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Pentagon May Declare Sixth Domain of War, Because Why the Hell Not?

Singapore celebrates 50 years of independence

For millennia,  warfare was conducted on the land or sea. About a century ago, we added a third domain, the air. Suddenly, we’ve gone domain happy, with the Air Force successfully lobbying to declare space and even “cyberspace” as separate domains. Now, there’s serious talk of declaring the electromagnetic spectrum its own domain, too.

Mark Pomerlea, reporting for Defense Systems:

The Defense Department’s recent emphasis on the importance of the electromagnetic spectrum could be coming to a head, as the department is considering recognizing the spectrum as a sixth domain of operations, in addition to land, air, sea, space and cyberspace, which officially was declared a domain in 2011.

In a statement to Breaking Defense, DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said, “the Department will investigate all requirements and ramifications of its enactment, to include the potential recognition of the EMS as a domain.”

Several, if not all, operations currently rely on the electromagnetic spectrum, which is why the military is placing greater importance on electronic warfare. Countries such as China and Russia have been honing advanced capabilities, such as the ability to jam GPS and other signals, within this sphere. The United States, meanwhile, has largely neglected EW, spending the last 14 years focused on the mostly uncontested spectrum environments in the Middle East, as several military officials have recently noted.

Thomas Rid and others make a rather persuasive argument that cyber isn’t really a domain of warfare at all, merely a platform that impacts fighting in all the physical domains. While I tend to agree, it’s at least a sufficiently different aspect of military operation that it requires a specialized force. But the electromagnetic spectrum?

For one thing, we’ve been relying on it for military operations for longer than we have airplanes. We didn’t declare radio a domain of warfare because, well, it would have been absurd. We had massive expansion of the harnessing of the spectrum during WWII and have had GPS going back to the first Gulf War. Why is it suddenly a “domain” rather than just part and parcel of how we operate? For that matter, how is not part of the space domain?

 

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Mu says:

    They have this general with a sex addiction. They made him cyberspace general but he surfed porn all day. They moved him to space and he redirected satellites to nude beaches. They figure he’s safe staring at x-rays.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Trolling for funding.

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  3. Mikey says:

    @Dave Schuler: Probably. But if it has in fact been a neglected area, getting more funding wouldn’t be a bad thing. Back in Cold War days the military put significant resources into developing electronic warfare systems. I’m not aware of anything new in recent years.

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  4. DrDaveT says:

    I used to sneer at the idea of cyber as a separate domain, but I’ve started to change my mind. For one, I think that Rid is simply wrong that it isn’t warfare if you’re not harming human beings physically. When you blow up the enemy ammo dump, you are committing an act of war even if no people are harmed. When you destroy information, or prevent its use, the same can be true, even if nothing happens outside of the computer system that information was stored on.

    To put it a different way: cyber is a domain because there are entities that exist only in that domain that are relevant to success in warfare. You can only attack (or defend) them in ‘cyberspace’. Confusing the information domain with the physical systems that support it is just that — a confusion.

    So, does the same argument extend to electromagnetic spectrum? I’d have to think more carefully about that, but it doesn’t seem obviously wrong.

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  5. steve says:

    Dave is probably correct that it is trolling for funding. However, which branch of DoD currently deals with spectrum issues? My best guess would be that each branch does some on its own, and that they don’t work together all that well. Be glad to be proven wrong, but there is a long history of each service branch jealously guarding their funding.

    Steve

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  6. Scott says:

    Part of the issue is that there is a lot of competing interests for spectrum which is a finite resource. Besides the DoD use of spectrum, commercial interests have a huge demand. Just think (as a small example) of the spectrum in our daily lives: cell phones, wireless devices in our homes (wifi, Bluetooth, garage doors clickers), satellite dishes, etc. By upping the importance, DoD can better make the case for its control of part of the spectrum.

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  7. James Joyner says:

    @DrDaveT: I’m still skeptical of space as fundamentally separate from air. While increasingly important, I tend to think of both cyber and the EM spectrum as components of “information warfare” rather than separate physical spaces in which warfare is conducted. It’s probably a semantic distinction at the end of the day.

    @Scott: Indeed, most of our European allies consider “cyber” primarily a civil domain and think militarizing it as a domain odd at best.

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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I recognize that what I’m about to say would be bitterly contested by the many people working on cyberwarfare within our DoD but I’m deeply skeptical that the DoD has the mindset or skillset required for cyberwarfare or can acquire them. I’ll propose something I’ve proposed in the past: letters of marque and bounties.

    The Chinese can approach cyberwarfare by throwing man-hours at it. Are we really going to do that? We need to come up with an approach more suitable to the U. S. and I don’t think the DoD is prepared to do that within its own culture and strictures.

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  9. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: I would argue that space is separate from air because they’re under different regulatory regimes.

    It’s also quite different if you are doing stuff from orbit vs. launching a ballistic missile. Laser beam weaponry, anyone?

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  10. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m still skeptical of space as fundamentally separate from air.

    Wow. What is it that you think they have in common? For me, the difference between space and air is considerably greater than the difference between (say) land and sea.

    While increasingly important, I tend to think of both cyber and the EM spectrum as components of “information warfare” rather than separate physical spaces in which warfare is conducted.

    So why don’t you conclude that Information Warfare is a separate domain, rather than trying to break it up and shoehorn it into Land/Sea/Air? That would make much more sense to me. I suspect that we only think of Information Warfare as an aspect of Land warfare for bad historical reasons, kind of like the way we think of the Air Force as being the natural service to deal with space for legacy reasons.

    As far as spectrum goes, I think you have it exactly backwards. Unlike Information Warfare, spectrum really is precisely a physical realm that is not land, sea, air, space, or ‘cyberspace’. There is a fixed amount of it that cannot be altered by technology, and its physical properties are also fixed. It can be occupied and denied, it has mobility and effects issues of its own, it even has an analog of ‘terrain’… Very like any other domain.

    It’s probably a semantic distinction at the end of the day.

    For cyber vs. “Information Warfare”, perhaps. For spectrum, I’m starting to be convinced that it makes no sense to think of it as anything but a physical domain, distinct from the others.

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  11. Tom M says:

    @James Joyner:
    Strangely enough, I was thinking about some of this the other day (weird, I know).
    I actually think they should close down and fold the Air Force into the Navy and Army, augmenting Naval and Army Air Corps, then create a “Space Force” – a domain separate from the old Air Force.
    That way it keeps the focus of Air War on its main objectives – allowing the services that use Air support to use it and direct it where it needs to go.

    This frees up capabilities to design what a future space or low orbit platform could be, and lets the domains that are on the front lines to determine what they need without Air Force Generals defending budgets and pet projects that may or may not be effective for actual fighting.

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  12. Mikey says:

    @Tom M: The Air Force does not exist solely to provide support to the other branches, and hasn’t since strategic bombing became a thing.

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  13. DrDaveT says:

    @Tom M:

    I actually think they should close down and fold the Air Force into the Navy and Army, augmenting Naval and Army Air Corps, then create a “Space Force” – a domain separate from the old Air Force.

    Interesting idea. I agree entirely that the current situation, in which the Army and Marine Corps can no longer get real close air support because the Air Force would rather fund shiny!, is unacceptable.

    How about this? Replace the Air Force and reorganize the others into…

    Separate Army, Navy, and Marine Aviation forces that do the combat and tactical ISR missions for those Services. They would also be responsible for developing Service-specific air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions. (And stop using officers to pilot UAVs.) This could greatly reduce the probability that the 4-star making acquisition decisions would be a fighter jock, and that’s a good thing.

    Joint Transportation Command, responsible for all airlift and sealift operations. Fold the Defense Logistics Agency into that as well.

    Joint Space Command, responsible for developing, placing, and operating space assets of all kinds.

    Joint Strategic Command, responsible for all nuclear forces and systems.

    It has a certain appeal…

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  14. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: We already have a US Transportation Command and US Strategic Command, they are two of the Unified Combatant Commands and are as joint as can be.

    There was also a US Space Command until 2002 when it became part of the US Strategic Command.

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  15. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m still skeptical of space as fundamentally separate from air.

    If I were to state the obvious… isn’t space the specific absence of air?

    Many of those wonderful propulsion systems and weaponry that work in “air” find themselves useless when O2 combustibility is gone.

    Still, the argument of “space” as a domain is a bit rushed, as most of the “space” weapons are really low earth orbit… and with that in mind, I can see James’ point of little difference between space and air.

    Once we can make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs, THEN we can start talking about space as a domain.

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  16. Tom M says:

    @Mikey: @Mikey:
    I know that strategic bombing is different from close support – but that’s kind of what I’m talking about – the need to give the divisions the tools they need, not just what they want.
    In a reformed domain world that type of bombing would be eventually absorbed by a low orbit platform delivery system, until then the bombing comes from the Navy if it’s carrier based and the Army if it’s land based. The strategy should come from the top and use what is best for the job, (and what’s best for the job is not necessarily scores of high tech mulit-billion dollars planes sitting there, with nothing to do, becoming obsolete before they are ever used).

    DrDaveT: that’s kind of what I was thinking about… making things simpler in general is a good thing and as the article in discussion shows, there’s lots of “dominans” – meaning lots of turf, and lots of turf wars for the money.
    I’d rather have 5 or so branches duking it out for the largess than 12.

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  17. Mikey says:

    @Tom M: It’s not just a matter of strategic bombing, it’s a matter of needing a set of delivery capabilities that can operate independently of other missions.

    The Army has a view of its primary mission and folding airpower into that would result in strategic missions receiving short shrift. The Navy is more force-projection minded than the Army but it probably wouldn’t do anything differently with a bunch of new aircraft.

    I’m not entirely happy with the USAF’s priorities at this point, either, especially having spent the first 13 years of my career as one of these guys and knowing how low on the totem pole the Air Force has always put the CAS mission. Still, I don’t see any benefit to chopping the service up and distributing its parts to other branches that have their own parochial interests and would very likely neglect important aspects of the current Air Force mission, to the detriment of our national defense.

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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    We already have a US Transportation Command and US Strategic Command, they are two of the Unified Combatant Commands and are as joint as can be.

    Not quite. TransCom is (nearly) as joint as it can be while an Air Force still exists and controls acquisition of aircraft and promotion paths for pilots. Not the same thing at all. In particular, I’m proposing a system in which no Component has to decide whether to spend those marginal dollars on fighters or on airlift capacity.

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  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    We already have a […] US Strategic Command

    Just to beat the horse some more, the STRATCOM we have has responsibilities other than nuclear forces, and does not have complete management authority over nuclear forces. In particular, the decision regarding which long-range bomber to buy was made by the Air Force, not by STRATCOM. The Ohio-class replacement program will be designed and funded by the Navy, not by STRATCOM. And STRATCOM has zero authority to decide that we only need a biad instead of a triad, or to take over maintenance of the nuclear arsenal from NNSA. Missile silos are manned by the Air Force; boomers are manned by the Navy. STRATCOM gets very little say in those matters.

    The organization I was proposing shares a name, but would be very different in missions and authorities from the current STRATCOM.

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  20. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT: I see, you want to give them direct ownership of the aircraft, crews, maintenance, etc. My misunderstanding.

    I’m still not seeing an additional efficiency, especially considering the duplication of effort in support and maintenance and the fact we’d basically have six de facto branches fighting for budget rather than just three (if one considers the USMC as part of the Navy).

    Not to mention the problems inherent in all those different organizations developing their own separate airpower doctrines and then trying to get everything meshing. One great advantage of a distinct Air Force is it’s a single organization in charge of developing and implementing a national airpower doctrine that coordinates all the missions.

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  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    I’m still not seeing an additional efficiency, especially considering the duplication of effort in support and maintenance

    It’s not a magic bullet, but I don’t see that there would be that much duplication. The Army wouldn’t have F-18s; the Navy wouldn’t want F-22s or B-52s. (The Marines might want some A-10s though…). Where were you seeing redundancy that doesn’t already exist?

    Not to mention the problems inherent in all those different organizations developing their own separate airpower doctrines and then trying to get everything meshing.

    Again, how would that be different from what we already have? The Army and the Air Force can’t even agree about whether you need to be an officer to be a UAV pilot.

    One great advantage of a distinct Air Force is it’s a single organization in charge of developing and implementing a national airpower doctrine that coordinates all the missions.

    The Army certainly does not consider it an advantage that the Air Force is in charge of deciding how close air support should be conducted, which platforms it should use, and how pilots doing that mission should be trained, rotated, and billeted. And even today, the Air Force does not develop or implement airpower doctrine for the Navy, the Marines, or the Army’s Apache helicopters. Nor would those services want them to.

    I can see your point in theory; it’s just that I think the current system is so far from that ideal that it would actually help to break it up.

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  22. grumpy realist says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: You and James have reminded me of the kerfluffle when the original geosynch satellites were put into orbit over spots in Africa. The African countries pulled a hissy fit and tried to argue that they in fact owned the spot above them (quoting from the Corpus Iuris Civilis and arguing that their land rights extended all the way up, in fact.)

    The countries owning the satellites basically said: “yeah? You and what army?!”. But I did notice that over the years they’ve snuck the satellites away from land so that now the biggest communications satellites are over the international seas….

    Yet another reason to put a Space Elevator 200 miles or more off the coast of Ecuador.

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  23. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s not a magic bullet, but I don’t see that there would be that much duplication. The Army wouldn’t have F-18s; the Navy wouldn’t want F-22s or B-52s. (The Marines might want some A-10s though…). Where were you seeing redundancy that doesn’t already exist?

    You’d have to create parallel personnel and maintenance management frameworks that don’t exist today when everyone works for the USAF. Maybe that would be manageable, I don’t know. It just seems like additional and unnecessary complexity to me.

    Again, how would that be different from what we already have? The Army and the Air Force can’t even agree about whether you need to be an officer to be a UAV pilot.

    That’s small potatoes. What I’m talking about is the overarching airpower doctrine, which essentially belongs to the Air Force.

    The Army certainly does not consider it an advantage that the Air Force is in charge of deciding how close air support should be conducted, which platforms it should use, and how pilots doing that mission should be trained, rotated, and billeted. And even today, the Air Force does not develop or implement airpower doctrine for the Navy, the Marines, or the Army’s Apache helicopters. Nor would those services want them to.

    As of 2003, Close Air Support is joint doctrine (and an exception to the “USAF owns it” rule for airpower doctrine). That’s why a USAF TACP can call in Marine aircraft, or a JTAC-certified soldier USAF aircraft. Everyone gets the same training and uses the same procedures for request and final control.

    I agree we should always seek increased efficiencies. I am just not sure breaking up the current Air Force structure, with its unified leadership over a set of subcommands that each has a specific mission, would serve that end.

    Now, if you want to talk about wresting control away from the “fighter mafia” you’ll get no argument from me…but I’m biased by my love for the Warthog.

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