Back in 1917, German air raids on London and the poor defensive response prompted a review by South African General Jan Smuts which led to formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918 and, three years later, the RAAF.
Major General Murray Thompson, head of Defence Information Communications Technology (ICT) Operations, wonders if it’s not time for another such review to create a new force to operate in the cyber domain.
“If we are to fight and win in the cyber, and indeed ensure its capabilities are harnessed to effect across all warfighting domains, then this might be the time for another Smuts Review that perhaps sets the future direction for a fourth armed service,” he told the MilCIS (Military Communications and Information Systems) conference in Canberra.
Major General Thompson said this newest of domains required that fresh approach, one we have not seen since the advent of powered flight over 100 years ago.
He said the way we viewed the world had been constrained by the physical domains.
“We have applied these views unsuccessfully in the cyber domain. Geography, terrain, laws, power, control all manifest differently in the cyber domain,” he said.
“The grey zone now has become a battlefield that we should prepare our defence force to contest. We need to think differently to do this and we need to do this now if we are going to keep pace with technology.”
Major General Thompson said with the birth of air forces in the 1920s, the entire comprehension of warfare changed.
“It then took multiple decades of military development to integrate air power into effective joint operations. My question for you is, is the cyber domain at the same parallel point in history?” he said.
Germany launched air raids on Britain throughout World War 1, initially with zeppelins and later in the war with Gotha and other bombers.
The poor and uncoordinated response by the Army’s Royal Flying Corps and Royal Navy Aerial Service led to the government commissioning Smuts to review British air services. He suggested the creation of an air service “which in time may become the principal operations of war.”
Major General Thompson told the conference operations in the physical warfighting domains of land, sea and air domains would all be challenged by the cyber revolution.
That was being seen to some extent in the conflict in Ukraine. Artillery still dominated the battlefield and mass still had a quality all its own.
“However, the use of drones, electronic warfare, autonomous platforms on land, sea and air, handheld technology and information warfare to shape combatant thought as much as the foreign donor community are all areas of great interest for our future warfighting landscape,” he said.
“It is the cyber domain where perhaps we will see the greatest changes.”
Major General Thompson said Ukraine had managed to command and control its forces in a high threat environment, maintaining operations through constant cyber-attacks against its networks and data holdings and electronic jamming of its communications systems.
“As a defence force we have much to learn and we need to do this rapidly,” he said.