OODA: observe, orient, decide, and act

So how does the United States military plan to deal with the threats of cyber-warfare and cyber-terrorism? By completely reengineering itself. That's the opinion of Richard Harknett, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.

To understand what the military wants to do, says Professor Harknett who heads a team of academics studying information warfare, it's important to understand what its opponents are doing.

In the past, most terrorist groups were state-sponsored and an extension of the state's military aims. The Information Age makes this model obsolete. The result is a retreat from the hierarchical structure, with a recognized head and chain of command (think of the PLO and Yasser Arafat) and toward a networked, more flexible organization, with little or no leadership structure (think Hamas).

Aware of this development, the US military is rethinking its own top-down chain-of-command structure, and adopting a networked organizational model.

"There is a revolution afoot here," says Harknett, who has worked primarily with the US Navy on these issues. "The networked idea is fundamentally different than the current structure. What they are aiming for is 'shared situational awareness' - basically everyone knows exactly what's going on, regardless if they're a private or a general. Think about that in terms of the battlefield."

Another way to think of the change, Harknett says, would be to compare the current military structure to the game of chess, where each piece has a specified role and rules determine how pieces move. The new structure would be more like the Japanese game of Go, where pieces can be played anywhere on the board, and there are almost no rules about how they move.

Harknett says the US military believes that with better technology and better shared awareness, you can go through the OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, and act) faster than your enemy, effectively paralyzing him as you make decisions faster than he can respond.

How to use information warfare, however, is a heated debate in the military. "Why would [we] want to lead a revolution against a system we already dominate, in favor of a networked model that makes our opponents more relevant?" Harknett asks.

The most outspoken proponents of information warfare see technology as a way to achieve maximum "standoff" - the philosophy that as you move soldiers further from the battlefield you increase their ability to deal a lethal blow.

Meanwhile, those less enamored with information warfare prefer what they call "information in warfare," or the use of technology to complement traditional battlefield operations. "If you create a network system that demands that more people have access to key information, how do you deal with the security problems that creates?" Harknett asks.

Protecting information systems becomes even more important in a networked structure. Even with these obvious drawbacks, Harknett says, there are two issues propelling information warfare to the front of military policy: how to do more with less in an age of military cutbacks; and the American public's reluctance to support any action that results in American casualties.

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