To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

– William Shakespeare


Truth is the first casualty in all wars. The word “truth” means many things to many people, which is ironic and troublesome with respect to social stability. Truth, in the context of Virtual War, is based on perceptions of historical credibility and reliability patterns, which ensure predictable outcomes for an individual, group, or larger population. Truth is the center of gravity, from which all influential power emanates between humans. Scheming to achieve the most advantageous temporal and evolving perception of the truth is the goal of both foreign and domestic agents of change. This stratagem begins to address the principles of virtual war and its attendant weapons of mass deception, which are approaching a dangerous tipping point for nations such as the United States.

The principles of virtual war and virtual warfighting functions noted in this essay are based on observations noted over three decades in the national security domain. The goal is to take what is opaque to many people in virtual space and make it visible and more understandable in physical space. The Virtual War maelstrom, which has emerged after 9/11, has engulfed every one of us who is connected to the Internet of Things, whether we realize it or not. As a result, our personal, cultural, and national identities are also becoming casualties of Virtual War.

Virtual War

Virtual War is a global systems approach to achieve social control. Social control is achieved through the use of weapons of mass deception. Global “social control” is possible for the first time in the history of the world. Social control capabilities are nested in global satellite imagery, swarms of civilian and military aerial drones, public camera surveillance systems in our “smarter cities,” commercial infrastructure, iPhone tracking protocols, fitness trackers and other wearable devices, the internet, artificial intelligence fleeced by private sector companies, DNA, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit reports, online personal health records, stealing or manipulating personal identities, nanobot technologies, and all the associated digital personal financial contrivances which exist today. Prime candidates who are capable of, or who could develop the capability to achieve, social control are: domestic governments, foreign governments, large companies, terrorist organizations and drug cartels.

Environmental Space: Is the United States Future Ready?

Many of the rules for how we live and secure our interests are changing at an uncontrolled pace. The world is moving at the speed of artificial intelligence (AI) and social media. That trend will continue at greater speed and volume. This phenomenon has created a diametric struggle between safeguarding individual identities and the inherent danger of unregulated AI and social media advancements. The industrial-age “power leadership,” recognition-primed decision making, and process-centric planning models have all collapsed under the weight of technological advancements, as evidenced by sixteen years of physical battlespace attrition warfare. Western hierarchical governance models are struggling to remain viable. They have proven to be incapable of legislating and providing the proper oversight for the technological revolution we are experiencing. Governmental stove-piped learning systems are laborious and far too costly in the long run to remain relevant in a world that is increasingly more distributed and agile. All of these changes are explained by the pace of technological advancements, as noted by Ray Kurzweil:

Because we’re doubling the rate of progress every decade, we’ll see the equivalent  of a century of progress—at today’s rate [2005]—in only twenty-five calendar years.  Technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense intuitive linear view. There is exponential growth in the rate of exponential growth.

These developments are enabling new Virtual War and weapons of mass deception strategies to be created faster than the US legacy defense establishment can comprehend them. The current DoD schema was framed in 1947. It is no wonder that our domestic freedoms and foreign vulnerabilities are being exploited in ways that were previously untenable.

The United States is experiencing a national and global reframing of its distal and proximal narratives. This is being accomplished through social creation, which is defined as the reimagining and reinvention of existing societies. It is the leadership activity that synthetically and/or naturally exploits knowledge curation in a culture that dictates what, when, how, and who learns new information in an effort to achieve revolutionary change. Endemic pressure by way of political correctness is used to compel transformational change in human behavior. Systemic manipulation of the freedom and laws of a democratic culture is an enabling activity that alters societal norms in favor of adversary goals.

Exploitation of relational dialectics is another technique that agents of deception use. One of their goals is to drive wedges between the enduring cultural distal and proximal narratives to sow durable instability. Manipulation of communication patterns that exist in the academic, information, political, social, religious, economic, security, financial, and cultural narratives, within a targeted population, are the objectives. Institutional and governmental censorship, in democratic and autocratic societies, are key enablers.

Tangentially, our physical identity in this world is surreptitiously being replaced by a virtual identity that has global reach. Some of this activity we can control with the posts that we make to various social media conduits. Once our virtual identity is online, we have no control over who has access to it or what is done with our information. Our virtual identity is far more powerful in terms of global exposure and the ability to promote causes or monetize new innovations. However, there are many examples where tech companies, and other industries, have sold our personal identities for profit in the global market place.

Each of us leaves behind eternal digital fingerprints when we connect to the internet. Our personality profile behaviors are captured in various “cookies” and are moved electronically to paying entities who want to gain our attention, monetize our identities, and profit from our business. These patterns of behavior, which are used by various illegitimate agents in the new American aristocracy, are hurting many Americans in physical space, and portend future adverse seismic shifts for our individual liberty.

All of this begs a question: Do you know who is buying and selling your identity today? That is an important question as the weapons of mass deception are immature relative to where they will be in the future. As weapons of mass deception grow more powerful in the years ahead, they will make social control possible for empowered actors.

Individuals possess several physical identities to facilitate the work they must do. By extrapolating the reality of humans possessing several physical identities into virtual space, one can see the potential to create an unlimited number of identities for profit and evasive reasons. Nascent internet robot technologies exist that are capable of creating an infinite number of virtual avatars every day. Understanding what and who is “real” is increasingly difficult.

Confronting the forces that are at play and unveiling the semiotic exploitation that is driving national and global deceptive behavior patterns is critical in terms of disrupting and eliminating the risks to our country. An operational definition for semiotic exploitation is the falsification of meaning-making in language, connotations, signs, and communicative symbols, in both fabricated and natural expressions, to achieve desired objectives. It is the art of successfully communicating what is right as being wrong, and what is wrong as being right.

Myths and Masks

Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes questioned, “In a political system based on speeches, how can it be safely administered if the speeches are not true?” The word “myth” is derived from the Greek word mythos, which means “story.” Myths are deeply embedded in our collective memory and they shape our understanding of cultures. David Wiles points out that the traditional mythos of ancient Greece was primarily a part of its oral tradition. Wiles argues that there were no definitive or authoritative versions of myths recorded in texts that were preserved forever in an unchanging form. Instead, he suggests that multiple variants of myths were in circulation. Performers of myths could freely reshape their source material for a new work, adapting it to the needs of a new audience or in response to a new situation. Fast forward from the fourth century BCE to the physical and virtual realities that are now both dominated by cybernetics—the science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things—and one begins to see the tremendous untapped potential to exploit the mythos, in ways that heretofore could not have been perceived.

Humanity is confronted with a challenge today as we attempt to discover the true meaning behind the multitude of “masks” that are presented to us. Many of us find ourselves trying to extract the actual story from behind the presentation we are seeing, and to discover the genuine representation that is being disguised as a story. The multitude of informational media masks, which are in fact growing, all too often cover the face of truth. This reality is creating a national and global crisis in terms of what can be believed by governments and media sources. We are experiencing a global and exponential reshaping of source material daily, which in turn ensures that truth is the first casualty of everyday communication. The mythos-reshaping efforts also guarantees that deception will continue to erode the security and rights of every American, with each fake news inject, twitter missive, and text message.

Back to the Future

American-Canadian writer William Gibson published his fictional book Neuromancer in 1984. Neuromancer is a noteworthy literary interface for our modern day virtual conflict space. Gibson’s writings highlight fascinating future virtual personas that possess tremendous power and reach to shape both the physical and virtual worlds, by way of machine intelligence. We are seeing the 1.0 version of Gibson’s virtual avatars today, in the synthesis and virtual aggregation of individual social media accounts, which are producing powerful digital facades for each of us who is online. The individual virtual avatars, which are being created today, are more real and have more influential power over a global audience than the actual human being that the avatar represents. This seemingly innocuous trend will continue at an exponential pace and will proceed to dramatically reshape human behavior in the future.

Gibson gives us a glimpse of what AI, learning, leadership, and decision-making archetypes will look like in the future. Future super-AI creations will learn, think, decide, and act in ways that our slow-moving governmental, military, financial, and economic systems cannot comprehend in 2018. AI advancements are as opaque in our society today as are the individual virtual avatars that each of us has created and that we now take for granted. The average citizen is not aware of the global propensity patterns that are emerging and the near-vertical progression curves which are moving us closer to Gibson’s virtual reality.

AI entities will reproduce enhanced versions of themselves under the radar of human awareness. How will we prevent future AI manifestations from gaining too much power in the future? Future AI entities, on battlefields and in our civilian society, will be able to conduct positive identification and will eliminate threats without a human being in the decision-making calculations. These AI-driven capabilities will redefine law enforcement protocols and security norms and will generate a multitude of moral issues. These facts are anathema to most leaders today. To say that we are going to need new leadership, learning, decision-making, and governance models is an understatement. The power leaders and the cumbersome bureaucracies that are in use today are going to be crushed along the way, as AI dynamically matures. The question to ponder is: Will we position ourselves in an anticipatory stance and change our mental models in light of the evidence to do so; or will we wait and be reactionary and suffer the consequences of inaction?

At the IBM Think 2018 conference in Las Vegas in March 2018, IBM announced the Watson Assistant, an artificial intelligent adviser that the company describes as an “AI enterprise assistant.” IBM Watson, Siri, Alexa, and the Google Assistant, are all first-generation precursors to the incredibly powerful AI techno-figures that were described by Gibson thirty-four years ago. Powerful AI actors will be able to manipulate every aspect of our lives, to include security systems at all levels, to achieve real-time desired effects. Similarly, rogue nation-states, terrorist organizations, mafias, drug cartels, large tech-companies, and hackers will exploit AI far beyond what is occurring today. Each of these entities could potentially serve in a future governance role, as legacy governmental models collapse under the weight of AI advancements and the speed of broader technological change. Many terrorist organizations, which did not exist on 9/11, have already assumed the mantel of governance for thousands of people in the world. What will drive the future governance logic for humans going forward? Which existing antifragile entities will co-evolve and thrive during future exponential technological advancements that will enable them to rule?

Gibson popularized the idea of cyberspace in his book. Cyberspace gained enough recognition to become the term de jure for the World Wide Web during the 1990s. Gibson reinvented the way we speak and think about a future that is very near. The conflict the world has experienced over the past sixteen years transcends cyber war—and that is an understatement, by an order of magnitude. The world is experiencing a revolution in human affairs that is being driven by global weapons of mass deception, which influence every action in our lives today. The practitioners, who use weapons of mass deception, are the foreign and domestic kings and queens of the global airwaves.

Reconceptualizing War

On September 11, 2001, we saw the Twin Towers in New York City crumble to the ground. The Latin invictus is the only word that is worthy of describing the actions of the FDNY, NYPD, and emergency medical services personnel who ran up the stairs into life-ending experiences that can never be sufficiently appreciated. All of us learned of heroic, superhuman efforts, on United Airlines Flight 93, minutes before it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Similarly, the indomitable human spirit was seen repeatedly in the Pentagon, after it was struck by American Airlines Flight 77.

It was evident that this was a terrorist attack of unprecedented proportions. One did not have to be Clausewitz to realize that the rules for war were changing before our eyes. In the days after 9/11, while in command of the 3rd Ranger Battalion, I pondered the implications for future war, as we began to plan a parachute assault invasion into Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, as the spearhead attack for the United States in the Global War on Terrorism.

It was clear that the form, functions, and logic of warfare that were now confronting the world were profoundly different than those that characterized the First Gulf War just a decade earlier. Grasping the magnitude of change for warfare in our time would prove to be challenging for the Department of Defense, based on its recent history of unrivaled success. Success at times can be the worst enemy. Unfortunately, sixteen years of painful attrition warfare in physical battlespace is the evidence that supports this assertion.

The world focused on the images of the physical terrorist attacks on 9/11. What we missed was the introduction of Virtual War and weapons of mass deception that were made visible on 9/11, for the first time in the history of the world. We did not recognize that the attack on the United States was the first major operation in global Virtual War, perpetrated by Osama bin Laden. The civilian-versus-civilian terrorist attacks were planned using the Internet of Things, in virtual space, using weapons of mass deception, prior to the execution of the physical attacks on the respective civilian targets in the United States.

Total War

Virtual War is the most powerful form of total war known to mankind, as it impacts everything and everyone—everyday. Total war is defined as a war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded. That definition aptly describes what is happening on the security front in the world today. People who have studied war for decades envision total war in the context of the World War II experience. That is another level of deception that must be reconciled. More people are affected by total war today on a daily basis than during World War II. There are 4,156,932,140 people connected to the Internet today, roughly 54.4 % of the world’s population. Over half of the world’s population are now virtual participants who are being engaged and surveilled continuously, overtly or covertly, at home, in the workplace, and all points in between.

Creating a state of liminality is one of the first objectives of deceptive actors who engage in total war. Liminality is the art of creating individual and societal disequilibrium. Threat actors endeavor to control the gateway of uncertainty, and the zone, between what is true and what is false. This is accomplished by blinding the minds of an adversary through the infusion of ambiguity that attacks, misleads, and confuses people and produces mass distractions in both physical and non-physical ways. Manipulation of the attention, anxiety, identity, and influence of a population and discerning the mobilization potential of a population to act in support of specific interests are prime objectives of threat agents. Population attention, anxiety, influence, and identity are commodities that can be monetized, mobilized, and weaponized to support desired outcomes, as seen many times over the past two decades.

Virtual War and weapons of mass deception strategies set successful conditions for physical war. Virtual War is the more expansive and powerful form of conflict as it creates affective overmatch, which enables the exploitation of human cognitive behavior, instantaneously across the globe. These Virtual War variables then create strategic psycho-motor effects such as the “Arab Spring” or terrorist bombing attacks like those we have seen in Boston, London, Paris, Brussels, and elsewhere. Physical war is far less powerful as it is produces tactical effects episodically in various sub-regions of the world that have no enduring strategic value.

Unfortunately, the US defense establishment fails to see and understand what Russia, China, and many terrorist organizations have grasped and operationalized for nearly two decades with tremendous success. Numerous domestic and foreign actors are at the center of a historic inflection point in US history. Many threat entities are mastering the dialectic that exists between Virtual War and physical war. This includes the conduct of Virtual War on US soil by manipulative foreign and domestic agents. Despite these facts, physical war is still at the heart of defense preparations for the Department of Defense. The amount of money that is being spent in Virtual War preparations is infinitesimal when compared to physical war expenditures.

Problem Space

Virtual War is a reality, it is unprecedented in its power, and it is here to stay. Virtual War is changing every facet of life on earth. The operational artist within the US defense community strives to see and understand the changes in the topography of generational warfare. Leaders within the DoD today do not understand the “revolution in human affairs” that has consumed them via Virtual War. Hence, we have remained institutionally wedded to an out-of-date security paradigm, as per the results, since 9/11. This is similar to the generation of military professionals who court-martialed Billy Mitchell in 1925 for voicing his innovative ideas (in insubordinate fashion, according to the court-martial charges) about what would become the US Air Force shortly after World War II. The security professionals in the United States do not recognize Virtual War and have not framed it as the single greatest threat to our sovereignty. The difference between the inter-war period and World War II era and today is that Gen. George C. Marshall, the US Army chief of staff, recognized the “revolution in military affairs” during his time and he made the proper transformational adjustments.

In short, the US national security enterprise is attempting to fit a much a more powerful Virtual War approach inside of a legacy and far less potent physical warfighting paradigm.

What is going on today is tantamount to the chief of US cavalry asking Gen. Marshall to introduce squadrons of horse cavalry into the US Army’s cutting edge mechanized Louisiana Maneuvers in 1940 and 1941. The physical war paradigm will never outpace the Virtual War paradigm—just as the horse could not keep pace with a tank. The cognitive dissonance which exists today within much of the national defense industrial base is detrimental to US and global security. Cyber and information operations are executed in silos of excellence and are an afterthought vis-à-vis practical application during planning in the military today. National Virtual War policy, strategy, and doctrine—which would include virtual principles of war and virtual warfighting functions—need to be discussed, based on what is happening around the world and at home.

The first step in maintaining our way of life is to name and then frame the complex system of problems that is confronting us. The next step is to peacefully mobilize our private sector to overcome the threats to our republic, as we have done in the past. The US private sector can win the global Virtual War that we are engaged in now and could do so very quickly. The challenge is that our private sector must be mobilized to do revolutionary adaptive work. Big changes require vast amounts of energy to be injected into a system and is normally only possible after a major negative event occurs in our country. The Virtual War we are experiencing is insidious in it forms, functions, and logic. Virtual War does not dramatically disturb our ecosystem in a way that causes alarm or a compelling need for change. Think of the metaphor of a frog in a pot of water on a stove. The temperature gets turned up just one degree at a time. Before long, the frog will perish, as it did not recognize the pending danger.

The United States must re-create its warfighting culture to include the private sector. Restructuring our strategic learning systems and aligning thinking, across boundaries, in a manner that ensures system fitness—which is defined as winning the nation’s wars in both physical and virtual space—is essential. The production of double- and triple-loop learning effects, which create new governing principles for policy and strategy development, is crucial in terms of positioning our country in an anticipatory stance relative to our growing system of opposition. We must master the art of shaping national and global affective and cognitive behavior patterns to ensure desired psycho-motor activity. The normal propensity for the US military is to engage in process-centric single-loop learning task execution. That approach has produced sixteen years of attrition warfare.

Assessment Space

Assessment is fundamentally about learning. The ability to learn is the only thing we control. How we structure learning across public-private sector boundaries is our only competitive advantage in Virtual War. How well are we learning about the increasingly complex global environment? What big lessons are being learned and promulgated to ensure future prosperity?

It is a fact that the post-9/11 war appears to have no end in sight. Global terrorist organizations and the number of terrorist attacks are growing. Our online security is at risk every day and we are now fighting an untethered global Virtual War. There is a physical global war on terrorism in Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. Said another way, we are fighting a physical global war on terrorism in six of the seven continents on the planet.

Speaking the truth to the American people is absolutely what must be done to mobilize the industrial might of our country to win global wars in both virtual and physical space. Not doing so is tantamount to censorship. The act of nondisclosure that we are fighting two world wars is also part of a false narrative and contributes to mass deception. If a government is not truthful relative to the threats, the people in which they rule are placed in an untenable security position. Acknowledgement of a global Virtual War and physical war invites responsibility for political officials to act. The toxic mass deception machinery of the mainstream media and social media, makes it unpardonable for an elected political official to speak the truth to the constituents that they lead.

This begs the question: Are we really learning or is our government and humanity completely overwhelmed with the pace of change, so that the best we can do is tread water against opposition forces that will only increase in power? This quote from Thomas Rid, the author of Rise of the Machines: A Cybernetic History, is apropos as we attempt to understand the milieu that is emerging today:

Are modern societies sleepwalking into a dangerous brave new world that is slowly slipping out of control?

Hundreds of other terror attacks have taken place around the world since 9/11, and all of them were planned and coordinated in virtual space, using weapons of mass deception, before the horrific attacks took place in physical space. Osama bin Laden deceived approximately 1.8 billion Muslims as he hijacked the religion of Islam and compelled thousands of men, women, and children to needlessly wage war against innocent people around the world. Moreover, the entire world has failed to recognize Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri for their unparalleled ability to deceive and maneuver one civilian population against another using the virtual domain and virtual global war campaigns that rival any combat operations that have been created throughout the history of war. Osama bin Laden was the first al-Qaeda virtual manipulator. Ayman al-Zawahiri has assumed the lead role as the emir of al-Qaeda, as the organization reinvents itself and is regaining strength throughout the world.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is also a notorious global virtual manipulator who is responsible for thousands of deaths around the world. ISIS controls limited physical terrain today relative to the height of the group’s power in the 2015–2016 time period, when it dominated much of Iraq and Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and ISIS still control significant bandwidth in the global virtual domain. ISIS continues to deceive elements of our global population and maintains a considerable capability to maneuver one civilian population against another across the entire world, at an incredibly low and sustainable cost, by way of virtual space. This is evident in the litany of ISIS terror attacks over the years since 2014 across the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a major contributor in the development and exportation of weapons of mass deception. He will seemingly lead the dystopian state of Russia for many years to come. The United States is doing exactly what Putin hoped for and more. Given public perceptions of our divisive government and “media elites,” the will of the American people continues to wear down every day and confidence in US institutions weakens. We are following the Virtual War tenets and schemata for Russian social control perfectly. Since March 2016, “Russian hackers have attempted to infiltrate numerous sectors of American infrastructure, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing.” The Virtual War maneuvers that Putin has directed within Russia, in the Crimea, Estonia, and Ukraine, and against the United States are only surpassed by the advancements made by the Middle Kingdom.

The “Made in China 2025” policy, the One Belt, One Road initiative, and the Chinese artificial island provocations in the South China Sea, have led to the largest theft of intellectual property and transfer of wealth in human history. China has strategically bounded the actions of the United States and the world. They have done so in virtual space, on land and at sea, by way of the three aforementioned strategic initiatives. China offers a false peace, as Beijing maintains a “non-interference into one another’s internal national affairs,” as its foreign policy doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth as evidenced by the congressional testimony that was provided by the FBI Director and the senior intelligence leadership for the United States in February 2018. According to this testimony, China has infiltrated every meaningful aspect of US society today.

The US leadership conducts business and makes key decisions within news cycles and election cycles. President Xi Jinping represents a culture that views life in generational terms and over centuries. Xi has no intention of fighting a physical battlespace war with the United States. He fully expects to achieve social control, over the United States and the rest of the world, by indirect means through the theft of US and global technologies. If China ever engaged the United States in physical war, it would be the shortest war among near-peer competitors in history. China will only wage kinetic war with the United States after the outcome is preordained. China would much rather control the United States, and our interests, using indirect means and methods, without a shot ever being fired.

Every service member raises his or her right hand and takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, when they join the US military. Suffice it to say, the United States is infested with every enemy known to mankind. We see that drug cartels, criminal gangs, terrorists, hackers, foreign spies, and domestic actors have embedded themselves in every corner of America, and in our governmental apparatus. The United States of America is under assault in both physical space and virtual space; and we are being attacked by enemies who are foreign and domestic threats to the Constitution of the United States. The US government needs a new security policy to address this reality and the DoD must create a new strategy and doctrine to win wars—not just to fight wars in perpetuity.

Solution Space

New governing principles for how wars will be waged in virtual space need to be framed. My intent is to begin the professional discourse concerning the virtual principles of war using the operating definitions described below. The illustrations of the virtual principles of war suggested here do not reflect my personal ethical beliefs. The key instruments and techniques that have been used against the United States and its allies in virtual space are addressed.

Considering how the US government, the US private sector, and the US military could collectively structure the learning and design-refined virtual principles of war and new Virtual War laws, would be useful. These actions could help win wars in a more competitive security environment. Also included below is a brief rendering of virtual warfighting functions to advance the enterprise-wide national security dialogue for this important topic, in support of future Virtual War campaign design requirements.

The Virtual Principles of War

  1. Truth: Truth, in the context of Virtual War, is based on perceptions of historical credibility and reliability patterns, which ensure predictable outcomes for an individual, group, or larger population. Truth is the center of gravity, from which all influential power emanates between humans.
  2. Relational Dialectics. The ability to drive wedges between the enduring cultural distal and proximal narratives to sow durable instability. Manipulation of communication patterns that exist in the academic, information, political, social, religious, economic, security, financial, and cultural narratives, within a targeted population, are the objectives. Institutional and governmental censorship in democratic and autocratic societies is a key enabler.
  3. Semiotic Exploitation. The art of successfully communicating what is right as being wrong, and what is wrong as being right. The falsification of meaning-making in language, connotations, signs, and communicative symbols in both synthetically constructed and natural expressions, to achieve specific desired end conditions.
  4. Liminality. The capacity to create individual and societal disequilibrium. Controlling the gateway of uncertainty, and the zone, between what is true and what is false. This is accomplished by blinding the minds of an adversary through the infusion of ambiguity that attacks, misleads, and confuses people and produces mass distractions in both physical and non-physical ways. Manipulation of the attention, anxiety, identity, and influence of a population, and the mobilization potential of a population to act in support of specific interests. Population attention, anxiety, influence, and identity are commodities that can be monetized, mobilized and weaponized to support desired outcomes.
  5. Learning. The decisive activity that ensures system fitness. The production of double- and triple-loop learning effects, which create new governing principles for policy and strategy development that will position a governing body in an anticipatory stance relative to its system of opposition. The process of shaping affective and cognitive behavior patterns to ensure desired psycho-motor activity.
  6. Systems Thinking. The act of mapping, understanding and regulating system inputs, self-organization, emergent nonlinear patterns of behavior, variety within systems, scale and phase transitions, and the evolving interdependencies and tensions between different agents and variables. Appreciating the potential capability of a system to produce desired outputs.
  7. Decision Making. Control of decision space, decision points, and the length and quality of opposition learning and communication cycles to ensure successful deception and execution of Virtual War campaigns. The creative genius and strategic choices associated with the co-evolution and harmonization of: decisions of consequence, decisions of formulation, decisions of implementation, execution decisions, and reframing decisions while conducting Virtual War campaigns.
  8. Social Creation. The reimagining and reinvention of existing societies. The leadership activity that synthetically and/or naturally exploits knowledge curation in a culture that dictates what, when, how, and who learns new information in an effort to achieve revolutionary change. Endemic pressure by way of political correctness is used to compel transformational change in human behavior. Systemic manipulation of the freedom and laws of a democratic culture is an enabling activity that alters societal norms in favor of spurious actor objectives.
  9. Technology Structure: How the technologies interconnect, as defined by the laws of physics, that dictate which customer Virtual War needs can be satisfied.
  10. Technology Capability: The capability levels, of the individual technologies, of the technology structure, as defined by the laws of physics, that dictate what level the customer Virtual War needs can be satisfied.
  11. Technology Flow: The flow of the individual technology capabilities, as defined by the laws of physics, dictates when the customer Virtual War needs can be satisfied.
  12. Time. The art and science of the exploitation of time and timing, to manipulate learning, decision making, and communication cycles to influence and ensure favorable outcomes that support national policy.

Joint Force Virtual Warfighting Functions (VWFFs) for Campaign Design

Listed below are initial virtual warfighting functions that are required to support virtual campaign plans. Heretofore, the US military has focused primarily on cyber and information operations in discrete stovepipes. One of the many goals of this paper and future efforts will be to achieve the synthesis and evaluation levels of learning and understanding that ensures optimal integration of these initial five VWFFs during the execution of virtual warfare campaigns similar to what the Russians and Chinese are executing against the United States today.

The creation of a new National Virtual Maneuver Center of Excellence (NVM CoE) is central to the success of future US virtual warfighting efforts. The new NVM CoE, when created, will serve several purposes. The NVM CoE is essential in terms of ensuring the proper experimentation and the full integration of cyber operations, social media activities, information operations, employment of artificial intelligence, and the use of stealth and cloaking technologies and techniques to achieve national policy objectives. The center will be the cutting-edge graduate-level Virtual War think tank for the United States and will also house the next generation of the Reagan-era “Project Socrates.”

Project Socrates was a joint Reagan White House and US intelligence community initiative. Its mission was to develop the means to exploit technology for a competitive advantage that was far more advanced than any US adversary or competitor could match or counter in the foreseeable future. Socrates was fully successful in its mission. The project determined that all exploitation of technology for a competitive advantage takes place in four-dimensional technology space. This technology space is the complete set of present and future worldwide technologies. The four dimensions fully dictate how technology can be developed, acquired, and utilized for a competitive advantage. To generate and maintain a competitive advantage, a country must out-maneuver the adversary or competitor in one or more of the four technology space dimensions. Project Socrates developed a means to maneuver in technology space to create an unmatchable competitive advantage using unprecedented speed, efficiency, and agility.

The NVM CoE will be exponentially more powerful than the existing Maneuver Center of Excellence, which focuses on the physical battlespace and currently resides at Fort Benning, Georgia. The NVM CoE will maintain 24/7 indirect global influence, at a fraction of the investment and with plausible deniability as it proceeds with operations. The tasks that are executed in the center will reduce risk to the mission and the risk to “assaulting virtual forces.” Virtual War techniques deployed by the center will also eliminate the tyranny of global strategic and operational reach that are limiting variables for physical battlespace forces.

The new center will not be challenged by theater-level access and early-entry conundrums. The “virtual warriors” in the NVM CoE will be capable of delivering virtual munitions on demand to advance national policy objectives for scenarios involving China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran, which was not possible before.

The center should be manned by the full array of agencies in the US government. Of singular importance is that many of the people who serve in the NVM CoE should be from the private sector to ensure the best integration of new ideas, which will enable the United States to win any type of war it is engaged in. Steve Johnson’s “liquid network” organizations best describe what the NVM CoE must be as it designs Virtual War campaigns for our country. The NVM CoE would also undertake the task of conducting the intellectual preparation of virtual battlespace, which would inform and complement the ongoing intelligence preparation of the battlefield in physical battlespace.

The graphic below depicts the five recommended virtual warfighting functions that should be considered for future virtual campaign design efforts. The leader imperative is to achieve the synthesis and evolution levels of learning to understand how these VWWFs work together to produce something more powerful than each individual silo of excellence. Mastering “combined-arms virtual battlespace maneuver” is a new mission essential leader task.

Virtual Warfighting Functions

  1. Cyber Operations. Relating to or involving computers or computer networks such as the internet. Cyberspace operations are the employment of cyberspace capabilities where the primary purpose is to achieve objectives in or through cyberspace.
  2. Social Media. Forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content such as videos.
  3. Information Operations. The study or use of systems (especially computers and telecommunications) for storing, retrieving, and sending information. Information operations “are described as the integrated employment of electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC), in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”
  4. Artificial Intelligence. The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  5. Stealth Technologies. Capabilities and technologies that are intended to escape observation and detection; designed to produce very weak radar, digital, visual, affective, and cognitive return signals.

The institutionalization of public and private sector systems thinking and learning is critical in terms of reinventing the US national security rubric. Each of the five virtual warfighting functions are individual systems that interact in our public and private sector environments in different ways. The leadership challenge is to design an approach where these five discrete virtual warfighting functions are synthesized into a much more powerful capability which will enable the United States to safeguard its interests. The creation of a public and private sector joint venture would improve cross-boundary learning and decision making that will impact all Americans in a more positive manner. This approach would also align revolutionary technology structures, technology capabilities, and technology flows over time in support of national policy.

We have to create the spaces and the time for these ideas to collide. DoD-sponsored public and private sector design forums should be created to address the virtual technology architecture and the laws that will create a Virtual War competitive advantage in the years ahead. Institutions ranging from West Point, the Joint Special Operations University, and the School of Advanced Military Studies to Georgetown University, MIT, Harvard University, and Stanford University all have a potential role to play in designing the future and mastering the complexity before us.

The propensity today is to address cyber, social media, information, and artificial intelligence in standalone secretive military discussions and silos of excellence. That mode of operation has to change. Stealth is rarely discussed in a Virtual War context. Moreover, stealth is vitally important, as humans are often deceived and unable to see virtual activities that they should be aware of. Stealth techniques and cloaking technologies play a very important role in both physical and Virtual War.

Adaptation Space

In closing, light still radiates brightly from the United States. Our nation is a beacon of hope in the world today. We have an awesome and free country, but our wonderful nation is at great risk. The fate and good fortune of our country is in our hands. This paper is intended to help mobilize the private sector and the people of the United States, as we did during World War II. Our private sector is the only entity that is capable of winning the global wars that we are fighting both in physical and virtual space. As with previous generations, we must stand up and confront the growing number of challenges that are before us today. The good news is that the masks that veil the truth, the daily mythos-reshaping efforts, and future technology-generated challenges are more recognizable, as we can now see various trendlines, which makes positive action possible.

Sixteenth-century Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus noted that “Prevention is better than cure.” Enemies of the United States continue to probe our virtual defenses. Our rivals are building the plans to attack and win in Virtual War so that they can avoid US military overmatch capabilities in physical war. The United States of America has always had enemies, both foreign and domestic. The security challenges over the past 242 years have changed many times. That said, the Virtual War security question is quite different and requires a heightened sense of urgency given its unprecedented power. There is a perfect storm that is brewing in the United States. Foreign adversaries of the United States have no respect or admiration for our democratic way of life. Strength, power, and wealth are of utmost value to our adversaries. Domestic agents also threaten our rights that are contained in the Constitution of the United States.

We find ourselves standing astride a fault-line between prosperity and irrelevance—or even worse, complete subjugation to another world power. Like all the previous generations who have gone before us, do we have the courage, strength, and leadership to do what must be done to ensure life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for future generations of Americans? Going forward, we need to seriously ponder the current state of affairs and consider this question: Is this what we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren? Daniel Webster’s succinct quote says what is required in times such as these: “One country, one constitution, one destiny.” I suggest that we step up and take the appropriate actions before it is too late.


Col. (ret) Stefan J. Banach is a Distinguished Member of the 75th Ranger Regiment and served in that organization for nine years, culminating with command of the 3rd Ranger Battalion from 2001 to 2003. He led US Army Rangers during a historic night combat parachute assault into Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, as the “spearhead” for the Global War on Terror for the United States of America. Steve subsequently led US Army Rangers in a second combat parachute assault into Al Anbar Province in western Iraq in 2003. He also served as a Stryker Brigade Commander from 2005 to 2007 and created the Company Intelligence Support Team (COIST) concept for the US Army. He demonstrated impeccable leadership during his twenty-seven years in the US Army—a period of service that included deployments to six combat zones. He earned a Bronze Star Medal for valor in combat and a Bronze Star Medal for service to the nation. He also earned two Bronze Combat Jumps Stars.  He served as the 11th Director of the School of Advanced Military Studies from 2007 to 2010 and led the development of US Army Design Methodology doctrine before retiring from commissioned service.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.


Image credit: Aaron Yoo