Small Wars Journal

The Importance of Human Factors for Joint CYBER Planning

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 11:04am

The Importance of Human Factors for Joint CYBER Planning

Tim Huening

The conduct of war is fundamentally a dynamic process of human competition requiring both the knowledge of science and the creativity of art but driven ultimately by the power of human will.[1]

-- Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1

Fundamentally, war will remain a contest of wills.[2] 

         -- U.S. Army Operating Concept

Human factors in military operations must become a central consideration in Joint Force campaign planning and execution. The Joint Force’s ability to effectively plan and conduct military operations have suffered as a consequence of neglecting these factors in favor of a preoccupation with technology and the physical aspects of warfare. Recent efforts by U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) to “operationalize cyberspace” and integrate it into Joint Force planning and operations are subject to the same damaging bias in favor of technological priorities over human ones, which include the strategic behavioral-political aspects of war.

This article examines the nascent integration of cyber capabilities into Joint Operations, with a priority placed on influencing human activity to achieve national objectives. It is intended as an opening salvo in what should be a rigorous, forthright, and collaborative examination of what is meant by, and more importantly what is required to, “operationalize cyber.” It is concluded that cyber capabilities need to focus on their application to influencing human behavior and strategic political outcomes as much as on defending and/or attacking physical cyber infrastructure.

Problems in Joint Force Integration: A Preoccupation with Technology and the Physical Aspects of War

Technology is an enabler. Technology is that aspect of warfare that changes. The human element -- war always being a contest of will -- is an aspect of the eternal nature of war.[3]

--  Dr. Lani Cass, National Defense University

In the wake of more than a decade of war, the Nation is attempting to shift its focus to the Asia-Pacific geographical area and renew its commitment to a strategy of engagement to prevent war.[4] At the same time, the United States must maintain the capacity to respond to crisis and prevail in war. For its part, the Joint Force must have the capabilities, attributes, and skills to develop and conduct globally integrated operations.[5] The planning of these operations must leverage the synergy of a “truly joint” Joint Force in order to generate unified action.[6] Recent historical experience teaches us that the Joint Force must improve its ability to visualize, understand, and describe the operational environment in order to direct and conduct integrated operations and campaigns. In a disorderly complex world, the nation will demand more from its instruments of national power, especially its military, irrespective of shrinking budgets and end strengths. In fact, fiscal constraints and force reductions alone substantiate the need for a more efficient, effective, and integrated joint force.

These deficiencies of Joint Force doctrine and practice are, in part, rooted in the Nation’s post-cold war experience and DoD’s embrace of the ideas offered by the “Revolution of Military Affairs” (RMA). The RMA constitutes an early assessment of the dynamic relationship between the human and technological nature of war, the effects of which greatly shaped the U.S. military in the years leading up to 9/11.[7] In the wake of Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the overwhelming application and display of American high-tech military might, in keeping with RMA, many of the nation’s leaders were convinced that technology had not only changed the character of modern warfare, but also offered solutions to overcome the chaos, uncertainty, and other primordial elements of war.[8] Along these lines, LTG H.R. McMaster recently lamented that advocates of what he called “the orthodoxy of the RMA” predicted that advances in surveillance, communications, and information technologies, when combined with precision strike weapons, would overwhelm any opponent and deliver fast, cheap, and efficient victories.[9] Apostles of the orthodoxy believe that technology would enable the American military to overcome or bypass the human dimension in war, distilling conflict down to a mathematical equation vice a dynamic clash of human wills. Recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, specifically the failure to understand the human aspects of the operational environment, are tragic reminders, bought and paid for with the blood of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, that Thucydides, Sun Tzu, and Clausewitz were not wrong about the nature of war. 

Nonetheless, the RMA drove DoD thinking, processes, and policies for decades. Post-cold war budgets and programs continue to show a bias toward the physical aspects of warfare, and a belief that wars can be won easily and cleanly by way of technical military superiority.[10] Typical investment across the traditional domains - air, land, maritime, and space - reflect this thinking. Likewise, operational art has devolved into linear thinking, math-like processes, and the rote application of physical capabilities against physical objectives. In fact, this situation prompted some to declare that operational art has died.[11] With a few notable exceptions, service and joint doctrine and processes followed suit. What are viewed as “messy, complex, or intangible” human aspects of war were set aside, and physical effects were hailed as the path to desired operational results.[12] This reliance on technology and processes, when combined with other shortfalls in “strategic art,” has typically resulted in insufficient strategic guidance; a misalignment of ends, ways, and means; a bias towards wholly military solutions; fleeting military successes; and a consistent failure to deliver favorable political outcomes.[13]

Lop-sided matchups and victories like Desert Shield and Desert Storm engendered a belief that war had become a clash of technologies. Ironically, while the military outcomes of Desert Shield and Desert Storm were indeed impressive, they obfuscated the shortcomings of U.S. strategy and the misguided discipleship of the RMA and other related initiatives, like “Effects Based Operations” that came after. It could be argued that the legacy of Desert Shield and Desert Storm was a new view of military operations that jumbled a technologically, physically-focused “warfare” doctrine with the strategic objectives and desired political outcomes of the larger, encompassing “war” effort. Key distinctions between war and warfare were lost sight of.

This flawed approach has adversely influenced the formulation of strategy and DoD’s thinking and approach to war and warfare. Moreover RMA thinking has impacted how the services pursue their Title X responsibilities to organize, train, and equip, resulting in Joint Force shortfalls. Despite a National Security Strategy emphasis on engagement and understanding, the military industrial complex is resourced to generate primarily technical solutions to future challenges. This is troubling as recent and ongoing conflicts reinforce the need to understand the relationship between technology and the human, cultural, and political factors in armed conflict.[14] Such an understanding is necessary across all domains. This is a cautionary tale for the nascent and necessarily technical cyber force as it seeks to operationalize its domain. There is evidence the leadership of USCYBERCOM and the service components recognize the danger of only considering the technical and physical aspects of cyber.

Previewing the discussion of cyberspace in the final section, suffice it to say here that the neglect of human factors in RMA thinking is impeding the integration of cyber capabilities into Joint Force operations.  Without explicitly citing the RMA, COL Patrick Duggan recently attested to the inadequacy of a technology-biased approach to the nascent Cyberspace enterprise when he writes that “Cyberspace is a human space, as dynamic and uncertain as human nature.”[15]  It is not “simply a technical abstraction” he writes, but rather “a growing facet of everyday life.” He speaks of the “ubiquity” of cyberspace, how its influence penetrates everywhere in the human domain, able to “foster human prosperity by flattening opportunities” but also inflame social, ethnic, and religious tensions and cause social dissatisfaction and political dissent.  Because cyberspace is so inextricably woven into the fabric of social dynamics and political - and therefore military - action, COL Duggan rightly asserts that it “cuts across all aspects of Special Operations.”

Strategic Landpower and Human Aspects of Military Operations

One response to the increasingly glaring deficiencies of RMA orthodoxy is the recent work on Strategic Landpower (SLP) being done by the Strategic Landpower Task Force (SLTF) - a U.S. Army (USA), U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) tri-party effort. The SLP initiative takes inspiration and cues from what is commonly referred to as the “Clash of Wills” white paper, a seminal document endorsed by the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Commander USSOCOM, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Using ideas in this white paper as a point of departure, the SLTF undertook an effort to investigate the contemporary strategic nature and qualities of landpower, learn the appropriate social science insights into the relationship between warfare and human behavior as a key element of landpower, and integrate these new understandings into the formulation and execution of strategy, operational plans, and tactical actions. Ultimately the SLP project seeks to develop an operational description of how Landpower can assist the Joint Force to more effectively plan and conduct military operations. In the course of this enterprise, the effects of the RMA, with its over-emphasis on the technological and physical aspects of warfare, have come in for much-deserved critical scrutiny.

Juxtaposing RMA thinking and by-products with the Clauswitzean understanding of war, SLP advocates conclude that the broader and more insidious problem is that RMA-based approaches fail to reflect the fundamental truth that war – regardless of what technological solutions are being deployed against physical targets - is at its essence a human endeavor, a clash of wills driven by political and economic motives, a competition among national or societal groups acting in terms of culturally and ideologically-defined identities, perceptions, and goals. Human factors (political, sociological, cultural-ideological, economic, and others) give war and the operating environment (OE) their operational context. Yet, SLP exponents find, it is precisely this all-important understanding of, and focus on, the human factor that is largely lacking across all domains.

The SLP initiative re-emphasizes the centrality of human factors in both war and warfare - that is, the on-the-ground realities and the larger political context of war, as well as the discipline and techniques of war-fighting. As a first principle, the SLP approach postulates that everything the Joint Force thinks and does must be founded on an appreciation of the human aspects of military operations. Out of this work, two inter-related Joint Concepts have emerged: the Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations (JC-HAMO)[16] and the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JC-IC).[17] If properly implemented, human-centric thinking and a dynamic approach to joint campaigning will allow the Joint Force to plan, direct, monitor, and assess integrated operations that shape human decision-making and behavior and deliver favorable operational outcomes.

These concepts likewise dovetail with the Cyber initiative. Simply stated, without an appreciation for the HAMO, and lacking an operational approach to better link cyber capabilities with other domains and functions, the Joint Force will fail to properly operationalize cyber. The corollary, that the Joint Force will never achieve unified action or integrated campaigns without effectively operationalizing cyber is also true.

Operationalizing Cyberspace

The moral is to the materiel as three is to one.[18]

                                                                         -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Shortly after taking command of USCYBERCOM in 2014, ADM Michael S. Rogers identified “properly operationalizing cyberspace”[19] as USCYBERCOM’s biggest challenge. He further articulated that “defending networks” is the “niche role” and means by which the sub-unified Cyber Command will function at the operational level of war.[20] The Admiral’s recognition of the need to operationalize cyber is a positive development, and one that is of interest to operational artists and commanders throughout the wider Joint Force. In fact it is not an overstatement to say that it is impossible to fully employ today’s Joint Force without leveraging cyberspace.[21] It is the integration of land, maritime, air, space, and cyberspace operations that will achieve campaign objectives.[22]

The possibilities and perils of the cyber domain are still understood by military professionals at a rudimentary level.  Unfortunately cyber planning, capabilities development, and operational employment are often left to technical experts. This techno-centric expert work is not fully known, understood, or overseen by operational planners and commanders. A recent article penned by Brett Williams warned that, “Commanders cannot continue to run the risk of inappropriately delegating key operational decisions because they and their staffs lack an understanding of the [cyber] domain.”[23] Therefore, despite ADM Roger’s effort, the operationalizing of cyber is not merely the purview of USCYBERCOM, service cyber components, or technical experts traditionally assigned to those formations. Rather, operationalizing cyber is a national security imperative that demands the interest, involvement, and intellectual effort of the entire Joint Force - especially those who are charged with visualizing, describing, and directing integrated joint operations and campaigns. Operationalizing cyber cannot be limited to technological solutions, a single warfighting function (command and control), or physical operations. What prevents us from taking this more enlightened approach today is a lack of shared cyberspace knowledge and an agreed-upon operational approach that links cyberspace missions and actions, and places cyber activity in the larger context of joint operations. This situation prevents the Joint Force from leveraging the capabilities necessary to compete and prevail in the emergent global operating environment subsequently preventing integrated operations and limiting joint force effectiveness.[24]

The cyberspace challenge dovetails with the JC-IC and JC-HAMO challenge. The technology-focused cyber force appears to have already strayed from a human centric understanding of war and military operations and is centered on the technical and physical missions of protecting and defending the nation’s networks and infrastructure. ADM Rogers has highlighted the inadequacies of this approach, stating that a “purely defensive, reactive strategy will be both late to need and incredibly resource-intense.”[25] Senator John McCain echoed the Admiral’s concerns and added, “The failure to develop a meaningful cyber-deterrence strategy has increased the resolve of our adversaries and will continue to do so at a growing risk to our national security.”[26] In light of this testimony, it is apparent that USCYBERCOM must take a more proactive, effective, affordable, and balanced approach to operations. This would, of course, include concentrating technical capability on offensive and defensive operations to achieve physical and psychological outcomes that influence human behavior.

Defense Industry advertisements are an indicator of the persistent power of a flawed and shallow RMA perspective and a defensive approach to deploying cyber capabilities. A recent Northrop Grumman ad extolled the virtue of ubiquitous and dominant technological defense of networks and related physical infrastructure.[27] The ad describes a clash of technology with a singular focus on “things.” There is no mention of humans, human behavior, and human decision-making or human will. This is similar to ads seeking investment from the joint and service proponents of other domains – all promote the virtue of technology, the promise of certainty and dominance, and an unwavering focus on physical things, effects, and objectives.

Of equal concern, the cyber force and cyber domain have become intellectually, organizationally, and procedurally isolated from the “inter-domain” and Joint Force planning. This is the result of a reductionist domain-centric approach to joint planning by the broader Joint Force, which invariably leads to stove-piped solutions over integrated ones, which effectively renders the Joint Force a disjointed force. In the face of adversaries who operate, if not “seamlessly,” at least much more effectively across domains, our disjointedness and reductionism will fail to produce unified action or desired operational outcomes.

This domain-centric isolation of cyber capabilities is also driven by the composition of the personnel who comprise the cyber organizations, most of whom are selected from the communications/signal, information technology and intelligence career fields. Admittedly, technical expertise is vital for successful cyber employment. However, experience gained during recent and ongoing conflicts suggest there are limits to the ability of technology to influence human behavior, effect cultural change, and drive political outcomes. The value of cyber tools resides in their ability to contribute to an integrated campaign within the context of the continuities of armed conflict.[28]

There is no doubt that networks need to be defended. However, in the context of joint military operations, network defense is a continuous task that must be done in order to enable unified action simultaneously and in depth across all domains. In the end, it must be the human actors, audiences, adversaries, and decision-makers, rather than merely physical networks, that are the focus of any decisive cyber action. The action, moreover, will only be decisive if it is informed by, meaningfully linked to, and arranged with other actions beyond the cyber domain, together in an integrated joint operation or campaign.

JC-HAMO & Cyber

The cultural, social, economic, religious, and historical considerations that comprise the human dimension of war must inform wartime planning as well as our preparation for future armed conflict.[29]

-- MG H.R. McMaster USA

Lessons learned from the last decade of war reinforce the need to understand social, cultural, physical, informational, and psychological issues to influence actors and shape behavior. This understanding not only informs our activities but helps the Joint Force link and arrange military activities to achieve objectives that lead to desired strategic outcomes. The Joint Force is currently reassessing its ability to understand and account for these human aspects of military operations (HAMO) through the development of the JC-HAMO. 

The Joint Force must leverage cyber-induced physical and human behavioral outcomes more effectively to win the “clash of wills.” Cyber is one of many operational tools Joint Force planners and commanders must integrate into joint planning, operations, and campaigns. The Cyber Force, like the broader Joint Force, must re-emphasize human behavioral outcomes to be effective. It is the integration of land, maritime, air, space, and cyberspace operations, developed in the context of HAMO, that will influence human behavior to achieve campaign objectives.[30] In this context, efforts to operationalize cyber and JC-HAMO are inextricably linked, and when understood and considered together provide an important consideration for those examining how the Joint Force should plan and execute campaigns.

JC-IC and Cyber

It is essential to relate what is strategically desirable to what is tactically possible with the forces at your disposal.  To this end, it is necessary to decide the development of operations before the initial blow is delivered. [31]

                                                                        -- Bernard Montgomery

With a human centric understanding and approach to warfare, including cyber operations, the Joint Force can embark on fully integrating cyber tools, activities, and operations into joint operations and campaigns. Moreover, to operationalize and integrate cyber, Joint Force Commanders and planners must effectively link and arrange cyber tools, capabilities, and activities in Joint operations and campaigns. Such outcomes across all domains are exactly the purpose of JC-IC.

Campaign integration is important because our nation’s adversaries and competitors operate much more effectively than we do across domains, un-bound by arbitrary permissions, authorities and boundaries, unconstrained by a reductionist – domain centric view of warfare, and without legalistic views of whether they are at peace and war. Many state and non-state rivals achieve political, economic, psychological, information, and military advantage through well integrated campaigns below U.S. response thresholds. They have demonstrated their ability to leverage technology, specifically cyber, to achieve desired outcomes below U.S. response triggers. These rivals excel at offsetting or avoiding U.S. technological advantages while exploiting their advantage, that is, U.S. society’s ubiquitous dependence on technology. To prevail in or prevent conflict, the United States must fully integrate operations into campaigns that are conceived of and conducted in the context of influencing human behavior. The conceptual efforts to operationalize cyber and the SLP concept development efforts must coalesce in common cause. 


To truly operationalize cyber and integrate campaigns that manifest a full appreciation of HAMO, the Cyber community and broader Joint Force must work together. Linking the efforts of the SLTF and those of USCYBERCOM is an important step towards this goal. The cyber community, with the assistance of the Joint Force, must render cyber tools and expertise more accessible. Joint force commanders must insist that operational planners understand the capabilities and limitations of cyber, and develop the skill necessary to apply these tools to the task of changing human behavior. The Joint Force must understand and embrace cyber as an operational tool, one of many operational tools to be integrated into a dynamic plan or campaign to win in any “clash of wills.” It is with an understanding of the clash of wills – not the clash of technologies – that the endeavor to operationalize cyber must begin. This maxim must also serve as the cornerstone of the JC-HAMO and JC-IC development and implementation efforts. Ultimately, if the United States is to achieve its desired political endstates, U.S. strategy and campaigns must acknowledge the centrality of human factors in conflict wherein technical tools are leveraged as means to change the thinking and behavior of people, groups, organizations, and human institutions. Defending defense networks and enabling command and control is a necessity, but insufficient. The physical and technological aspects of cyber warfare are not the raison d’ etre of the joint and service cyber commands; cyber influence on human behavior is. The Joint Force cannot afford to continue its disproportional focus on technology, systems, and physical outcomes. The nature of war, regardless of its techniques, technologies, and targets, will always have fundamentally human - political, sociological, cultural, ideological - dimensions. The character of the current or future operating environment may be characterized by technology, but the war’s outcome will be decided in the minds and behavior of humans. The efforts of the Joint Force and USCYBERCOM to operationalize cyber into integrated campaigns must be founded in the human aspects of military operations and a fundamental understanding of the immutable nature of war.

End Notes

[1] Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting, p. 19

[2] United States Army Operating Concept: Winning in a Complex World, p. 9

[3] Joel Achenbach, “Military Theory and the Force of Ideas,” Washington Post, March 23, 2003. Page F01.

[4] GEN Amos, James F. and ADM McRaven, William H. and GEN Odierno, Raymond T. (2013), Strategic Landpower: Winning the Clash of Wills - Strategic Landpower and the Inherently Human Nature of Conflict, 20MAY2013, retrieved on 13FEB14 at

[5] Dennis Steele, “Setting the Azimuth for Joint Force 2020: Globally Integrated Operations and Mission Command,” Army Magazine, November 2012, p. 28.

[6] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Operations, Joint Publication 3-0 (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 11, 2011), I-8

[7] Barry D. Watts, “The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs,” CSBA, 2011, p. 1-4.

[8]  Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1: Warfighting, pp. 3-17

[9] LTG H.R. McMaster, “Continuity and Change the Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War,” Military Review, March-April 2015, p. 7.

[10] Barry D. Watts, “The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs,” CSBA, 2011, p. 5-14.

[11] Naveh, Shimon, Jim Schneider, and Timothy Callons, “The Structure of Operational Revolution: A Prolegomena,” Booze Allen Hamilton Study, Booze Allen Hamilton, Center for the Application of Design, 2009.

[12] Greenwood, T.C. and T.X. Hammes, “War Planning for Wicked Problems,” Armed Forces Journal, December 2009.

[13] Linda Robinson, Paul D. Miller, John Gordon IV, Jeffery Decker, Michael Schwille, Raphael S. Cohen, “Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War,” (Santa Monica, California: Rand, 2014), p. 32.

[14] Linda Robinson, Paul D. Miller, John Gordon IV, Jeffery Decker, Michael Schwille, Raphael S. Cohen, Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War, (Santa Monica, California: Rand, 2014), p. 59.

[15] COL Patrick M. Duggan, “Cyberspace is a Human Space, as Dynamic and Uncertain as Human Nature,” Pentagram, November 4, 2016,

[16] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations (JC-HAMO) (Prospectus), February 24, 2015.

[17] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC) (Prospectus), November 26, 2014.

[18] Peter G. Tsouras, Warriors Words: A Dictionary of Military Quoatations (London 1996), p. 266.

[19] Tripwire, “Operationalizing Cyberspace is USCYBERCOM’s Biggest Challenge,” June 3, 2014, (accessed March 15, 2015).

[20]  ibid.

[21] Brett T. Williams, “The Joint Force Commander’s Guide to Cyberspace Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 73, (2nd Quarter 2014), p. 12.

[22] Ibid., p. 13.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ellen Nakashima, “Cyber Chief: Efforts to Deter Attacks against the U.S. are Not Working,” The Washington Post, March 19, 2015.

[26] Ibid.

[28] U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet (TP)525-3-1, The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World (Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC, 2014), p. 8.

[29]  LTG H.R. McMaster, “Continuity and Change the Army Operating Concept and Clear Thinking About Future War,” Military Review, March-April 2015: p. 7.

[30] Brett T. Williams, “The Joint Force Commander’s Guide to Cyberspace Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 73, (2nd Quarter 2014), p. 13.

[31] Field-Marshal Montgomery, “The Memoirs of Field Marshall Montgomery,” (New York: World Publishing Co., 1958), p. 197.


About the Author(s)

COL Timothy D. Huening is a career Psychological Operations Officer, who currently commands the 8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne).  He has deployed extensively in support of operations throughout the Middle East.  A 1992 graduate of Ohio University, with a Bachelor’s degree in Organization Communication, he earned a Master’s degree in Computer and Information Systems Management from Webster University and a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College.