Military experts are best known for their ability to plan. Planning is essential in all military activities due to the nature of war.
War itself is an ill-structured problem. The better you plan, the less complex the problem gets and becomes well structured. Famous military theorists like Liddell Hart, Clausewitz and Jomini tried to understand the war and broke down it into elements like center of gravity, culmination, dialect approach, direct and indirect approach etc. Today, findings of those and military history itself help current commanders and military planners to understand the operational environment, uncover the nature of ill-structured problems and thereby form a scheme of operational approach to solve the problem. This is called operational design. Almost in all war plans you may come across to an operational design. Yet, today, according to some theorists, in addition to land, sea and air we have a new domain: cyber. Can the traditional operational design techniques be applied to this new domain? Are there any examples of such warfare? This paper tries to answer such questions and find out whether there may be an operational design of recent cyber warfare examples, and concludes that operational design can be applied to cyber warfare as well.
One of the most controversial words in all languages is probably “war”. Famous theorist Clausewitz defines it as continuation of politics by other means while Chinese general Sun Tzu defines it as “the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction.”. However, every single person in the world would agree that war is a combination of a series of activities that should be planned carefully. This is why the military people exist and are best known for ability to plan. In other words, war is a problem that should be solved. Yet, this is an ill-structured problem. Military peoples’ first mission is always to understand the problem. The better you plan the less complex the problem gets and the more well-structured it becomes. Once you understand the problem the more likely you are to be successful. A number of military theorists in history have tried to understand this problem and they have come up with terms that make it easier to understand. Today, modern theorists underpin those elements and use them in their art of operation and operational design. Whereas strategy is about thinking and planning, operations are about doing: hence the term operational art. That’s why it has been said that amateurs do strategy but professionals do logistics (Olsen and Creveld, 2011). In this paper, firstly, elements of war will be explained, then the terms operational art and operational design will be scrutinized to see whether they can be applied to modern cyber operations and how.
2. Elements of War
2.1 Center of Gravity (COG)
In his famous book “on war” Clausewitz defined centre of gravity as “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends…the point at which all our energies should be directed (Clausewitz, 1989). Similarly, in Joint Publication, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (JP 1-02) centre of gravity is defined as “The source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act. Originally this was used to describe where the enemy army is mostly concentrated (Department of Defense, 2015). Later, it changed its original meaning for, area of operations got widely expanded and joint operations’ nature had a distributed concept. COG is used not only for the enemy but also for the friend and other important actors in the field of operation. A good planning starts with the idea of attacking the enemy centre of gravity while protecting friendly centre of gravity (ies). Hence, identification of centre of gravities is vital to any planning process. Center of gravity analysis is therefore a very important part of the operational design. There are 3 phases of a center of gravity analysis which are identifying critical capabilities, critical requirements and vulnerabilities.
Critical capabilities are those that are considered crucial enablers for a COG to function as such, and are essential to the accomplishment of the adversary’s assumed objective(s).
Critical requirements are the conditions, resources, and means that enable a critical capability to become fully operational.
Critical vulnerabilities are those aspects or components of critical requirements that are deficient or vulnerable to direct or indirect attack in a manner achieving decisive or significant results.
While planning, staff will want to focus their efforts against critical vulnerabilities of the enemy in order to make utmost damage to enemy center of gravity. However, besides selecting critical vulnerabilities one must also take into account their accessibility, redundancy and impact on the civilian people. The goal is to exploit enemy critical vulnerabilities while protecting friendly ones.
Culmination point is the point where the current operations can no longer be carried on successfully. It has both offensive and defensive application. It may also be applied in other types of operation such as stability operations. For example, in a stability operation culmination may take place when national will erodes or questions about legitimacy and restraint arise.
2.3 End State (Desired State)
The highest authority of a state sets national strategic objectives. Often times, military involvement is required to achieve one or more of those objectives. A set of these objectives is called national end state. Military usually has to work closely with civilians to ensure a clearly defined national end state is established. This is not usually possible. Most of the time this end state is uncertain and results in the assumptions and unpredictable conditions in the operational environment.
Military end state defines the point in time and circumstances when objectives have been achieved and the military instrument of national power can “disengage” from the operation, thereby creating an acceptable concluding situation. In other words, this is the point where the civilian authority no longer needs military as a primary means to realize its objectives.
2.4 Line of Operations
Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini was a general in the French service in the Napoleonic era who first wrote about line of operations among many things. According to Jomini, interior line of operations are “those adopted by one of two armies to oppose several hostile bodies, and having a direction that the general can [create a center of gravity] and maneuver with his whole force in a shorter period of time than it would require for the enemy to oppose to them a greater force” (Jomini, 2008). However, “exterior lines lead to the opposite result and are those formed by an army which operates at the same time on both flanks of the enemy, or against several of its masses”. Today, line of operations is a current element of operational design. These two concepts are still in use in modern operational design to define geographic orientation of forces to the enemy. Yet, a very close and related concept, which is line of effort, is used if combining a series of actions, tasks, effects and objectives to the end state is needed.
3. Operational Art
When an American colonel said “You know you never defeated in the battlefield”, Vietnamese colonel replied “that may be, but it is also irrelevant.” Because it doesn’t change the fact that Vietnamese people defeated the American military in the end (Summers, 1981).Vietnam war shows us that a good strategy can compensate for bad tactics whereas bad strategy cannot compensate for good strategy (Dubik, 2012). However, there should be a god link between strategic aims and tactical level. Operational art is described as using military forces to reach strategic objectives within a theater through design, organization, integration and conduct of theater strategies, campaigns, major operations and battles. Therefore, operational art transforms theatre strategy and design into operational design and tactical battles which lead to, when fought and won, strategic aims in the end (Department of Army, 1993). In other words, operational art determines when, where and for what purpose major forces will fight. Hence it conducts the deployment of forces, their withdrawal from battle and sequencing of battles in order to attain strategic objectives.
4. Operational Design
Operational design is the core of planning process. It is a way of expressing backbone of the operational frame via mission analysis and situational awareness. As Field Manual, Army Planning and Orders Production, FM 5-0 states “Design is a methodology for applying critical and creative thinking to understand, visualize, and describe complex, ill-structured problems and develop approaches to solve them (Department of Army, 2005).” Similarly, JP 1-02 states it as “The conception and construction of the framework that underpins a campaign or major operation plan and its subsequent execution (DOD, 2015)”. In conclusion, operational design is developing an approach to overcome the problem and setting the conditions to achieve objectives that create the desired end state. Hence, it is essential in building a common perspective and shared understanding to create unity of effort.
A well-devised operational design promotes effectiveness and efficiency, a better coordination with inter organizational partners, so results in less unintended consequences.
Elements of a typical operational design involve military end state, objective, target, effect, center of gravity, decisive point, line of operations and line of efforts. Most of the elements are historic and explained above. Others will be explained below.
Objective is “the clearly defined, decisive, and attainable goal toward which every operation is directed” (DOD, 2011). Commanders state relevant objectives in accordance with their units’ level thereby concentrating their subordinates’ efforts. It is the bridge between end state and targets. In its simplest terms an objective is an aim to be achieved.
4.2 Military Target
Military targets are targets that should be attained in order to realize relevant objectives. They should be defined as clearly as possible. Usually, targets are physical restatement of objectives.
4.3 Decisive Point
A decisive point is a point from which a friendly or hostile center of gravity can be threatened. This point may exist in time, space or the information environment (North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 2015). Decisive points are geographic places, specific key events, critical factors, or functions that, when acted upon, allow a commander to gain a marked advantage over an adversary or contributes materially to achieving success (Planner’s handbook for operational design). They may be physical in nature such as a town, peak, and critical boundaries. But they may also be specific key events such as attainment of air superiority, gaining the support of local people.
The most important decisive points can be determined from analysis of critical factors. Understanding the relationship between a COG’s critical capabilities, requirements, and vulnerabilities can illuminate direct and indirect approaches to the COG. It is likely that most of these critical factors will be decisive points, which should then be further addressed in the planning process.
5. The Case of Russian Cyber Campaign against Georgia
In 2008, Russia launched a campaign against Georgia. Some people argue that this was symptomatic of Russian grievances over western actions. For example, NATO have begun to expand to places which were once under the influence of Soviet sphere (Lipman, 2014). Only one day prior to the ground campaign, a cyber campaign against Georgia took place. I will analyze this cyber campaign in terms of an operational design concept.
5.1 End State
Obviously, unwanted situation for Russia was the Georgia’s tight relations with the western states. Hence, end state of the cyber campaign should be silencing the Georgian media and isolating her from global community (Corbin, 2009).
5.2 Center of Gravity
Georgia’s center of gravity was a close commercial and informational links with the western society. Via western investors Georgia was on the brink of becoming a western state day by day. Hence, any media that promote this environment can be termed as a critical capability for Georgia. But, this close relations should be kept live and uninterrupted for this capability to survive. So, we can say that financial institutions, investments etc. are critical requirements for Georgia. Now we can deduce that a sense of fragile environment, unstable markets are critical vulnerabilities for Georgia.
In Russia- Georgia Cyber war case, creating a sense of fragile markets and unreliable financial environment, as well as spreading disinformation and propaganda might be the objective of the campaign (Corbin, 2009).
To reach the aforementioned objective probable cyber targets were governmental, financial, educational institutions, and western media.
5.5 Decisive Points
In connection with the targets decisive points should follow as attaining the government websites, controlling bank accounts or not allowing transactions to the public, defacing critical western media companies.
In accordance with the possible operational design of such a cyber campaign (Figure 1) Russian cyber warriors;
- defaced government websites, likened president of Georgia to Hitler,
- CNN and BBC sites were shut down,
- hit the banking system and overwhelmed financial sites with a number of fraudulent accounts, credit card functionalities shut off, and cell phones associated with them also went down (Shakarian, 2013).
Figure 1: Possible Operational Design of the Russian Cyber campaign against Georgia.
Military theorists have all tried to understand the war and make it easier for others to understand. Famous military theorists hence broke down it to the elements and came up with concepts such as culmination, center of gravity, line of operations, end state etc. Today, military experts are adding even more to those concepts and thus creating an operational design which frames the problem and then develops, refines, and displays a commander’s operational ideas-the vision of how the campaign will unfold to provide a framework for the later development of detailed and actionable plans.
Latest campaigns showed us that cyber domain is emerging as a new domain just like air, sea and land. As proved in this paper, operational design may be perfectly applied to cyber warfare, which Russians achieved in Russian cyber campaign against Georgia in 2008.
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