Technology Creates Domains of War

The technology that is the genesis of a new domain of war imbues that domain with peculiar characteristics that are unique to the technology.  This is the second tenet of the theory.  The nature of war in the domain is a consequence of these characteristic.

When ships created the maritime domain, the ships brought uniqueness in, for example, speed and strategic mobility, which were unlike that of the land domain.  Corbett notes this when he says that a characteristic of the maritime environment, “is the peculiar freedom and secrecy of movements at sea.  As the sea knows no roads to limit or indicate our own lines of operation, so it tells little about those of the enemy.”[1]

Similarly, airplanes brought speed and strategic mobility to the air domain completely unlike that of either the land or maritime domain.  As Douhet noted, “The airplane has complete freedom of action and direction; it can fly to and from any point on the compass in the shortest time – in a straight line – by any route deemed expedient.”[2]  The airplane operates in, as Douhet called it, the 3rd dimension, unencumbered by terrain.[3]

Again, space has peculiar characteristics, mostly defined by physics.  Space begins where the laws of orbital mechanics, rather than the laws of aerodynamics, govern the movement of vehicles.[4]  It is both the freedom and the constraint of movement that are the unique characteristic of space as a domain: freedom, in that space vehicles can travel above – and “see” – any part of the land or sea; and constraint, in that travel is governed by the laws of orbital mechanics.

Seen in this light, one can propose that terrain is a peculiar characteristic of the land domain.  Its significance is obvious in the theories of both Clausewitz and Jomini, and clearly not applicable to the other four domains.  Clausewitz claims, when describing the genius of war, that, “a great peculiarity is given to the effect of this connection of War with country and ground.”[5]  He saw the ability to conceptualize war within the geography at hand as, perhaps, the greatest attribute of the genius of war.

The cyber domain is unique among domains of war in that it is a manmade domain.  While it occupies geographical space, it is not defined by physical space.  Cyberspace is the virtual environment created by the interconnected network of computing devices, communications paths, and the humans that use them.  The virtual nature of cyberspace and the “components” that sustain it endow the cyber domain with unique characteristics of warfare.

Land is the Primary Domain

Land, as the original domain, was the sole domain of man’s early warfare.  It is still the principal domain of war, whether by sharp sticks or depleted uranium rounds.  Technological inventions that change the mode of war and introduce new capabilities create domains in which control may be contested.  The invention of ships created the maritime domain, airplanes the air domain, and satellites and missiles created the space domain.  Now, computers and telecommunications have created the cyber domain.

The inherent strength of land combat is that it carries the promise of achieving a decision.[6]  As Sir Julian Corbett so eloquently put it when introducing a theory of war in the maritime domain, “Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided—except in the rarest cases—either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.”[7]  The same can be said of air, space, and cyber.  Cyberspace, as a domain of war, is important primarily for what operations in cyberspace can enable forces in the other domains to do.

Domains Interact

Land is still the sole domain in which the outcome of conflicts is decided.  It is the focus for which all strategic thought is relevant.  The sea became relevant to war only when man could project power from the sea to the shore by either landing forces on shore or interdicting seaborne commerce essential for the survival of a people on land.  Early amphibious operations, such as the landing at Marathon by the Persians in 490 BCE, illustrate the point regarding projecting force ashore.  Likewise with commerce, as Alfred Thayer Mahan argued, in war, a nation that could protect its own maritime commerce while disrupting that of its opponent could shift the balance of national resources decisively in its favor.[8]

Once man could use the sea to affect the outcome of war on land, the sea became a domain of war in and of itself.  Unique tactics, techniques, and procedures were developed to fight at sea – from Greek triremes to fully rigged ships carrying broadside artillery to nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines.  The maritime domain became a strategic consideration not so much to win at sea as to achieve control of the sea to affect the outcome of conflicts on land.  Navies did this through either destruction of the adversary’s forces or interdiction of its commerce – the goal being to achieve command of the sea by being the master of maritime communications as defined by Corbett.[9]  The ancient Athenians were masters of the sea in this respect and the Battle of Salamis is, of course, a prime example of that capability.[10]

Similarly, early aircraft sought to affect the war on land.  Early theorists, such as Giulio Douhet, saw the airplane in observation, communications, ground support, and strategic bombing roles.[11]  Once man could use the air to project power against the land, the air became a domain of war in and of itself.  Unique tactics, techniques, and procedures were developed to fight in the air.  The air domain became a strategic consideration, again, not so much to win in the air as to achieve control of the air to affect the outcome of conflicts on land (and sea), through either destruction of the opposition’s forces (or their morale) or through interdiction of commerce.  As Douhet says, “the command of the air is to prevent the enemy from flying, while assuring this freedom for oneself.”[12]

Space followed much the same pattern.  The early use of space was for observation and communications that affected the conduct of war on land.  This capability has evolved to include, for example, early warning of the boost phase of intercontinental ballistic missiles, troop movements, and Global Positioning Systems.  By the mid to late 1980’s, with the advent of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the US Department of Defense acknowledged space as a fourth war fighting domain.  The space domain became a strategic consideration, like sea and air before it, not so much to win a war in space as to achieve control of the space domain to affect the outcome of conflicts on land (sea or air).

What then of cyberspace?  Though computers and telecommunications have been a part of warfare from their very creation, it is with the emergence of network-centric warfare and related concepts that a capability to project power from cyberspace was developed that can affect the conduct of war on land (as well as sea, air, and space).[13]  Thus, of necessity, cyberspace has become a domain of war in and of itself.  We are developing unique tactics, techniques, and procedures to fight in cyberspace.  Again, the strategic goal is not to win war fought in cyberspace per se; rather, it is to achieve control of cyberspace to affect the outcome of conflicts in the other domains by directly affecting the operation of military forces, disrupting commerce and degrading morale.

The argument for technology creating domains of war is not an argument for military technological determinism in general.  The relationship between technology and war cannot be reduced to a simplistic cause-and-effect formula.  Rather, it is an argument that new and profound technology creates capabilities for waging war in environments that simply did not exist prior to the introduction of the technology.  It is an argument that technology creates the domain and constrains warfare within the boundaries of the domain.  As Martin van Creveld has noted that, “war is completely permeated by technology and governed by it.”[14]  The premise of my argument is that technology governs war by defining the domains in which it is fought.


[1] Sir Julian Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. (Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Inst., 1988), 134.

[2] Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, ed. Joseph Patrick Harahan and Richard H. Kohn (Tuscaloosa, AL.: University Alabama Press, 2009), 9.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Arnold H. Streland, “Clausewitz on Space: Developing Military Space Theory through a Comparative Analysis” (master’s thesis, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, 1999), 12.

[5] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1St Edition ed., trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 109.

[6] Colin S. Gray, Modern Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1999), 214.

[7] Corbett, 54.

[8] Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. 1660-1783. [With Maps and Plans.] (Charleston: British Library, Historical Print Editions, 2011), 1-2.

[9] Corbett, 62.

[10] Herodotus, The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, ed. Robert B. Strassler, trans. Andrea L. Purvis (New York: Pantheon, 2007), 637.

[11] Douhet.

[12] Ibid., 191.

[13] Arthur K. Cebrowski, Vice Admiral, USN and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 124, no. 1 (Jan 1998), 139.

[14] Martin van Creveld, Technology and War: from 2000 B.C. to the Present, A rev. and expanded ed. (New York: Touchstone, 1991), 1.

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