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CHIPS Articles: General Dominance Theory: A Better Way to Achieve Information Dominance

General Dominance Theory: A Better Way to Achieve Information Dominance
True dominance — turning your desired reality into actual reality
By Lt. Jacob Foster Davis - January-March 2015
In the pursuit of information dominance, the Navy needs help. We are missing two critical components of any pursuit: (1) criteria to indicate success, and (2) a way to measure those criteria. That is, our current approach to achieve information dominance provides no way to define or measure success.

General Dominance Theory (GDT) is an information-centric theory of war that not only complements the Sun Tzu and Clausewitz warfare models on which our conventional war doctrine is based, but can also be easily applied to electronic, information, and cyber warfare. This “theory of everything” describes how to achieve dominance in any domain by considering the root cause for war: our desire to make our desired reality the actual reality. Although seemingly over simplistic, this clear approach provides strong success criteria and distinctive ways to measure progress.

To begin, consider the shortcomings of the current definition of information dominance. The Navy defines Information Dominance as, “…the operational advantage gained from fully integrating Navy’s information capabilities, systems and resources to optimize decision making and maximize warfighting effects in the complex maritime environment of the 21st Century…” or, in laymen’s terms, “if we take a bunch of expensive high-tech stuff and mash it all together it will help us do stuff faster and more efficiently.”

The problem with this definition is apparent: dominance is defined as the ability to do things faster and more efficiently. But being faster and more efficient doesn’t make the Navy dominant. If that were true, the hare would have beaten the tortoise in Aesop’s fable because the hare was considerably faster and more efficient than the tortoise.

Another problem with the definition of information dominance is that instead of providing clarity and focus — as any definition should do — this definition causes confusion. From petty officers to flag officers, we all have wildly varying answers to what should be simple questions: “What is Information Dominance? Do we have it? How do we get it? How will we know when we have it? Is it the same as electronic warfare or cyber warfare or signals intelligence (SIGINT)? What should be the next step?”

The dilemmas are akin to those resulting from the idea that “the Earth is the center of the Universe.” By this model, the motion of the Sun and Moon are easy to explain and predict. However, in that same model the movement of the greater heavens can only be explained by lengthy, complicated, and imperfect equations. But once we realize that the heavens are Sun-centric — a simple change — we can describe the motions of the Sun, Moon, and heavens perfectly on a single sheet of paper. Likewise, our current approach to defining dominance works well enough in the physical domains of air, land and sea, but becomes too complicated and imperfect when applied to the other seemingly mysterious and ethereal domains of cyber, electronics, and information. Like a Sun-centric model, GDT provides a perspective more broad than the Sun Tzu and Clausewitz models to reveal the amazingly simple connection between all domains: our desire.

So what is dominance? Contrary to the Navy’s definition, dominance is not an advantage — it is a state. If you are dominant, what you say goes — you are the “big kid on the playground.” In other words, Dominance is the state where you can make your desired reality the actual reality, despite the will of an opponent.

This is a concept implied but not so plainly or generally stated by Clausewitz in On War, “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”

With this general definition of Dominance (with a capital D), I began developing a way to describe what is necessary to achieve it. It is apparent that to achieve perfect Dominance, you need two things: (1) A perfect Perception of Reality (POR), and (2) A perfect Ability to Affect Reality (ATA). This relationship is illustrated in Figure 1. If you can accurately perceive reality (POR) and you have an ability to change it (ATA), then you can make your desired reality the actual reality. If you have a perfect POR and ATA, then you are unstoppable! You are dominant!

A Perception of Reality also requires two things: (1) you must be able to collect applicable information, and (2) you must be able to synthesize that information into actionable knowledge (intelligence). If you have one without the other, your perception won’t match reality. The Ability to Affect Reality requires that you can ensure your ability to use things in the domain. These things are called Domain Objects.

Of course, attaining a perfect POR and ATA isn’t possible because, in practice, few things can be done perfectly. However, we should and do strive for perfection. We struggle for a perfect POR and ATA every day, and this pursuit is defined in GDT as Warfare. In Warfare, we vie with our opponents for Dominance. To achieve Dominance, we must deny our opponents their Perception of Reality and Ability to Affect Reality while maintaining our own.

All of this boils down to Six Critical Controls (SCCs) required to achieve and maintain Dominance, enumerated here and illustrated in Figure 2:

  1. Control our collection of information (our POR).
  2. Control our synthesis of information (our POR).
  3. Control our ability to use Domain Objects (our ATA).
  4. Control the opponent’s collection of information (opponent’s POR).
  5. Control the opponent’s synthesis of information (opponent’s POR).
  6. Control the opponent’s use of Domain Objects (opponent’s ATA).

Simple. If you can achieve these six objectives, then you will achieve Dominance. Measuring your ability to achieve and maintain the Six Critical Controls tracks your progress toward Dominance.

Equally as simple is applying GDT to a Domain you want to dominate. GDT can be applied to any Domain. To apply GDT, simply take the Six Critical Controls and specify the Domain. Figure 3 illustrates the Six Critical Controls of the Cyber Domain as an example.

The current definition of Information Dominance puts us in danger of repeating the follies of the “fast, high-tech” hare in Aesop’s fable. To remedy this, the Navy should emulate the tortoise by adopting the “slow, steady,” and simple definition of Information Dominance presented in GDT: Information Dominance is the state in the battlespace where a desired image of information reality can be achieved completely, despite the will of an opponent.

This and other GDT concepts provide a unifying paradigm that will enable us to deliberately pursue Dominance in the information, cyber and electromagnetic domains and, ultimately, ensure that our desires become reality.

To learn more about the theory and application of GDT to the Information Domain, read General Dominance Theory: A Foundation for Information Dominance at

Lt. Jacob Foster Davis, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, is a former Adjunct Professor of Cyber Security at the US Naval Academy and former Surface Warfare Officer. He currently serves at Navy Information Operations Command, Maryland as an Information Warfare Officer. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology, from the U.S. Naval Academy class of 2007, and a master of science degree in Systems Technology from the Naval Postgraduate School, 2008.

Figure 1: Dominance requires two things: (1) Perception of Reality (POR) and the (2) Ability to Affect Reality (ATA).
Figure 2: According to General Dominance Theory, achieving these Six Critical Controls will result in the achievement of Dominance.
Figure 3: GDT Applied to the Cyber Domain, Illustrating the Six Critical Controls of Cyber Dominance.
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