Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Does Information Dominance Mean War?

This attitude raises my pucker factor:

"[I]nformation is how China plans to dominate in the future. That is their strategy," [Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency] said during a keynote address at a conference in Tampa, Florida, on Monday. ...

To confront the challenges posed by China, Ashley said it is crucial for the U.S. to be able to solve problems with speed and at scale. He pointed to interoperability across the defense community as a major challenge toward this goal and emphasized the responsibility defense officials have in today's environment.

"[I]n great power competition, you gotta bring your 'A' game on day 1, because if you don't, you may not get a day 2," he said.

If our networked forces really are vulnerable to superior enemy information capabilities, he may have a point. This article notes that the Turkish S-400/F-35 issue is broader than just Turkey. It is interesting--in a butt-clenching sort of way--that with networked weapons, having the equipment of a potential enemy plugged into your network represents a Trojan Horse that could  undermine the network. This fragility worries me both for our weapons and more broadly our security that depends on them if competition goes hot.

It has been argued that the Pre-World War I situation resulted in a reality that "mobilization means war." Germany relied on Russia taking longer to mobilize their army than either France or Germany could. So Germany planned to smash France while Russia was still gathering its army. This would avoid a two-front war by allowing Germany to defeat France and then Russia sequentially.

The problem was that Germany could not afford a crisis that involved Russia beginning mobilization while Germany did nothing. Germany would lose its strategy if Russia completed mobilizing before Germany defeated France. Which was a real problem if France was not involved in the crisis.

So that was one factor that led to World War I.

I raise this because if competition for information dominance is that vital--or if people believe it is vital--will either China or America believe that they have to strike first when they get an information advantage? Will the fear of losing your "A" game advantage lead to starting war while you have the edge?

The temptation to do so will be enormous, especially if you believe the advantage means you win on day 1 and your enemy may be doomed on day 2 because you exploited your day 1 edge. See? Short and glorious victory, even with nukes involved because your fleeting information dominance will nullify those weapons. With the alternative being short and disastrous defeat if you wait.

It's like a hyper-Thucydides Trap with no time to think. I think distance reduces that problem for America and China. But if Ashley is right, distance may disappear. And so the danger is worse.

I really want as much research on what having a day 1 edge means for day 2 as I do for having the day 1 edge. It is important to know if losing that edge is as disastrous as Ashley worries about.

If America and China can't afford--or believe they can't afford--to be second in the information dominance competition, we'll be on a hair-trigger situation with each side constantly looking to measure their position in this race.

Have a super sparkly day.