The term Information warfare refers to the use of information, and attacks on information, as a tool of warfare. Information warfare may include giving the enemy propaganda to convince them to give up, and denying them information that might lead to their resistance. Information warfare may also include feeding propaganda or even disinformation to one's own population, either to build support for the war effort or to counter enemy propaganda.

Information warfare may also mean a strategy for undermining an enemy's data and information systems, while defending and leveraging one's own information edge. This type of war has no front line; potential battlefields are anywhere networked systems can be accessed --oil and gas pipelines, electric power grids, telephone switching networks, etc.

Information warfare can take countless forms: trains and planes can be misrouted and caused to collide, stock exchanges can be sabotaged by electronic "sniffers" which disrupt international fund-transfer networks, and the signals of television and radio stations can be jammed and taken over and used for a misinformation campaign.

During the Gulf War, Dutch hackers stole information about U.S. troop movements from U.S. Defense Department computers and tried to sell it to the Iraqis, who thought it was a hoax and turned it down. In January 1999, U.S. Air Intelligence computers were hit by a coordinated attack, part of which appeared to come from Russian hackers.


The following public domain text is written from a U.S. Armed Forces point of view -- please edit for NPOV

Table of contents
1 Cornerstones of information warfare
2 Why are we talking about information now?
3 What is information ?
4 What are some military information functions ?
5 What is information warfare ?
6 What comprises information warfare ?
7 How is information attack different ?
8 What is the other edge of the information warfare sword?
9 Why is information warfare important to the USAF?
10 How should we change Air Force doctrine to accommodate information warfare?
11 Roles And Missons of Aerospace Power
12 What is the relationship between information warfare and command & control warfare?
13 Is information warfare important only to the Air Force?
14 Conclusion
15 Definitions

Cornerstones of information warfare

The competition for information is as old as human conflict. it is virtually a defining characteristic of humanity. Nations, corporations, and individuals each seek to increase and protect their own store of information while trying to limit and penetrate the adversary's. Since around 1970, there have been extraordinary improvements in the technical means of collecting, storing, analyzing, and transmitting information.

Why are we talking about information now?

Because there is a technological revolution sweeping through information systems and their integration into our daily lives leading to the term 'Information Age.' information-related technologies concentrate data, vastly increase the rate at which we process and transmit data, and intimately couple the results into virtually every aspect of our lives. The Information Age is also transforming all military operations by providing commanders with information unprecedented in quantity and quality (2). The commander with the advantage in observing the battlespace, analyzing events, and distributing information possesses a powerful, if not decisive, lever over the adversary.

We must distinguish between information age warfare and information warfare. We make this distinction because much of the literature treats information warfare and advances in information technology synonymously. Information age warfare uses information technology as a tool to impart our combat operations with unprecedented economies of time and force (3). Ultimately, information age warfare will affect all combat operations. In contrast, information warfare views information itself as a separate realm, potent weapon, and lucrative target. Information, as we will show below, is technology independent. However, information age technology is turning a theoretical possibility into fact: directly (4) manipulating the adversary's information.

What is information ?

This question is elementary, but pivotal. It is impossible to discuss information warfare meaningfully without rigorously defining the central concept: information.

Information derives from phenomena. Phenomena, observable facts or events, are everything that happens around us. Phenomena must be perceived and interpreted to become information. Information, then, is the result of two things: perceived phenomena (data) and the instructions required to interpret that data and give it meaning.

This distinction is important, and easily encompassed by a familiar paradox: If a tree falls, but no one was around to hear it, did it make a noise? The falling tree caused pressure waves in the atmosphere, a phenomenon. Noise, the information denoting a falling tree, occurs when someone's ear detects the pressure waves, creating data, and the brain's instructions manipulate that data into the sound recognizable as a falling tree. Within that person's context, there is no falling tree until the person hears (or sees) it.

Phenomena become information through observation and analysis. Therefore, information is an abstraction of phenomena. Information is the result of our perceptions and interpretations, regardless of the means. As falling trees make clear, to define information requires only two characteristics:

  • Information consists of data and instructions.

Note that the definition for information is absolutely distinct from technology. However, what we can do with information, and how fast we can do it, is very dependent on technology. Technology dramatically enhances our observational means, expands and concentrates data storage, and accelerates instruction processing.

  • An Information Function is any activity involving the acquisition, transmission, storage, or transformation of information.

For example, the system that tells a machine to stamp eighty hubcaps is performing an information function. The sheet metal press stamping those hubcaps is not.

What are some military information functions ?

Quality information is the counter to the fog of war. As mentioned earlier, the commander with better information holds a powerful advantage over his adversary. Military operations make special demands on information functions in seeking to give the commander an information advantage.

Surveillance and reconnaissance are our powers of observation. Intelligence and weather analysis are the bases for orienting observations. Some militaries use those bases to form an Air Tasking Order, which command and control operations execute and monitor in directing the conflict. Precision navigation enhances mission performance. Together, these are the kinds of military information functions that enhance all military operations. Collectively, some militaries use the term military information functions to describe force enhancing information functions.

This definition serves to delineate militarily important information functions from the total universe of information functions.

What is information warfare ?

At the grand strategy level, nations seek to acquire, exploit, and protect information in support of their objectives. This exploitation and protection can occur in the economic, political, or military arenas. Knowledge of the adversary's information is a means to enhance our own capabilities, degrade or counteract enemy capabilities, and protect our own assets, including our own information. This is not new. The struggle to discover and exploit information started the first time one group of people tried to gain advantage over another.

Information warfare consists of targeting the enemy's information and information functions, while protecting our own, with the intent of degrading his will or capability to fight (5). Drawing on the definitions of information and information functions, information warfare may be defined as:

This definition is the basis for the following assertions:

Militaries have always tried to gain or affect the information required for an adversary to effectively employ forces. Past strategies typically relied on measures such as feints and deception to influence decisions by affecting the decision maker's perceptions. Because these strategies influenced information through the perception process, they attacked the enemy's information indirectly. That is, for deception to be effective, the enemy had to do three things:

  • observe the deception,
  • analyze the deception as reality, and,
  • act upon the deception according to the deceiver's goals.

However, modern means of performing information functions give information added vulnerability: direct access and manipulation (7). Modern technology now permits an adversary to change or create information without relying on observation and interpretation. Here is a short list of modem information system characteristics creating this vulnerability: concentrated storage, access speed, widespread information transmission, and the increased capacity for information systems to direct actions autonomously. Intelligent security measures can reduce, but not eliminate, this vulnerability; their absence makes it glaring.

What comprises information warfare ?

Recalling the definition, information warfare consists of activities that deny, exploit, corrupt, destroy, or protect information. Traditional means of conducting information warfare include psychological operations, electronic warfare, military deception, physical attack, and various security measures.

  • Psychological operations use information to affect the enemy's reasoning. (aka propaganda)

  • Electronic warfare denies accurate information to the enemy (8).

  • Military deception misleads the enemy about our capabilities or intentions (9).

  • Physical destruction can do information warfare by affecting information system elements through the conversion of stored energy to destructive power. The means of physical attack range from conventional bombs to electromagnetic pulse weapons.

  • Security measures seek to keep the adversary from learning about our military capabilities and intentions (10).

The Information Age has provided new and practical means to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy information (11), as well as the vulnerabilities to make those attacks possible. Air Force doctrine does not yet acknowledge or define these assaults on information, which we call Information Attack.

Information Attack: directly corrupting (12) information without visibly changing the physical entity within which it resides.

Information attack, constrained by the definition of information, is limited to directly altering data or instructions. It is, therefore, just another means of conducting information warfare, one whose immediate effects do not include visible changes to the entity within which the information resides. That is to say, after being subjected to information attack, an information function is indistinguishable from its original state except through inspecting its data or instructions (13).

How is information attack different ?

As previously described, there are two ways to influence the adversary's information functions: indirectly and directly.

Indirect information warfare affects information by creating phenomena, which the adversary will perceive, interpret, and act upon. Military deception, physical attack, and OPSEC traditionally achieved their ends indirectly (14). For example, the goal of deception is to cause the adversary to make incorrect decisions; deception does this by creating an apparent reality. Generally, this entails creating phenomena for the enemy to observer Success, however, depends on several conditional events: the adversary actually observes the phenomenon, thereby turning it into data; analyzes it into the desired information; and acts upon the information in the desired manner.

Direct information warfare affects information through altering its components without relying on the adversary's powers of perception or interpretation. Information attack acts directly upon the adversary's information. Since nearly all modem information functions are themselves controlled by information, information attack may be directed against most information functions.

Direct information warfare, the point of information attack, acts on the adversary's information without relying on the adversary's collection, analysis, or decision functions. It can short circuit the OODA loop (15) through creating observations and skewing orientation, or decapitate it by imposing decisions and causing actions.

A short illustration will serve to demonstrate the difference between indirect and direct information warfare applications:

One goal, using military deception, is to make the adversary think there is a wing of combat aircraft where, in fact, there is none, and act on that information in a manner benefiting operations.

Indirect information warfare: Using military deception, we could construct fake runways and parking areas, and generate enough other activities to present a convincing image. We rely on the adversary to observe the pseudo combat operation and interpret it as real (as opposed to detecting the fake). Only then does it become the information we want the adversary to have.

Direct information warfare: Conversely, if we use information attack to create the pseudo combat wing in the adversary's store of information, the result-deception-is precisely the same. But the means to that result, never mind the resources, time, and uncertainty, are dramatically different.

What is the other edge of the information warfare sword?

The defensive side of information warfaresecurity measures aimed at protecting information-prevents an adversary from conducting successful information warfare against our information functions. Current security measures such as OPSEC and COMSEC are typical means of preventing, detecting, and subverting an adversary's indirect actions on our military information functions. In contrast, security measures such as COMPUSEC encompass preventing, detecting, and subverting direct information actions on our information functions. Future security measures must evolve as information technology advances. Consequently, new-measures will likely take forms entirely different from today's security measures, rooted as they are in previous security requirements. As the simple examples in this paper illustrate, we must avoid falling victim to profound, debilitating effects of direct information warfare.

Why is information warfare important to the USAF?

Two reasons. First, because information warfare offers important means to accomplish Air Force missions. Second, because the widespread integration of information systems into Air Force operations makes our military information functions a valuable target set.

A hypothetical example using information attack shows how information warfare might accomplish a typical Air Force mission:

Interdiction prevents or delays essential resources from reaching combat units. One approach to interdiction is wrecking bridge spans using laser-guided bombs. Alternatively, we might be able to alter the adversary planners' information, falsely categorizing the bridges as destroyed, causing the planners to reroute forces and supplies. Each means performs interdiction; information attack offers the possibility of achieving our goal while consuming fewer resources or without exposing our assets to attack.

As an example emphasizing the need for robust defenses against information warfare, imagine the chaos that would ensue should an adversary manage to penetrate our time-phased force deployment database. Subtle changes in it could be sufficient to bring our power projection capabilities to a near standstill.

How should we change Air Force doctrine to accommodate information warfare?

Presently, Air Force doctrine recognizes air warfare and space warfare. However, the doctrine doesn't identify separate missions for air warfare or space warfare. Instead, both cut across all roles and missions. Similarly, information warfare cannot be pigeonholed as a single mission. To do so would fail to completely integrate information warfare into Air Force doctrine.

Recall that missions are operational tasks performed to achieve military objectives. Air warfare is a means, defined by the environment, to execute those missions. There are three objectives of air warfare:

In our doctrine, the objectives of control, exploit, and enhance translate into the roles of aerospace control, force application, and force enhancement.

In many respects, one can consider information as a realm, just as land, sea, air, and space are realms (16) information has its own characteristics of motion, mass, and topography, just as air, space, sea, and land have their own distinct characteristics (17). There are strong conceptual parallels between conceiving of air and information as realms. Before the Wright brothers, air, while it obviously existed, was not a realm suitable for practical, widespread military operations. Similarly, information existed before the Information Age. But the Information Age changed the information realm's characteristics so that widespread military operations within it became practical.

Information warfare, like air warfare, is the means defined by the environment to execute military missions. There are three objectives of information warfare:

  • control the information realm so we can exploit it while protecting our own military information functions from enemy action,
  • exploit control of information to employ information warfare against the enemy, and,
  • enhance overall force effectiveness by fully developing military information functions.

The first objective of information warfare, to control the realm so we can exploit it while protecting our own military information functions from enemy action, contributes significantly to controlling the combat environment. Presently, Air Force doctrine recognizes two missions to control the combat environment: counterair and counterspace. Counterair comprises missions whose objectives are control of the air; counterspace comprises those missions whose objectives are control of space. Clarity and consistency require we term those activities dedicated to controlling information as counterinformation.

Counterinformation: actions dedicated to controlling the information realm.

Further, counterinformation, like counterair and counterspace, has both offensive and defensive aspects. Offensive counterinformation enables us to use the information realm and impedes the adversary's use of the realm. Typical means include physical attack, military deception, psychological operations, electronic warfare, and information attack. Defensive counterinformation includes both active and passive actions to protect ourselves from the adversary's information warfare actions. Defensive counterinformation is accomplished, for instance, through physical defense, physical security, hardening, OPSEC, COMSEC, COMPUSEC, and counterintelligence.

Successful aerospace control enables us to use the air and space realms without suffering substantial losses, and inflict substantial losses on the enemy's use of those realms. Counterinformation, working with counterair and counterspace, seeks to create such an environment.

The second objective of information warfare is to exploit our control of information. In air warfare's force application role, the missions of strategic attack, interdiction, and close air support exploit air control. Similarly, information warfare might also be used to achieve the same ends. We have already cited an example of how information warfare can perform interdiction. It can also perform strategic attack:

Suppose we want to limit the enemy's long-term mobility by restricting his POL resupply. We first identify his refineries as the most suitable target to achieve this goal. Through research we further identify the specific refineries comprising most of his production capacity. For each refinery, we find there is one critical cracking tower. We mount a strike and, with admirable economy of force, put the refineries out of operation by destroying just those towers, while leaving everything else untouched. This is a classic example of strategic attack.

Same situation. Like all modern refineries, these have extensive automated control systems. These extensive information functions offer a potential target for information warfare. Early in the conflict we performed an offensive counterinformation mission by penetrating and characterizing the refinery's automated control system. In the process, we uncovered several vulnerable information dependencies, giving us the means of affecting the refineries' operations at a time of our choosing. Later in the conflict, combined with interdiction and ground maneuvers, we choose to exploit one of the vulnerabilities. We have just disabled their refineries. This, too, is a classic example of strategic attack.

Information technology is already tightly woven with our military operations, providing heretofore unimaginable amounts of information. Exploiting this information has provided us striking capabilities; relying on it inevitably creates potentially crippling vulnerabilities. This, coupled with advances in the ability -to both locate and destroy command and control (C2) nodes makes C2, more than ever, a lucrative target set. History has shown successful militaries can achieve striking success through paralyzing the enemy's ability to exercise command and control. Airmen have always considered this an important objective and expended much effort against C2 (18). For these reasons, the efforts to disrupt and destroy the adversary's command and control elements have prompted us to identify a separate mission under force application.

C2 Attack: any action against any element of the enemy's command and control system.

The third objective of information warfare is to develop information functions to enhance total force effectiveness. Previously we described military information functions as supporting the employment of military forces. Our current doctrine does not include such a mission. To fill that void, we will include information operations under force enhancement. Some examples of information operations are: surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control, communications, combat identification, intelligence, precision navigation, and weather. The distinguishing characteristic of the information operations mission is that it deals primarily with information as both its resource and product.

Roles And Missons of Aerospace Power

Information Operations: any action involving the acquisition, transmission, storage, or transformation of information that enhances the employment of military forces.

Since we require relevant, accurate, and timely information for everything we do, information operations support the conduct of missions across all four roles', from aerospace control to force support. Information operations provide commanders the ability to observe the battlespace, analyze events, and direct forces. information operations provide logisticians the ability to know what is in inventory, and where it is needed. Information operations provide the flight lead the ability to know where the target is, its defenses, and select the most appropriate weapon.

In sum, information warfare cuts across all Air Force roles and missions. It is another means to conduct our traditional missions. However, there are three additional operational tasks that information warfare enables us to execute which are not suitably addressed by our current doctrine: counterinformation, C2 Attack, and information operations. Similarly, we elected to delete two missions no longer relevant under regrouped missions: electronic combat, previously under force enhancement, is now subsumed by information warfare; surveillance and reconnaissance are now considered instances of information operations. However, this list is by no means exhaustive. As this paper's title conveys, the ideas contained herein provide the cornerstones, not the entire building. Invariably, as the Air Force fully accommodates the information technology revolution, additional operational tasks may arise which will in turn warrant adding or removing missions. To the extent these cornerstones continue to provide a valid litmus test for information warfare, all new missions need to meet and pass it.

What is the relationship between information warfare and command & control warfare?

The focus of information warfare is any information function, whether it is C2, a refinery's control system, or a telephone switching station. C2 represents only part of the universe of military information functions. The Joint Staff defines command and control:

Command and Control: the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned forces in the accomplishment of the mission. [joint Pub 1-021

Command and control warfare (C2W) only addresses activities directed against the adversary's ability to direct the disposition and employment of forces, or those which protect the friendly commander's ability to do so. As we have illustrated, information warfare not only attacks the C2 process, but it also attacks the enemy's combat power itself. Conversely, by definition, C2W is not associated with reducing or nullifying the ability or desire of combat units to execute their orders. Tactical psychological operations and electronic countermeasures self-protection hinder the ability of units to execute orders. But they in no way affect commanders' ability to issue orders to those units, nor their ability to receive those orders.

Although extraordinarily important, the JCS's policy of Command and Control Warfare is only a particular application of information warfare. For the military to concentrate only on C2W would be ignoring other legitimate target sets. Therefore, information warfare, and its attendant organizing, training, and equipping issues, is essential to fully effective C2W.

Is information warfare important only to the Air Force?

We have established that information warfare is important to the Air Force for two reasons. First, since our military information functions present a valuable target set, we must make commensurate defensive efforts. Second, as the examples in this paper show, information warfare is a potential means to achieve typical Air Force ends: strategic attack, interdiction, etc. More fundamentally, the Air Force already does information warfare through such systems as the EF-111 and Compass Call.

But in a broader sense, information warfare might be a means to conduct any mission the services already conduct - and the services are best positioned to choose the best means for their ends. Each service has its own unique operational demands. After all, the Army is best qualified to decide which means are best suited for pursuing the goals the joint Force Commander apportions to the Army.

As a result of its service-unique expertise, its own OODA loop requirements, logistics, etc., each service has information warfare concerns. In developing the doctrinal constructs in this paper, we used airpower terminology and examples. That is our background, those are the terms and the environment with which we are familiar. But the argument we present is not dependent on terminology. Replacing Air Force terms with Army or Navy terms would leave the conclusions unchanged.


The information revolution, startlingly fast as it is, shows no signs of slowing. As armed forces more technologically sophisticated, they becomes more technologically dependent. We need to use that technological sophistication to avail ourselves of all the opportunities that information, as a target, presents. We also need to be aware that our technical dependencies represent potentially crippling vulnerabilities. Sophisticated, robust, multi-layered defenses for our military information functions may well be what separates us from joining the sorry league of military failures.

Information, combined with modern information functions, has distinct characteristics that warrant it being considered a realm, just as land, sea, air, .and space are realms. Information warfare does not fill a discrete place in Air Force doctrine. just like air warfare, information warfare can be part of many AFM 1 -1 missions. just as when space warfare was integrated into Air Force doctrine, viewing information as a realm now leads us to add several missions:

Counterinformation: controlling the information realm.

C2 Attack: any action against the enemy's command and control system.

Information Operations: any action involving the acquisition, transmission, storage, or transformation of information that enhances the employment of military forces.

Since World War 1, airmen have had to control the air environment effectively to employ airpower. What is more, air and space superiority are virtually a sine qua non for employing ground and naval forces. Information is the next realm we must control to operate effectively and with the greatest economy of force.

At the outset we stated the competition for information is as old as man's first conflict. It involves increasing and protecting our own store of information while limiting and penetrating the adversary's. The recent explosion in information technologies is prompting the current discussion in and outside government on the topic of information warfare - targeting the enemy's information functions, while protecting ours, with the intent of degrading his will or capability to fight.

For airmen, controlling the combat environment is job One. With the advances in information technology, airmen must pursue information superiority just as they do air and space superiority. Only with these realms under our control can we effectively employ all our combat assets. Military information functions are essential to our combat operations-they are a tool for achieving the Joint Force Commander's campaign objectives. Targeting the enemy's information functions keeps him from achieving his.

In this paper we have laid out information warfare's doctrinal foundation. Our goal is to provide a sound and widely accepted basis from which we can adapt Air Force doctrine to the Information Age. The ultimate aim? Incorporating information warfare into the way the Air Force organizes, trains, equips, and employs.