modern and future warfare, if for no other reason than that it always will be necessary to seize and hold the enemy’s real estate, since even his cyber equipment must have a physical location or a network of physical locations.  Those physical locations, though, will no longer be confined to earth (and already haven’t been confined to the surface for some time, now ranging from the bottom of the oceans to high atmospheric operations).

There are two other kinds of combat today, however, and these are no less a lethal threat to our country’s existence: terrorist warfare conducted by non-national entities, and supported to a greater or lesser degree by one or more nation-states, and cyber warfare.  We have seen the deadliness of terrorist war in the attacks on us at the start of this century, in the intimidation of Spain into leaving the coalition fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, and in Afghanistan itself with the terrorist war conducted for years against Afghan women and girls, and the terrorist attacks today against the body politic of that nation.  The current terrorist war that is tearing apart the nascent Iraqi democracy, before that nation can grow out of its infancy is another example.

Terrorist war, though, doesn’t only involve nation-states, and those nation-states that are involved usually participate in a supporting role.  The primary actors here are the terrorist non-national entities themselves.  Examples of these include al-Qaeda and its offshoots (al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Yemen, and so on), the Taliban, and the terrorists in Iraq today who make war on Sunni and Shiite Iraqis and sometimes on themselves in efforts to frame the other.  These entities are much more diffuse and harder to identify, they use women and children as tools of their war as well as targets, and their targets are nearly completely indiscriminate: the only unifying concept of terrorist targets is how much damage and fear they can cause for the terrorists’ enemy.

Cyber warfare wasn’t even possible until the end of the last century.  Cyberwar is a contest to protect our own computer systems—in weapons systems, communications systems, national infrastructure, financial networks and systems, and so on—from penetration or disruption by our enemies together with our efforts to do exactly that to our enemy’s computer systems.  This is a shadow war that runs from malware disrupting the functionality of the systems to spyware that collects information from those systems without disrupting them to additional malware that lies dormant until activated to carry out their missions.  The malware can be implanted at any time, from being embedded in the chips comprising a system’s CPUs, xROMs, RAM, and so on at the time of chip manufacture to an email or an email’s imagery or attachment to a “memory stick” plugged into the UBS port of a laptop or PC.

Before we can do anything else, then, we must understand the nature of our enemy and the techniques he is using this time to make war on us, as well as successfully estimate how he or another enemy will make war the next time.  Thus, our most important policy in Defense must be one that both supports and facilitates intelligence gathering and fusion (the knitting together of information and estimates from a broad variety of sources into a coherent, single picture).  But this isn’t enough.  This policy also must generate a capacity for political and social research to better understand how war evolves its techniques, how technology evolves and how that impacts the evolution of war, and how all of this is influenced by the more general political, social, and economic evolution of the various societies and nations around the planet.

With this understanding in progress now, it is critical for our Defense establishment to have a policy in place that facilitates our capacity in cyberspace.  This capacity includes not just a defensive one of securing (both through encryption and through assured operations) our computational capability (for instance, but not nearly limited to, our communications, our information displays, our weapons systems, our control over our space-based systems), but also an offensive one.  We must be able to carry the war that our enemy has inflicted on us into his cyberspace (including initiating combat in that milieu, beating our enemy to that punch where possible), with a view toward the destruction of his computational capacity—in his communications, in his information displays, in his weapons systems, his control over his space-based systems.

Our cyberspace policy, to be effective, also will impact procurement.  All of our existing computing chips—those CPUs, xROMs, RAM, and so on—must be swept for malware that might have been embedded by a foreign manufacturer—especially those chips we might buy from the People’s Republic of China.  It goes beyond this, though.  Malware and malware defense are just like any other arms race:  the offensive side nearly always leads, and the defensive side nearly always is behind.  Thus, it’s entirely possible that malware will remain simply because we haven’t identified the new evolution, yet.  Accordingly, new computing chips should be obtained solely from domestic manufacturers.  Some will argue that this will elevate the cost of those chips.  These will be right, at least in the near term (I won’t go into the evolution of costs from an established domestic chip manufacturing industry in this context).  However, the elevated costs of domestic chips also must be weighed against the costs of communications failures, broken water and electricity delivery infrastructures, eviscerated financial systems, weapons that won’t fire, and so on to our survival as a free nation.

Finally, our cyber policy must facilitate our ability to target both non-national entities and their supporting nation-states.  This is especially critical when we’re fighting terrorist war.  We must deny the non-national entity all support from those nation-states that have declared their enmity toward us by supporting our enemy’s active war.  Those nation-states, by that support, will have made themselves active participants in that war, and so their capacity to fight and to support the others’ fight have become legitimate—and necessary—targets, as well.

Note that this dimension of war necessarily is asymmetric.  We have vast networks of computing systems that have become critical to our nation’s functioning, even to our existence.  Many of our enemies are not so dependent.  The reasons for this are broad.  At one end of the spectrum, the enemy simply is not that advanced, as was the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the Taliban-run Afghanistan.  At the other end of the spectrum is the diffuse nature of the enemy, who while technologically sophisticated, has no major computing systems of his own (beyond cell phones and laptop computers and the like), but who relies on the technological infrastructure of his supporting nation-states.

Next, our communications policy must facilitate support our three fundamental principles.  As with cyberspace policies, our communications policy must include both defensive and offensive (including information war) guidance.  After protecting our computing systems, and so the infrastructure and other systems which depend on these for functionality, communications is most important.  An intact cyberspace is foundational to our Defense capability, but we must be able to communicate with our soldiers, our systems, and our infrastructure, our finances, and we must be able to disrupt, to destroy, our enemy’s ability to communicate with his.

Thus, our communications policy must be aimed at ensuring the security of our communications—both in terms of hardening against espionage or real-time eavesdropping and in terms of reliability.  When a unit commander needs to communicate with a soldier, or a space asset, he must be able to do so promptly and with assured contact, and when Headquarters must communicate their commanders in theater and so on down the chain, and/or with a space asset, they must be able to do so promptly and with assured contact.  The information coming back to the commander (at this point I’m deliberately eliding civilian communications, for instance with financial entities; in this context, civilian communications are variations on  this principle theme) must be rapid, reliable, and as accurate as the sensors and soldiers who are initiating the information.

Our communications policy must have two offensive components.  One is an ability directly to attack our enemy’s ability to communicate with his soldiers, his systems, his infrastructure, his finances, and this capability must be able, at our choice, freely to eavesdrop on and to fatally disrupt, if not completely destroy, those communications.  The other component is information dissemination.  Our communications policy must facilitate the rapid, reliable spread both of truth and of propaganda to our enemy’s civilian population, and it must support the rapid and reliable spread of disinformation to our enemy’s military and civilian leadership.  And we must be able to strike, if not first, then in immediate response, as well as repeatedly without regard to our enemy’s subsequent actions.

Finally, space is almost as new a conflict terrain for us as is cyberspace, and we have lost our access to it, except through begging rides from our potential adversaries.  We do retain an ability to reach LEO, in a benign environment, with satellites, but our most likely nation-state adversaries are capable of reaching farther into space—reaching higher ground—and they have active programs for improving on that, including increasing their military capabilities in space.  Accordingly, our next most important policy, and one directly related to our first fundamental Defense principle, is an effective space policy.

It is critical that we rebuild our failed national space program and that we make our own progress along this dimension.  This effort must involve both a new Federal space agency, replacing the wholly dysfunctional National Aeronautical and Space Agency with a body that is capable of assisting DoD in developing the requisite space-oriented and -based assets, and a commercial industry capable of exploiting the resources in space and of supporting national control of that high ground.

Thus, our space policy must center on development of transportation into space and the development of weapons and communications systems that either will pass through space en route to their destinations or that will reside in space.  This policy also must facilitate commercial exploitation of space and of the bodies in space, beginning with the moon and the debris that collects at L4 and L5, and moving outward (and inward) in the solar system.  This facilitation, though, should be limited to a sharing of technologies and techniques with our domestic commercial enterprises.  An example of this sharing is early NASA’s technology transfers to private enterprise during NASA’s heyday of the Mercury and Apollo programs.

With these policies in place, which are primary in supporting our three fundamental principles, along with effective policies covering such other important Defense needs as acquisition, training, general technology development, and so on, we can begin to outline the force structures that will effect our fundamental principles.  That’s the subject for a later post.

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