Information Warfare by the Theatre Commander

- Maj Gen Yashwant Deva (Retd)



Info-war is a war in the info-age. You cannot form-fit concepts of warefare of the agricultural, the industrial or the post-industrial vintage to it. There is a paradigm shift and old notions will not hold. The Generals all over the world suffer from the "familiar" syndrome. That they always prepare for the last war, is a pertinent saying. The gibe stings, but is not without an element of validity. If it is a revolution that civilisation is experiencing and there is no Doubting Tom to its verity, then we must accept the fact of an absolute break from the precedent. Info-war calls for a relook or reformulation of the doctrine. It would be pernicious to fall prey to crass conformism. Instead, let us explore new ground which is time relevant, which is space-specific, which is Indo centric and which jibes with the prevailing ambience. The Gulf war is not a model for us to emulate. The model is being touted with a purpose. It is part of the info-game the US is playing to sell its invincibility and its technological superiority. It is to wash the stigma of the defeat they suffered in Vietnam.

The concept of theatre in its conventional import is more orectical than realistic to the Indian conditions. Kashmir and the north-east can hardly be termed as theatres; nor does the Overall Force Commander (OFC), created during Operation Pawan, bear semblance to the likes of Mountbatten of Burma and more recently, Norman Schwarzkopt, the coalition commander during the Gulf war. However, as a doctrine for planning and execution of combined operations, it has undoubtedly, much validity and that is, precisely, the context in which this subject is addressed.

Info-war recognised no boundaries, least of all those that make distinction between the traditional levels of geographical delineation of the battlefield and decision matrix viz strategic, operational and tactical. It spills over and encompasses the entire gamut of command from the squad leader to the executive head of the state, and the agenda overlaps. Further, it defies distinction between war and peace, between warlike and criminal behaviour; between "rogue" and civilised"; even friend and foe. The recent history is replete with examples where the US had info-manoeuvred against the interests of its traditional coalition partners.

Combat in info-realm may have many fronts or none.1 Info-war is not only a matter of exploiting information technology (IT) to best the enemy on the battlefield, but also of protecting systems and infrastructure critical to the functioning of the society. Potential ballefields are everywhere. Further, cyberspace, a term that is defined anon in the paper, is not constrained by the geographic space. Therefore, it would be difficult to differentiate between what lies in the theatre Commander’s domain as distinct from that of commander up or down the ladder.

Info-war is a great leveller.2 It can be waged by the militarily weak with as much felicity as by the militarily powerful. In fact, there is a greater danger of its pursuance by the non-state actors. A major concern of India is going to be info-terrorism. We cannot be oblivious of its hazards, as waging info-war is relatively cheap. The example of the Sarin attack in the Tokyo subway is a warning about what some writers and futurologists refer to as demassification of mass destruction weapons. Toffler in an interview emphatically remarked, "No longer is it only the state that can posses such weapons on behalf of the masses in its territory; now a mere individual or small group can possess the means of mass destruction if he or she has the information to make them."3 And information is becoming increasingly available. In India, we need to be doubly conscious of the possibility of the power of the state fragmenting, on the one hand; and proliferation of players, out to usurp power, on the other. The state, itself, may encourage its own devaluation as a result of information impregnation and this danger overarches that posed by information denial. A case in point is surrender of sovereignty over constituent states under intense information blitkrieg coupled with populist inducement.


Information is a potent weapon in the hands of the theatre Commander, and, at the same time, it bears a crushing vulnerability, which if exploited by the enemy, can decimate his command. First and foremost, we need a doctrine and a set of objectives which are deconflicted and unambiguously defined. At the operational level, the theory and practice of info-war fuse into a coherent and meaningful agenda. It is a sum of many things; electronic warfare, psychological operations, deception, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance. Therefore, the theatre Commander has to integrate the functions and cull resources of intelligence, communications, processes, other support systems, deception, security, and the traditional means of physical destruction. The operations aim at influencing, denying or destroying an adversary’s command and control capabilities; while protecting one’s own.4

At the theatre level, the info-war addresses a broad range of scenarios, some real, some virtual. Information has become a vital strategic resource, its value no less than land during the first wave civilisation; and labour and capital during the industrial age civilisation.5 Its soul is in microchip, digitisation and networking. So part of the agenda is judicious deployment of information gathering devices, data processing systems and communications; and establishment or extension of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) in the theatre of operations. This inter alia entails engineering a network of C3 systems, which are interpretable, secure, and survivable against cyber and hacker attacks. The other part of the agenda is conduct of info-operations.

Info-war allows the theatre Commander to acquire, store, recall, transmit, transform and manipulate information to own advantage. It also involved developing new doctrines about the kind of forces needed, where and how to deploy them, and how to strike at the enemy with logic bombs, transient magnetics, and viruses. Whereas in the past, only lethal weapons influenced the military thought process, now sensors, processors, networks, databases and communications, too, are important; perhaps more so. And it would be part of the theatre Commander’s job to acquire and deploy them. In short, his agenda would include having superior C3I systems and trying to locate, read, suprise and deceive the enemy before he does the same. In info-war, what we hitherto referred to as "support functions" become pivotal functions.

Networks Versus Hierarchies

The commanding influence of the information revolution is perceived in weakening of hierarchies and strengthening of networks.6 The days of the hierarchies, which in the past relied on structured information flow and preened on tight control of operations, are over. Instead, networking is the blueprint of the day. Networks are scientific, more democratic by persuasion, and decidedly, in harmony with cultural diversity and societal plurism. Institutions and enterprises that work like consortiums, alliances and confederations, keep their communication channels open, and adapt to distributed decision making, have greater cohesion and survivability. Because their structures defy rigidity and uniformity, they are receptive and adaptable to fresh ideas. Their information channels are not clogged and so they have an inherent capability to exploit the full potential of the available information.

The military, as an institution, depends heavily on hierarchy. Herein lies its failing, particularly against an adversary whose decision system is decentralised and information dissemination multi-routed. The US lost the war in Vietnam because the Viet Cong-North Vietnamese combine worked as a network. It won the Gulf war, essentially, because Saddam operated in a tighter hierarchical loop.

In a hierarchy, information flows vertically, down and up the chain of command. In a network, flow is multi-directional. The dictum is "any type of information, to anywhere, at any time." The archaic principle of "signals follow the chain of command," which we touted ad nauseam in the past and perhaps still do, is decidedly a hamper to information spawning. Instead info-war enjoins two dicta viz: first, centralised planning and decentralised control; and second, "information on demand" without any filter or ckoke point en route.


Hitherto we operated in the classical domains or dimension of land, sea, air and EM spectrum. The Americans call space the fourth dimension. They have a dedicated command for it. For us, it is more logical to consider space as part of the third dimension and lend EM spectrum the distinction of being regarded as a separate dimension. The fifth dimension is the cyberspace. Let us define it.

Coined by William Gipson, a science fiction writer, in his book, Neuromancer,7 cyberspace is a computer generated vista, which is virtual and yet real. More in the realm of infosphere, it symbolises cerebrum or what is popularly called the gray matter of the brain. It is a battlespace.

The Future Battlefield

The Future is Not What it Used to be

The information revolution is transforming warfare. No longer will massive dug-in Armies, armadas and Air Forces fight bloody attritional battles. Instead, small highly mobile forces, armed with real time information from satellites and terrestrially deployed battlefield sensors, will strike with lightening speed at unexpected locations.8

On the battlefield of the future, enemy forces will be, located, tracked and targetted almost instantaneously through the use of:

* Sensors and their fusion with a view to presenting an integrated highly reliable intelligence picture in real time.

* Surveillance devices that unceasingly seek and shadow the enemy.

* Data-links and computer-generated battle picture, task tables and "maps that change scale and overlay differing types of information in response to voice requests."

* Automated fire control, with first round kill probabilities approaching near certainty.

* Simulation, visualisation and virtuality in planning, and testing concepts and weapon effectiveness.

This would balance out the need for large forces to overwhelm the opponent physically. The fact "relative strength" will undergo a radical change and would lose its importance, that it currently wollows in.

Control function will be decentralised and shared at all levels of command. Combat will be in tandem to intelligence gathering. Non-lethal, soft-kill electronic weapons will assume as much importance as highly lethal, hard-kill weapons. Intelligent command posts and paperless headquarters will be the form. A Commander will be of a different breed-priding more in his lap-top than his baton. He will be his own staff officer. He would be assisted by a kuraltai of advisors a network in decision matrixes a la Mongol Army. He will play chess with the computer, read science fiction, surf Internet, visit Hollow deck on Star Track, cruise with virtual reality, and fly imagination. And he will be a winner. Now let us have a look at the warrior of tomorrow. Some time back, a paper appeared in IEEE Spectrum, by Elison Urban, Head of the Mounted Display and TIA (Tactical Information Assistant) of the Advanced Research Planning Agency (ARPA).9 On the analogy of avionics, a discipline which came about by combining aviation and electronics, he has coined humonics which integrates electronics with humans.10 The article lends a realistic and achievable purport to the prognostications regarding the kind of information warrior that is emerging on the scene. He would be laced with "Melios, a laser range finder, value-added by Tamer (Technology Advanced Mini Eyesafe Rangefinder), wear a Local Area Network (LAN) vest, carry radio, camera, microphones, Global Positioning System (GPS), night-vision goggles and thermal-imaging sensors to see in the dark, along with a heads-up display in front of his eyes to show him his own geographical locates and intelligence updates, along with other mission-essential equipment,"11 all Velcro-strapped to the body. A lot of work has been done by the Americans. Let us not dismiss this concept derisively. We may not be able to afford this kind of warrior, but he may well be our adversary.

The M Law

To explain and capture the sustance of this paradigm shift, I have evolved a law which I call the "M" Law.

First Wave Mass

Second Wave Mobility

Third Wave Multimedia

Momentum = Mass x Mobility

Metaforce = Momentum x Multimedia

This suggests that during the First Wave, dominant influence on warfare was exercised by mass, a summation of the product of weapon and numbers; during the Second Wave by mobility; and now by multimedia,12 an esoteric synonym of information. Mass multiplied by mobility, raised to power n1 purveys momentum or force on the analogy of 1/2 mv2; and momentum multiplied by multimedia raised to power n2 gives the metaforce. This is mathematically illustrated as under:

Mass M1 = W1S1’ W2S2’ W3S3’...WnSn

where W1’ W2’ W3 Wn are the weapon types

and S1’ S2’ S3’ Sn are their numbers

Momentum M3 = M1 X M2n1 where M2 is mobility and nl is a variable, with value not less than 2.

Metaforce M5 = M3 X M4n2 where M4 is Multimedia or Information and n2 a variable with value not less than 2.


The concept of metaforce goes beyond that of force multiplier. Among other things, it suggests that the strategy of info-war is multi-pronged and multi-faceted; and that it is multi-sensor and multi-media pervasive.

The Mission

Let us now consider the kind of mission which would be assigned to the theatre Commander. Simply put, it enjoins, "To achieve and maintain information superiority in the theatre of operations."13 The expression information superiority refers to a state "where own side possess complete battlespace awareness while the enemy is totally cut off from almost all information sources.14 This is figuratively described as dispersing the "fog of war while enshrouding the adversary it it."15.

Information superiority means disrupting or destroying information and communications systems of the enemy. It means trying to know everything about an adversary while keeping the adversary from knowing much about oneself. It means fooling the enemy and not being fooled by him. It means "turning the balance of information and knowledge in one’s favour, especially if the balance of forces is not."16 It means using knowledge so that less manpower and resources have to be expended.

This mission involves a bevy of frontier technologies and their exploitation, notably for command and control, for intelligence collection, processing and distribution, for tactical communications, positioning, identifying friend-or-foe, and for "smart" weapon systems, to give but a few examples. It may also involve electronically blinding, jamming, deceiving, overloading the enemy and intruding into his information and communication circuits. It means using media to own advantage and swinging public opinion to aversion against the enemy.

Information superiority denies the enemy the information necessary to successfully engage friendly forces. It permits conduct of operations by friendly forces spanning the five dimensions, viz, land, sea, air space, EM spectrum and cyberspace at time, place and domain of own choosing and without interference from the opposing forces. It also bestows discrimination to prevent "blue over blue"; the concept of "blue over blue" is now applicable to targets in cyberspace too. It strives to achieve an information advantage over the enemy, thereby helping to achieve military and national objectives.

The concept evokes controversies.17 Its criticism rests on two counts: that it is not quantitatively measurable; and that it is well high impossible to cut off the adversary from all sources of information. The criticism notwithstanding, the Gulf war proves the point. The Americans achieved near total dominance in air space, cyber space, electromagnetic spectrum and over mass media.

Now let us get down to the nitty gritty aspects of that nebulous concept, "information dominance." It entails a thorough and constant look-in to assess vulnerabilities of the enemy’s information infrastructure, information processes and information systems; in particular his decision support system. It also aims at penetrating and paralysing the "enemy’s loop of OODA (observation orientation decision action)."18.

An equally important mission is understanding the enemy’s information hierarchy and system vulnerabilities. Much of this is acquired during peace-time. It is more than the concept of "other side of the hill."19 It enables force application against the enemy’s information links with a view to increasing friction, uncertainty and disorder. Because of critical dependency on the information flow, it becomes a focal point and, if attacked, it severely, hinders the enemy’s capability to execute combat operation.

Without information operations, information superiority cannot be achieved; passive and defensive measures and lack of venture cannot consummate the gilt-edged, distinct from information operations, although to a degree these from part of the latter. As commonly believed, these are certainly not a "cloak and dagger affair." It is through the confluence of intelligence, mission support activities and command and control, that a Commander pursues the info-war.


Owen Jensen, an info-war theorist has enunciated eight principles of war.20 They are worth considering, their verbosity and lack of military precision notwithstanding. They outline typical rules of engagement that might be applied in an info-war-based conflict.

Jenssen has grouped the principles into four categories of two principles each, viz, denial, force enhancement, survivable situational awareness and C3 and lastly, the levels.21

* Denial includes the principle of decapitation and the principle of sensor primacy. The principle of decapitation states that command and control, decision support and communications should be primary targets in an information war in order to figuratively separate the enemy’s head and neck from its body i.e. the leadership from the troops. The principle of sensor primacy states that all enemy sensors should be suppressed or destroyed before engaging in combat. This principle was applied successfully by the Mongol Armies and during the Gulf war.

* The second category is that of force enhancement, which includes the principle of knowledge and the principle of alacrity. The principle of knowledge states that as much information as possible should be available to those who need it, and that there should be no choke points on the dissemination of information (mark the emerging lexicon). In other words, intelligence activities should no longer selectively forward information to central command authority which then redirects selected information to specific field units. This is as much a defensive measures as an offensive one; an enemy would be quick to exploit choke points. The principle of alacrity states that there should be a tight decision loop and sense of urgency. This recognise the time sensitive nature of information.

* The third category is that of survivable situational awareness and command, control and communications which includes the principles of survivability and interoperability. The principle of survivability states that policy and strategy should be centralised, but planning and execution should be decentralised to make it as hard as possible for the enemy to attack planning and execution. In other words, everyone understands the "big picture" and is empowered to press forward as best as possible in the event that the centralised command authority is effectively cut off. Earlier we talked about the innate verve of networks; it is this principle that underscores the need for their adoption. Instead of operating in a traditional hierarchy, militaries should adopt more of a networked paradigm for operations. The systems of information storage and communication should be interoperable so that information sharing can be maximised. This principle addresses a common weakness in the current generation of technology; too often vital information cannot be communicated to those who need it because equipment is not interoperable. A forward air controller in Air Force should be able to speak directly to a navy pilot flying right over his head and not have to route communications through Air Force and navy command centres.

* The fourth category is that of levels with the principles of hierarchy and intensity. Jensen has not been convincing in enunciating these principles and explaining their difference. The principle of hierarchy, according to him, means that all available technology should used against an adversary. "Just because it appears that an enemy is only capable of Industrial Age warfare, do not limit the conflict to Industrial Age weapons; instead, be the first to elevate the fight to the information warfare level." This principle is more to the US gallery in justification of use of massive force, that it brooks a universal applicability. The principle of intensity states that information warfare conflicts should be all out efforts and not controlled at the operational level by policy makers who must give the go-ahead to escalate the information war. Here again, Jensen is somewhat predisposed to the American experience and repetitive an averring it. However, the point is well taken in that the theatre Commander should enjoy the freedom to intensify the war at the first instance and that in info-war, there are no graded stages of situation "hand-over" e.g., the higher echlon of command takes over on commitment of the reserves at the disposal of the lower echelon of command.

Jensen’s principles represent a first-cut in defining and explaining the rules of engagement for info-war-based conflicts; herein lies their merit.


An important issue that begs attention is whether we need new organisation to pursue info-war. Let us see what we do not need;

We do not need a large retinue of clerical staff. The culture of PA and PS must go. Commanders at all level must learn to access information, operate computer software and enter data. A small technical staff is needed to manage networks and databases, ensure their security, and defend them against hacker attack. It would be more useful to combine intelligence, communications and "systems" into a single entity and have an integrated approach to information gathering, processing, transferring accessing and storing. This would streamline organisation, cutting out frills.

There is an erronous impression that communications can be sequestered into "static" and "field" and the former can be shed to the civil as an economy measure. Today’s networks are seamless to which such differentiation is an anathema. There ought to be no choke point vulnerabilities to attack from both internal and external adversaries. Besides, communications are a primary target in info-war; they cannot be left to the mercy of the DoT. The DoT has made little contribution to development of telecom infrastructure in border areas, particularly those which are insurgency-infected; whatever presence they boast of, is heavily guarded by the security forces. Obviously, this is a greater drain on the exchequer. There is an urgent need for creation of the Border Telecommunications Task Force on the analogy of the Border Roads Task Force.22 Besides establishment of information highways in the border areas, they will also be tasked to defend national networks against cyber, hacker and physical attack.

Most of the offensive systems would have to be remotely delivered. This reinforces the urgency of acquiring electronic platforms dedicated to reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition, signal intelligence, early warning and control, and info-war systems. That these are optimised on a tri-service sharing basis is the challenge we need to address seriously. The platforms have to be of all types satellites, naval ships, aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary, and armoured vehicles.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Scientific Analysis Group (SAG) and Public Relations Organisation (PRO) need to be appropriately strengthened. There has to be a greater initiative on media management and participation of media personnel in military operations. Some facets of info-war go beyond the battlefield. The public opinion is critical to achievement of the mission. It must be recognised that an adversary’s information campaign is often targetted against the public, not against the military. It is, therefore, important that the theatre Commander interacts with the public in an open and transparent manner. The public needs a balanced and fair presentation of operations.

The theatre Commander needs a vibrant and erudite posse for public relations and interaction with media personnel. We should consider a dedicated TV channel, radio stations and home page on the Internet. That this organisation must be a component of the national-level guild and should have an inter-service character, is to state the obvious. We may consider association of volunteers from amongst the ex-servicemen, who have the expertise and impecable credentials to look after the national and service interests.

Info-war has spawned a wide variety of non-lethal weaponry. Malicious software (e.g., viruses, logic bombs, letter bombs and Trojan Horses), chipping, spoofing, spin doctoring, morphing, jamming, eavesdropping, finger printing, signature chasing and decrypting are some23 that are frequently talked about, more in the popular media than the research circles. Although these weapons have the potential to cause great damage, there is no clear method for effectively controlling and delivering them. EMP can damage own system with as much felicity as they do the enemy’s. Similarly, once a virus is let loose, it is just as likely to infect friendly information systems as those of the enemy. We need experts to conceive them, plan counter-counter measures and deliver them against the enemy systems. The delivery systems assume importance, so do small-size units assiduously dedicated to offensive aspects of info-war, and laced with weapons which, in times to come, will include High Power Microwave (HPM), High Energy Radio Frequency (HERF)24 and Non-Nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse (NNEMP).25 We need task groups with a tri-service character rather than a permanent resource-intensive stove pipe organisation.

Info-war enjoins a synergistic and joint warfighting approach and that is where we are wanting the most.


From the above discussion, certain rules of the info-game emerge, which a theatre Commander would do well to remember. These are:

1. Turn the balance of info in your favour.

2. Dominate airspace, EM spectrum and cyberspace.

3. Centralise planning and policy, decentralise control and execution.

4. Cardinal principle is "information on demand", and not "need to know basis", which was hitherto our axiom. This, however, does not preclude institution of "firewalls"26 and "access controls."27

5. Ours is a media driven society, howsoever we may wish it to be otherwise. Admittedly it is a difficult task trying to walk on a tight rope between secrecy and transparency. Yet, the theatre Commander must learn to manage media.

6. Create a synergy amongst the three services and synchronise their operations.

7. And lastly, if fight we must, then let us fight wars...

That are short

That are popular

That are winnable.


1. "Information Warfare: A Two-Edged Sword", RAND Research Review Contents, Internet (RAND’s Home Page).

2. Alwyn Toffler quoted in RAND’s Home Page, "Cyberwar and Netwar: New Modes, Old Concepts, of Conflict."

3. Allwyn Toffler in an interview with Nathan Gardels of the New Perspective Quarterly, interview reproduced in Biblio, May-June 1995 under the heading "Informed Terrorism."

4. Daniel E. Magsig, "Information Warfare in the Information Age," Internet, (, December 7, 1995.

5. John J. Arquilla and David F. Ronfeldt, "Cyber War is Coming," Comparative Strategy, vol. 12, 1993, pp. 141-165.

6. Surf RAND’s Home Page, n. 2.

7. The term cyberspace featured in novels such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) and Neal Stephensen’s Snow Crash (1994). See Doug Richardson, "Confounding the Enemy: The Black Art of Infowar," Jane’s Defence’96;the World in Conflict, p. 159.

8. n. 5.

9. Ellison C Urban, "The Information Warrior," IEEE Spectrum, November 1995, pp. 66-70.

10. Ibid., p. 66.

11. Ibid. Also see Douglas Waller, "Onward Cyber Soldiers," Time, August 24, 1995, p. 41.

12. John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt suggest," The information revolution implies the rise of a mode of warfare in which neither mass nor mobility will decide outcomes; instead, the side that knows more, will enjoy decisive advantages." See n. 5. That mass and mobility will never become irrelevant as averred by Arquilla and Ronfeldt, is questionable; however, their importance viz a viz information will undoubtedly diminish.

13. David S. Alberts and Richard E. Haynes. "Information Warfare Workshop: Decision Support Working Group Report.: First International Symposium on Command and Control Research and Technology, June 1995, p. 571, and Stuart E. Johnson and Martin C. Libicki, eds., Dominant Battlespace Knowledge: The Winning Edge, (Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1995) pp. 27-58.

14. Johnson and Libicki, eds., Ibid., p. 27-58.

15. n. 5.

16. n. 14.

17. Martin C. Libicki, What is Information Warfare? (Washington, DC: National Defence University Press, 1995), p. 94.

18. n. 5, p. 571.

19. A popular quote of the Duke of Wellington.

20. Owen E. Jensen, "Information Warfare: Principles of Third-Wave War." Airpower Journal, Winter 1994, pp. 35-43.

21. Ibid.

22. See Yashwant Deva, "A Synergistic Approach to Telecommunication Services for National Security and Remote Area Development" Strategic Analysis, November 1994, pp. 971-983.

23. See Waller, n. 11, and Chris Manet et al "Weapons of Mass Protection-Non Lethality, Info Warfare and Air Power in the Age of Chaos," Air Power Journal, Spring 1995, pp. 15-29.

24. HERF gun is a device that can disrupt the normal operation of digital equipment such as computers and navigational equipment by directing HERF emissions at them.

25. NNEMP Weapons could be used to knock out enemy electronics equipment. Suitcase sized devices have been developed to do just that. See Waller, n. 11, p. 41.

26. Firewall is a system or combination of systems that enforces a boundary between two or more networks.

27. "Access" means the ability to enter a secure system, network or area and the process of interacting with it; whereas "access control" is a set of procedures performed by hardware, software and administrators to monitor access, identify users requesting access, record access attempts, and grant or deny access.