DOD moves IT to front lines

The Joint Chiefs of Staff's decision this fall to codify so-called information operations (IO) is more than just a policy change. The doctrine elevates information technology from a tool that helps an agency meet its mission to an actual physical space where real battles are waged, just as an aircraft carrier launches battles on an ocean or a jet fighter flies sorties over enemy targets.

Of course, the Joint Chiefs' doctrine is not the first recognition of the role IT plays in the Defense Department. For years, the military services have tested how IT can improve the accuracy of weapons and the efficiency of support operations. And nearly a year ago, the Pentagon established for the first time an offensive information warfare operation within top echelons of DOD.

IO gives the Pentagon a structure that has far-ranging effects. Most important, DOD has sent a message to Congress that funding IO is just as important to the defense of the nation as spending billions of dollars to build the next-generation nuclear submarine or stealth bomber.

Clearly, the message is needed. During the fiscal 1999 appropriations process, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to nearly wipe out DOD's $70 million to protect systems from cyberattacks. The money was eventually restored to DOD's budget, but the fact that it was cut in the first place is alarming given recent testimony from top Defense and intelligence officials that U.S. computer systems are already under cyberattack.

It is appropriate that the Joint Chiefs institutionalize IO into the nation's defense structure, not so much to push the services into focusing on IT but to send a clear message to Congress and future administrations that IT is key to a strong military strategy.

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