Cyber ops need common lexicon to align with war domains, say analysts


Photo Credit: Daniel Woolfolk/Staff

The introduction of information technology into combat systems has created the need to both defend and exploit this new domain, and a common lexicon is needed so that cyberspace operators can define their operational environment in a way that translates throughout the joint force.

Writing about these new opportunities and vulnerabilities in a piece from Joint Force Quarterly 84 (then posted on, authors Scott Douglas Applegate, Christopher L. Carpenter and David C. West look at an approach to identifying critical assets, centers of gravity, avenues of approach, decisive points and key terrain to allow for unified military operations in cyberspace.

They discuss previous researcher, planner and practitioner methodologies over the past three decades that have struggled with creating laundry lists of key terrain rather than establishing ways to look for how terrain gives advantage to an attacker or defender in relation to objectives or missions.

They also point out the fallacy in using key terrain, critical assets and crown jewels as interchangeable terms, as identifying critical assets shapes planning and provides the context for the situation- and context-dependent terrain needed to achieve mission objectives.

The authors suggest cyber planners and practitioners try removing the cyber concept from complex problems, as effective and efficient processes have already been established in physical warfighting domains. They feel concentrating on the tactical-level doctrine removes an abstract element and helps define areas being protected or dominated are indeed key, at which point they can be synchronized with strategic and operational levels of planning.

Clearing up confusion in terminology and stemming a rush to establish separate cyber definitions for key terrain will allow commanders to focus on advantages for mission accomplishment. Evaluating from an OAKOC perspective — which stands for Observation and Fields of Fire, Avenues of Approach, Key Terrain, Observation and Cover and Concealment — will help establish context and allow planners to understand and frame problems.

The authors suggest the Joint Chiefs of Staff add guidance to Joint Publication 3-12, Cyberspace Operations, to assist in key terrain identification, and they suggest an updated definition of the Critical Asset List — prioritized list of assets or areas, normally identified by phase of the operation and approved by the joint force commander, that should be defended against air, missile and cyberspace threats.

They feel adding this cyberspace operations lexicon to the joint education process and Joint Operations Planning Process is imperative, as the idea that cyberspace planning is an isolated process impacts the need to align objectives throughout all levels of war.

The complete analysis can be found on