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Concepts and DoctrineCyber / InformationOpinionShort Read

Virtual War – Welcome to the Revolution

New technologies are changing the world in unexpected ways as the 4th Industrial Revolution now gets underway. But how will the spectrum of conflict different this time around?  How do we mobilise and upskill our people for a future non-linear multi-dimensionally Virtual War?   How to be technically enable the virtual competition for Information Supremacy on this Virtual Battlefield?

This article is a short read on the subject of Virtual War. A more extensive insight into the subject from the same author can be found in the Long Reads Section.1

There has been a paradigm shift in the nature of conflict in the past 10 years.  When combined with the transformative effects of new digital technologies and social media on society, predictions are challenging even the most futuristic defence planners.  There are many technical challenges to be overcome but the biggest challenge will be military culture, not the technology.  The response to this seismic shift needs to be bold, radical and visionary.  It will require fundamental new thinking, a challenge to traditional comfort zones, a fundamental shake-up and release from entrenched industrial age military culture.  It will also require our bureaucratic purchasing processes to be overhauled to instead be driven by the agile facilitation of new information age multi-domain fusion doctrine, at pace.  It needs military decision making enabled by contemporary technology solutions and military procurement based on commercial business services, outputs and performance. 

To execute contemporary warfare efficiently, to weaponise data at a lightning fast industrial scale and to deploy a full spectrum of information manoeuvre weapons, defence needs to be equipped with and deploy modern hyper-scale computing platforms to the battlefield.  In doing so, it not just delivers technology enabled battlefield capabilities in fundamental new ways, but it also attracts the innovative, technically fluent young soldiers to develop and exercise new processes, applications and toolsets.  These are the smart-bombs of the digital battlefield, the SMEs that will provide contemporary battlefield capabilities to the commander and solve the future military problems we have not yet envisioned.  

21st century information age CONOPS – fast agile forces eat the slow bumbling dinosaur

The tactical playbook for warfighting has constantly been updated over millennia.  Virtual Warfare is no different: There are principles, concepts and tactics to be developed.  The conduct of Virtual Warfare and virtual operations will now require an updated set of rules and guidelines that represent the new incarnation of conflict; but from a digital perspective.  In additional to the conventional principles of war, to prosecute a virtual war several new principles need to be considered.

1.  Informationisation: Digitise everything into data to be collected, transported, stored and processed into information;

2.  Intelligentisation: Analyse Information into intelligence;

3.  CognitivismMake sense of intelligence using High-Tempo Data-Driven Decision Tools (HTDDDT) to enable (and automate?) decisions and actions.

Air Vice Marshall Johnny Stringer, JLF CoS summarises the above as follows: ‘…the need to understand and fuse open-source intelligence with other feeds will place increasing demand on automation and big data analytics: without this, we risk generating even more ‘Collect’ of raw data without the means to ‘Process & Disseminate’ refined and timely intelligence product

The resultant multi-cloud battlespace architecture when connected and deployed in a Virtual Warfare scenario will now see J6 planners push enterprise compute power out to all edges of the battlefield directly into the hands of deployed troops.  The future Internet of Battle Things (IoBT) theatre will see multitudes of intelligent things communicating, acting and collaborating together with the human warfighter, unifying them, their devices and compute power into one single enabled force – the ultimate force-multiplier.2

But the technology alone is not the answer as Deputy US Defence Secretary, Bob Work said “…for the millionth time, it is not about technology: It is about the integration of operational concepts and organisational constructs that will shape the way we integrate and use the technology.”3

Whilst many see technology as the panacea to solve all issues in defence, we must consider that many historic innovations have failed to live up to their promise.  But equally so, strategic dithering on new technological solutions will also now prove physically fatal.  We have already been mobilised as combatants in a lukewarm Virtual War played out daily in our social forums, online media and networks.  In this modern day ‘duel of wills’ each seeks to achieve social control over the other but just because it is void of the controlled acts of violence that Clausewitz would have expected, does it mean it is not war?4

In a similar way to how Netflix, Uber, Airbnb etc have applied information technologies and created new operating paradigms that allow them to shape the way they integrate into the new Information Age and use  technology to dominate their operating domains, the military that transforms, innovates and upskills its people to dominate the virtual domain both with capability and doctrine, will rise to win the territorial battles yet to fought in the virtual war.   

Those that are to prevail will not be those with the best weapons or latest technologies, but the digitally savvy ‘smart’ military that has learnt to best adapt, fuse and employ current contemporary information technologies to deliver military effect. 

Martin Crilly

Martin Crilly is the Chief Architect & Engineering Authority to BAE Systems in the Middle East, and a Reserve Signals Officer.   His background is in contempary ICT architecture, technology strategy, cyber-security, J2 and J6 with previous roles in BFC, ISS Ops Plans, GOSCC, DE&S Maritime and others.  For more information and articles on Virtual War and similar topics, ‘follow’ him on Defence Connect.


  1. http://wavellroom.com/2019/10/29/virtual-war-information-supremacy-on-the-virtual-battlefield/
  2. Kott, Alexander, Ananthram Swami, and Bruce J. West. “The Internet of Battle Things.” IEEE Computer 49.12 (2016): 70-75. https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1712/1712.08980.pdf
  3. Bob Work, US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Washington, Remarks to the Association of the US Army Annual Convention (2016)
  4. Clausewitz: On War. Book 1, Chapter 1.

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