cyberspace là gì

For ten years, the United States military has defined cyberspace as the fifth tên miền of war, equating it with the four physical domains of warfare as a core planning assumption.[1] But classifying cyberspace as a tên miền is fatally flawed both because it obscures the purpose of recognizing the four physical domains, and because it unnecessarily puts cyber into too small a box.[2] The buzzwordification of the term domain has long passed the point of diminishing returns, and nowhere is that a greater hazard kêu ca with cyber operations.[3] It’s time to lớn re-think cyber to lớn reflect the realities of modern war, and with it the broader lexicon of what constitutes domains and layers of warfare.

This article proposes the United States re-focus the definition of domains of warfare on the four physical domains, which require distinct organizations and doctrines to lớn effectively control and exploit, while elevating the parallel concept of functional multidomain operations such as Special Operations and Cyber Operations with fixed representation at the Undersecretary of Defense level. This is necessary not because denying cyberspace or information as a tên miền would diminish its importance, but because it is a flawed analogy that both undercuts the need for the current service structure and would treat cyber as a separate pillar of defense.[4] It implies cyberspace should have an independent service—which is the wrong solution to lớn the growing all-domain challenges of cyber operations.[5]

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Domains of Warfare: An Undefined Doctrinal Foundation

Domains of warfare sit at the core of U.S. and NATO military doctrine, defining the purpose for major military services of Western powers and shaping the lenses through which soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, and guardians understand the operating environment. But a lack of precise language clouds critical discussions of space and cyber, and even why we need to lớn maintain some of the arrangement of the United States’ current services.[6] In recent years, other concepts have been proposed as domains, to lớn include the electromagnetic spectrum and human domains.[7,8]

How did we get to lớn this point? Domains entered the lexicon with the 2000 publication of Joint Vision 2020, with information proposed as a new tên miền “as important as those conducted in the domains of sea, land, air, and space.”[9] Before this point what we now know as domains were called dimensions, and “domain of warfare” itself was left undefined.[10] As with most military terms, the word has clear non-military definitions that are instructive.[11] In law it is “[c]omplete and absolute ownership of land…or a territory over which dominion is exercised.”[12] A common alternative definition is a “sphere of knowledge, influence, or activity,” as in a tên miền of knowledge. In math it is a “set of numbers that define a function.”[13] In computing, it is a realm of administrative autonomy—from a trang web to lớn a top-level tên miền (e.g., .org).

The first definition was likely the basis for the use of the term in Joint Vision 2020, as “full spectrum dominance” was its central message. The Air Force’s creation of AFCYBER—the US Air Force’s service-specific Cyber Command—proclaimed as much, stating fighting in the cyber tên miền means cyber tên miền dominance.[14] This is also a source of confusion because outside of land, physical control of other domains has been based on transitory control—the ability to lớn freely operate while limiting one’s adversaries’ ability to lớn tự ví.[15]

Absent a fixed doctrinal definition of tên miền itself, only the standing definitions of the five currently assumed and recognized domains remain. Each has a clear definition, but together they lack internal consistency:

  1. Land Domain: The area of the Earth’s surface ending at the high-water mark and overlapping with the maritime tên miền in the landward segment of the littorals.

  2. Maritime Domain: The oceans, seas, bays, estuaries, islands, coastal areas, and the airspace above these, including the littorals.

  3. Air Domain: The atmosphere, beginning at the Earth’s surface, extending to lớn the altitude where its effects upon operations become negligible.

  4. Space Domain: The area above the altitude where atmospheric effects on airborne objects become negligible.

  5. Cyberspace: A global tên miền within the information environment consisting of the interdependent networks of information technology infrastructures and resident data, including the Internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems, and embedded processors and controllers.[16]

The first four place the word tên miền in the term to lớn be defined, while cyberspace places it in the definition itself. The first four are defined by physical—if somewhat arbitrary and disputed—boundaries within which organizations, technology, and doctrines are the variables; in cyberspace there are no fixed boundaries, as rapidly evolving technology itself defines the tên miền.[17]

The Problem with Cyberspace

The original three domains of land, maritime, and air developed separate identities and independent services because unique characteristics dictated distinct requirements for humans to lớn fight in those domains, unique equipment, organizations, and perspectives of the operating environment yielding unique systems of warfare. The land tên miền is directly tied to lớn the existence of the state—preservation of sovereignty through direct physical control of territory—dictating large manpower-centric forces to lớn compel the state’s will through firepower and maneuver.[18] War at sea secures the state’s vital interests, but requires ships for humans to lớn operate, different operational concepts for naval warfare, and a different concept of control from land. The air tên miền added the vertical dimension of warfare, range, tốc độ, and put advanced technology at the forefront to lớn facilitate aerial combat and tư vấn ground operations. Space is moving closer to lớn parity with the first three as the unique physical environment of space distinct from the air—defined by orbital mechanics, the physical limitations of space lift, and an environment hostile to lớn human life—and has led to lớn the realization of an independent U.S. Space Force to lớn organize, train, and equip forces that had previously been neglected by other services focused on other domains.

Cyberspace appeared a natural extension to lớn this evolution, and in its early years it likely appeared the ability to lớn control and exploit cyberspace was the next iteration for defense. The problem, however, is there is no cyberspace.[19] There is instead a metaphor to lớn help humans understand the near instantaneous sharing of information across widespread computer networks—much lượt thích the cloud, which may no longer be someone else’s computer, but is certainly not data floating in space lượt thích physical clouds.[20] The term cyberspace first arose in the 1960s, then gained widespread appeal in the 1990s when the mạng internet appeared new, distinct, and distant.[21] In the era of the mạng internet of things, cyberspace is increasingly “a layer on top of our existing reality,” permeating all equipment across all domains of warfare.[22,23] Operations rely on cyber power to lớn execute remotely piloted operations, reach-back tư vấn, and global command and control.[24] Space control is also almost entirely reliant on cyber operations.[25] Even the foot soldier is increasingly networked, from their xanh rì force tracker and other GPS-guided tools, to lớn increasing use of automated equipment.[26]

As the U.S. concept of cyberspace evolved, ví too has its definition. More recent definitions lập cập more kêu ca a standard paragraph in length, discussing networks, nodes, networks of networks, and power relationships.[27] As cyber continues to lớn evolve to lớn an all-encompassing aspect of life, the inability to lớn define what does not constitute part of cyberspace puts it in marked contrast to lớn the other domains. The physical domains may have arbitrary boundaries that are subject to lớn debate, but that is a left/right boundary debate over fixed space, not ongoing technological change redefining reality.[28]

Re-thinking the Foundation: Domains, Layers, and Operating Constructs

If cyberspace is not a tên miền of warfare, then what is it? Cyber is certainly a critical sphere of knowledge distinct from other fields, but by this logic in this sense any military specialty can be called a tên miền of some size. The Defense Department definition appears to lớn make it the operational tên miền of the information environment, but this is problematic as well. Cyberspace is within the information environment, but many parts of the information environment are excluded from the cyber definition—and at the same time most of cyber exists in the physical environment as physical systems and nodes, further complicating the definition. Cyber may be an operating warfighting space depending on the lens that the operating environment is viewed, but there are many sub-components of the operating environment that tự not qualify in the U.S. Department of Defense as domains of warfare, which is a particularly concise list.  

In arguing that cyber is not a tên miền, the goal is not to lớn minimize it or suggest it is less important kêu ca land, sea, air, or space—in some regards it is far more important and will only grow more ví in the coming years. The doctrinal lexicon and how it shapes first norms and second U.S. organization and budgets is really the larger challenge. To ensure cyber operations receive the budgetary and acquisitions priority it needs, the United States has worked to lớn shoehorn it into the domains of warfare category, historically the highest echelon of importance for Defense Department constructs. Rather kêu ca pursuing this route, and eventually evaluating other potential would-be domains of warfare, this article argues for a re-evaluation of how the U.S. defines the parameters of the operating environment itself, and in turn how that shapes its organizations. This new model would comprise three equally important foundational constructs: two parameters to lớn define the operating environment, and one focused on multi-domain exploitation.

In this typology, the operating environment is divided between two major lenses: layers of warfare and domains of warfare. The layers of warfare are defined as mediums of the operating environment through which military operations can be conducted and operational effects achieved that span all domains of warfare. A domain of warfare is defined as a sphere of the operating environment that has physical characteristics requiring unique doctrines, organizations, and equipment for military forces to lớn effectively control and exploit in the conduct of military operations. The fixed nature of physical domains serve as the basis of uniformed services, while the interplay of the domains and layers with evolving technology would shape more organizationally flexible, multi-domain operating constructs with service-equivalent leadership through the U.S. Defense Department and Functional Unified Commands.

Layers of warfare are part of the natural environment in which military operations take place, both in the physical and social contexts. They are not inherently distinct from one another either, as all occupy the same physical space and functionally are interconnected. The information and cognitive layers focus on the human and technological sides of the joint operating environment, with the former being data- and communication-centric and the latter focusing on the culture, psychology, sociology, and other contextual factors that define how states and organizations make decisions. The electromagnetic layer is also a physical, though invisible and non-Newtonian part of the battlespace. Interestingly, the U.S. Defense Department notes “the [electro-magnetic spectrum] is not a separate tên miền of military operations because the [electro-magnetic spectrum] is inseparable from the domains established in joint doctrine,” a situation cyber similarly finds itself in as the reach of cyber has grown.[29]

The four domains remain the four physical domains previously defined, with the additional note of three trans-domain regions that have resulted in differing solutions to lớn mitigate challenges. The maritime/land boundary, the littoral regions, has roles for the U.S. Army and Navy, but the Marine Corps is historically the primary service for force projection from the sea. The gap between air and surface has been more complicated, with key functions dispersed among all U.S. military services—the Army controlling anti-aircraft missiles and artillery, the Air Force controlling fixed wing air tư vấn, and the Navy retaining maritime air operations. As space exploration grows, the conception of space may morph to lớn a trans-domain region of orbital space, and the space tên miền as interplanetary to lớn intergalactic space. But absent ambiguity surrounding trans-domain regions, there is a clear dividing line between regions that require distinct capabilities—two surface domains with unique challenges on land and at sea, and two vertical domains defined by atmospheric versus orbital effects.

In this typology, cyberspace would be a multi-domain operational construct, more akin to lớn special operations or intelligence operations kêu ca the space tên miền. These constructs are function-centric, often concerned with issues critical to lớn modern warfare but not always in the conventional military environment. Special Operations are “activities or actions requiring unique modes of employment, tactical techniques, equipment, and training often conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments.”[30] Intelligence operations are “the variety of intelligence and counterintelligence tasks and activities within the intelligence process, to lớn include globally integrated [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] and human intelligence operations.”[31] These constructs operate across all layers and domains of warfare, with the main distinctions being their primary emphasis, and with the overlap and shifts in the focus of operations contingent on the evolving character of warfare. Their focus is not control of territory, but operational effects often in the absence of control or under ambiguous control. The concepts tự not organize, train, and equip distinct forces, but instead executes operations with specialists drawn from each of the physical domains of war to lớn perform highly specialized operations affecting and drawing from all domains of warfare, in a command structure with similar U.S. Department of Defense status to lớn a service, but with an operations-focused role. Cyber operations, then, would be the employment of electronic network capabilities to lớn create denial effects in the physical domains, and to lớn identify and defeat threats to lớn friendly networks including malware, physical attack, or the unauthorized activities of users.

As with intelligence and special operations, cyber operations pose a number of non-traditional challenges to lớn organization and execution of operations. How should military cyber operations be executed under Title 10, Title 50, and within Posse Comitatus limitations?[32] Given how cyber operations transcend state boundaries and much is within the private sector, multinational, and/or proprietary, to lớn what degree are state military forces ultimately responsible for active cyber defense of private companies with servers in foreign nations, or does this problem-set more closely resemble espionage kêu ca warfare?[33] Should the National Security Agency remain operationally tied to lớn U.S. Cyber Command given the level of overlap in vital functions?[34] For these reasons and more, it makes better logical sense and will make cleaner multi-domain doctrine to lớn keep cyber and special operations in the same, equally important but distinct, category from the physical domains of warfare.


It is tempting to lớn draw attention to lớn new concepts by either attaching new terms to lớn them or trying to lớn categorize them with other important concepts. This has the short-term effect of drawing attention in a more familiar, established way, but in the long-term confuses implementers. When it comes to lớn the terms themselves, the label is less important kêu ca the meaning. This article has identified domains of warfare as being the four physical domains of land, maritime, air, and space, and the dimensions of war as natural environmental factors of the battlespace that cross and affect all domains, the physical, electromagnetic, information, and cognitive layers. By standardizing this typology, the U.S. joint force and its partners will be better positioned to lớn operationalize cyber power, to lớn understand the need for and purpose of independent military services, and to lớn better integrate multi-domain operations.

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Header Image: Cyberspace (Getty)


[1] Jacquelyn Schneider et al. (2020). Ten Years In: Implementing Strategic Approaches To Cyberspace. Newport: U.S. Naval War College, December 2020. NATO similarly adopted this assumption in năm nhâm thìn, expanding the construct to lớn all key U.S. allies. See Steve Evans. “Cyberspace is the New Domain for War: NATO.” in Infosecurity Magazine, June 16 năm nhâm thìn. Accessed 24 June 2021 from

[2] Chris Demchak. “Cybered Conflict vs. Cyber War.” The Atlantic Council New Atlanticist. October trăng tròn, 2010.

[3] For discussion on buzzwords and their merits/harm to lớn Defense concepts, see Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr. “DIB Calls BS On Buzzwords: Defense Innovation Board,” in Breaking Defense. October 24, 2018. Accessed June 24, 2021 from and Kate Bateman. “War on (Buzz)Words,” in Proceedings, January 2019. Accessed June 24, 2021 from

[4] One example of confusion of terms (is information a tên miền or instrument of power? is information or cyber the domain?) while critiquing those who question its status can be seen at this link:

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[5] This argument was made again most recently by David Barno and Nora Bensahel. “Why the United States needs an independent Cyber Force.” War on The Rocks, May 4, 2021. Accessed May 21, 2021 from

[6] For a prominent example, see Robert M. Farley. Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, năm trước.

[7] Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr. “VCJCS Mulls Newest Domain: Electromagnetic Spectrum,” in Breaking Defense. April 22, năm nhâm thìn. Accessed June 24, 2021 from

[8] Erik Heftye, “Multi-Domain Confusion: All Domains Are Not Created Equal,” The Strategy Bridge, May 26, 2017. Accessed online May 17, 2021, from

[9] Department of Defense. Joint Vision 2020. June, 2000. Accessed 24 June 2021 from

[10] Heftye, 2017.

[11] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. s.v. “Domain.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez. “Fighting in cyberspace means cyber tên miền dominance.” Air Force Print News, February 28, 2007. Accessed online May 17, 2021, from

[15] Heftye, 2017.

[16] All definitions pulled from the DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, January 2021, Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[17] For an example of the Air Force and Army dispute over the Air Domain and Land Domain boundary with respect to lớn the Fire Support Coordination Line, see R. Kent Laughbom, Synchronizing Airpower and Firepower in the Deep Battle, Maxwell: Air University Press, 1999. Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[18] Stephen Biddle. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. p. 6.

[19] One strong argument outlining the problem with cyberspace as originally defined and as it has evolved in understanding can be found at P..J. Patella-Rey. “There is no ‘Cyberspace’”. February 21, 2012. Accessed 24 June 2021 from

[20] For further discussion of the challenges with cloud computing analogies, see Mary Branscomb. ”Stop saying the cloud is just someone else's computer - because it's not.” ZDNet. July 12, năm nhâm thìn (Accessed 17 May 2021 from and Reuven Cohen. “An Inconvenient Truth about Cloud Analogies.” Information Week, December 6, 2013 (Accessed 17 May 2021 from

[21] Mark Neale. No Map for These Territories. Video documentary accessed online 24 June 2021 from and “Highlighting Artificial Intelligence: An Interview with Paul Scharre.“ Strategic Studies Quarterly. September 26, 2017. Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[22] Jacob Morgan. “A Simple Explanation of ‘The Internet of Things.’” In Forbes Magazine. May 13, năm trước. Accessed on 24 June 2021 from

[23] Scharre interview, 2017.

[24] Michael P.. Kreuzer. Drones and the Future of Air Warfare. New York: Routledge, năm nhâm thìn.

[25] Pete Dowdy. “Cross-agency plans for space cybersecurity will strengthen the US in all domains.” Accessed online May 17, 2021 from

[26] “The Blue Force Tracker System.” In The Smithsonian Institute Series Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to lớn There. Accessed June 24, 2021 from

[27] Marco Mayer et al. “How would You Define Cyberspace?” Accessed online May 17, 2021 from

[28] See Laughbom, 1999, and Nadia Drake. “Where, exactly, is the edge of space? It depends on who you ask.” National Geographic. December trăng tròn, 2018. Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[29] Department of Defense Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy, October 2020. Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[30] DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, January 2021

[31] U.S. Air Force. Air Force Doctrine Publication 2-0: Global Integrated ISR Operations. Accessed 24 June 2021 from Defense Intelligence Agency. Human Intelligence. Accessed 24 June 2021 from

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[32] Extensive work is underway evaluating these key issues. For examples, see Robert Chesney, “Title 10 and Title 50 Issues When Computer Network Operations Impact Third Countries,” Lawfare (Accessed May 17, năm nhâm thìn from, and Susan W. Brenner, “Cyberthreats and the Posse Comitatus Act: Speculations,” St Johns Contemporary and International Law, 2013 (Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[33] For examples of various categorizations of cyber attacks see Emily VanDerWerff and Timothy B. Lee, “The năm trước Sony hacks, explained,” Vox June năm ngoái (Accessed May 17, 2021 from, David Ignatius, “Russia’s SolarWinds hack was espionage, not an act of war,” The Washington Post Dec 22, 2020 (accessed May 17, 2021 from, and Hunter Walker, “Gingrich: ‘America Has Lost Its First Cyberwar,’ Business Insider December năm trước (Accessed May 17, 2021 from

[34] James Di Pane. “Now is not the right time to lớn split NSA and CYBERCOM.” December 29, 2020. Accessed May 17, 2021 from