Jan 1, 1997
The information revolution and related organizational innovations are altering the nature of conflict and the kinds of military structures, doctrines, and strategies that will be needed. This study introduces two concepts for thinking about these issues: cyberwar and netwar. Industrialization led to attritional warfare by massive armies (e.g., World War I). Mechanization led to maneuver predominated by tanks (e.g., World War II). The information revolution implies the rise of cyberwar, in which neither mass nor mobility will decide outcomes; instead, the side that knows more, that can disperse the fog of war yet enshroud an adversary in it, will enjoy decisive advantages. Communications and intelligence have always been important. At a minimum, cyberwar implies that they will grow more so, and will develop as adjuncts to overall military strategy. In this sense, it resembles existing notions of “information war” that emphasize C3I. However, the information revolution may imply overarching effects that necessitate substantial modifications to military organization and force posture. Cyberwar may be to the 21st Century what blitzkrieg was to the 20th. It may also provide a way for the U.S. military to increase “punch” with less “paunch.” Whereas cyberwar refers to knowledge-related conflict at the military level, netwar applies to societal struggles most often associated with low intensity conflict by non-state actors, such as terrorists, drug cartels, or black market proliferators of weapons of mass destruction. Both concepts imply that future conflicts will be fought more by “networks” than by “hierarchies,” and that whoever masters the network form will gain major advantages.
Reprinted as Chapter Two in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, eds., In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age, RAND/MR-880-OSD/RC (1997).