The Role Of Cyber In Modern Warfare

War is not a constant. It is a continuously evolving phenomenon that always reflects the characteristics of the societies waging it. Therefore, it is only natural that ‘cyber’ has occupied a major role in contemporary Western understanding of warfare. Our way of war has been penetrated by cyber and is already cyber-dependent.

In order to exemplify this cyber-dependency let’s think about the contemporary battlefield. What are the main trends forming and transforming it today? After having examined and compared strategies of different countries, I have come to the conclusion that there are seven main trends.

Cyberwar Trends

  1. Warfare is not only a responsibility of the military but of the society as a whole
  2. Real-time situational awareness and strong strategic leadership
  3. Centralized command and control
  4. Agile units and flexibility
  5. Prepare for unknown threats
  6. Resilience
  7. Resources should not be wasted on solutions that are not required on the battlefield

Above all, a paradigm change is clearly on-going. Our habit of constantly navigating different media has also reached the battlefield and been reinforced by the convergence of media platforms. Warfare struggles to become user-friendly.

We are heading towards more centralised control on the battlefield which is enabled by continuous flow of information from numerous sensors observing the field. Someone has to gather the information (which comes in massive quantities), analyse it and put it forward so that real-time situational awareness can be maintained and shared (also with our allies and contractors). Decision making basing on real-time awareness can keep a step ahead of the opponent. It can also help avoiding unnecessary killing and keeping our own forces safe which legitimises warfare today.

However, the paradigm change does not only involve technological development and overcoming of interoperability issues. The battlefield is a dynamic realm in which effects of events in one corner may take those operating in another corner by surprise. Dynamic operational area requires a dynamic mindset and solutions that can meet the ever changing requirements.

In addition, and regardless of how much we try, we can never know everything. There has always been and there will always be fog on the battlefield. Therefore, we need to prepare for the unknown. The only way to do this is to increase resilience. We need to create rugged technological solutions, but even more important is to strengthen our psychological endurance. The mindset used to cyberspace that always functions still needs to remember how to live with crippled cyberspace or even without it.

Finally, we need to know both ourselves and our opponents in order to recognise the real requirements. Not everything is worth of securing with same intensity. There is a need to know one’s own equipment, its connections and networks so that the most valuable assets and links can be safeguarded in any situation. With less valuable objects more risk can be accepted and wasting of scarce resources avoided. Likewise, in order to conduct successful cyber operations one needs to know the opponents strongholds and weak links.

Cyberwar only makes sense as part of ‘conventional’ warfare and its evolution ‒ which always reflects and contributes to societal evolution. Cyber(space) is an inseparable component of today’s war. It is no longer easy to imagine a confrontation in which any Western society engages without including the cyber element in the picture. Cyber penetrates our military equipment, the way of waging war, the objects and values we wish to defend, as much as the society in which name war is waged. In this respect, cyberwar does exist and, following Sunzi’s thoughts, winning the war without resorting to physical violence is the often most skilful application of the art of war.

Defences against cyberwar ‒ like any other cyber threat ‒ are best built in our everyday practices. We need to strengthen people’s understanding of cyber, make cyberspace more safe and resilient, as well as learn to live with the threats. At all levels of society we need to make strategically correct decisions concerning cyber and to cooperate. Only this way a cyber-dependent society can become more secure and resistant. Yet waging cyberwar should remain as the business of the armed forces.

With cyber attacks the armed forces can “do things that were impossible before” and gain new kind of influence. Yet it is unlikely that the possibilities of cyber will reduce the level of violence. Developing new means to influence or use power in general are hardly enough to change societal patterns or learned behaviours. Outlearning violence requires active education and communication, yet it is still unlike. Currently, states are investing heavily in cyber capabilities and developing their military doctrines. The use of these capabilities is likely in the future – alongside the physical means of warfare.

Cyber cuts across all levels and dimensions of warfare. For this reason security has to be taken into consideration in all phases of planning and constructing cyber architecture. Otherwise unexpected effects may occur on a level or another. In addition, ubiquitous cyberspace blurs the conventional distinction between war and peace: we are already living in a grey area in which conventional concepts are in flux and need to be redefined. Cyber forces us to rethink what war is.

What are your thoughts on cyberwar and the trends forming it today?


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Read his latest post about cyberwar on and his letter to the editor in the NY Times