Analysis: The Case for Aligning Culture around “Information Advantage Activities”

Below is a review of the recent article in the Fall 2021 of The Cyber Defense Review titled “Information Advantage Activities.”  The Army is struggling a bit in sorting out its Information Operations (IO) career force, the organizations that have supported IO in the Army since the 1990s.  The author of this article summarizes the reasons why we need to move to Information Advantage and the need to make IA a central part of all planning and operations which is something IO struggled mightily to do and continues to struggle with.  The review below was submitted by Michael Williams, an advisor to IPA and former Executive Director.  He is a retired US Army Information Operations Officer. IPA welcomes members to submit posts for publication. Click here to Join IPA.


For years, Information Operations practitioners have told Commanders that IO is (or should be) a means to focus on information and decision-making whether those decisions were made by humans or automation to achieve an advantage over the enemy.  Framed in this way, maneuver Commanders understood the importance then and now.  The difficulty for IO planners often came when we stressed that there were non-combatants whose decision-making we also needed to understand because they could affect the outcome of military operations and whether friendly forces could achieve an objective despite having superior military capabilities.  Some (of us) thought of this as a diversion because we did not place it in the context of achieving an info advantage in the ‘fight.’

The concept of Information Advantage (IA) has been around for quite some time.  Marc Romanych wrote a paper in 2003/4 and published in 2005 (Spring 2005 IO Sphere titled “A Theory-Based View of IO) that nicely lays out the importance of every Commanders understanding of the need for an information advantage in all military operations which I also commend to the reader along with  this excellent new paper published in the Fall 2021 issue of Cyber Defense Review, “Information Advantage Activities.”  LTC Ross’s article makes an important contribution to the current discussion about how all of our military leaders consider the impact of the Information Environment (IE) on military operations.  Our current doctrine has its roots in the aftermath of DESERT SHIELD/STORM and the recognition that the speed of information flow, the volume of information available to combatants and non-combatants, and the recent ubiquity of handheld telecommunications had and would have on military operations.  Unfortunately, our organizations, training and capabilities have not kept pace with the advances in the IE.

The concept of IE as described in this new article makes an important contribution to the discussion about just who has responsibility for planning and integrating operations in the information environment.  Despite the change in acronyms and jargon over the past several years, the organizations and capabilities (outside cyber) remain much the same.  The concept of IA would place these operations squarely on the shoulder of our Commanders who would seek advice and support for planning in the IO/IA/IW (Irregular Warfare) staff and supporting organization.

There are excellent examples of such activities and organizations built to achieve effects in the IE that work in concert with all other operations.  We should be looking to organizations purpose-built for such activities supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the excellent organization built at USCYBERCOM: Task Force ARES which tailored information operations supporting ground Commanders in the Middle East.

LTC Ross highlights great examples including how artillery can be used to support operations in the IE and I’ve used the IADS example in a similar way as an IO planner to show that a well-placed round on a communications hub would be more effective than putting jammers in the air.  The response was relatively predictable:  “That’s out of your lane.”  Obviously, it wasn’t out of my lane if my job was to achieve an Information Advantage in support of military operations.

The concept of IA does need more historical examples to demonstrate how information flow was used to effect decision-making in a way that clearly influenced the outcome.  We also need to stop ignoring the last 20 years which has plenty of great examples of Commanders efforts to achieve IA.  We need to drag off the SIPR drives and out into the open a thorough understanding of efforts including the revolutionary organization under Petraeus’ combined HQs in Afghanistan which included components far beyond a typical C/J staff that addressed information and links to diplomacy.  Further back, we can dredge up examples from DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM beyond the well-publicized operational-level deception or from the information-focused Balkans operations.  Relevant to the command and staff colleges would be an examination of how Napoleon’s Brigade structure created better decision-making to allow his army to overwhelm well-trained Prussian opponents which could easily be made relevant to IA and touch at the heart of our current culture and focus on Major Theater War.

I would add to the list of organizational needs the requirement for intelligence professionals to place open-source info/intel on an equal level as all the other sources of information presented to the Commander.  I thought we had learned this lesson but a visit to the Army’s Intel Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca in 2018 led this former intel officer to believe we had begun ‘un-learning’ any less from the past 20 years.

If I have any critique, it is this:  On page 69, para 2, LTC Ross writes “The goal of information advantage activities is to enable commanders to achieve decision dominance and ultimately break an adversary’s will to fight before reaching armed conflict.”  This is also a complaint I had when reading the new Marine Corps manual “Competition” (another outstanding document which I commend to anyone working in the information realm) which also implied that information had a dominant role which recedes when hostilities begin.  Of course, the importance of IA does not in any way recede upon the start of force-on-force hostilities although it’s nature may change.  The need to understand and attack the adversary’s decision-making may turn from infiltrating a network to placing an explosive device on a router.  The need for IA didn’t change at all but more appropriate ways to achieve that advantage can and do change often.

We need the concept of IA not because we need a new fight over jargon and acronyms but because we need a change in culture in the Army to gain acceptance for the responsibility at every level of command to consider the IE and its impact on military outcomes.

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