It’s been a big week for Information Operations/Information Warfare/Information Advantage. I read with interest the testimony this week of Acting ASD(SOLIC) Christopher Maier, and two senior officials from USD(I) on “Disinformation in the Gray Zone: Opportunities, Limitations, Challenges.” Download the whole thing here: https://docs.house.gov/Committee/Calendar/ByEvent.aspx?EventID=111323
The title of the hearing and testimony was a bit mis-labeled and the officials testifying dispensed with a discussion of the “gray zone” altogether and that was a good thing! The rapidly expanding impact of operations in the information environment on military operations should focus on the role of those operations in all military activity. A discussion of the “gray zone” would have been distracting and irrelevant. Highlights of the testimony were the assertion that the Secretary of Defense has “designated a Principal Information Operations Advisor” which is technically true as the OUSD(P) was previously given the responsibility which was a ‘dodge.’ Appointing someone with experience in IO/IW, with the ability to recommend policy, and having the authority to examine how the services are directing resources in this area remains a work in progress apparently. Part of the complication is the need to extract policy guiding the use of PSYOP/MISO from ASD(SOLIC) which will still leave them with the service-like responsibility to train and equip PSYOP forces. Integrating PSYOP policy into a new over-arching IO office was the intent of the reorganization under Sec Gates in 2010. Alas OUSD(P) and ASD(SOLIC) starved the office for resources, downgraded the civilian rank of its leader and generally ignored it after 2012.
Another testimony highlight was the establishment of a Working Group to review the DoD intel community’s support to OIE. I’ve been part of working groups in the past on this topic which identified the same issues again and again which were promptly ignored but perhaps the national level attention on this area will finally result in action – hope springs eternal!
The establishment of a DoD DASD-level office with responsibility for oversight of the mission area would certainly help and would enable the kind of persistent focus on issues like intel support necessary to see through resource programming and budgeting that affect long-term reorganizations, hiring, and programs.
Patrick Tucker at Defense One – https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2021/03/key-official-defense-information-operations-not-evolving-fast-enough/172742/ – appropriately highlights what DoD officials have said in the recent past supporting this testimony citing support from the Army’s Cyber Command Commander to build up a capability that focuses on integrating information functions that will support achievement of military objectives. The Army continues to have an IO force separate from cyber and PSYOP but its future even with the renewed focus remains unclear. Tucker also cites SOCOM’s dominant role as the ‘owner’ of much of the department’s PSYOP capabilities.
Also cited by Tucker, Senior Director for Intel Programs Neil Tipton made some comments about our ability to do interagency work during the Cold War in this mission area which was an allusion to such things as the Active Measures Working Group (pdf). It is arguably true we have found interagency cooperation to be harder though this has always been both a feature and a bug of USG efforts. Nothing in the testimony was said about the past 20 years of experience we gained in Iraq and Afghanistan – often hard lessons learned, but lessons-learned nevertheless. I remain astounded that we ignore an entire generation of work but that’s a topic for another post.
A little later in the week was a related article in Proceedings – https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/march/reality-war-should-define-information-warfare suggesting “Information warfare functions are complementary to, not replacements for, firepower, maneuver, and protection functions.” I concur with this statement that Information Warfare is a component of all warfare functions! Alas, after that statement I believe the author goes off track and in typical Navy fashion ignores the actual structure of the modern battlefield. Through most of the 20th century, the population occupying the battlespace were treated as ‘something to be dealt with by civil affairs’ at best and ‘a damn nuisance’ at worst. Civilians were often able to be quickly separated from the area of operations or excluded altogether. This is no longer possible. Populations, groups and individuals are now a part of any modern battlefield with information sources equal to or superior to that of the elaborate intelligence structures of any military. Non-military individuals and groups can make decisions based on this constant flow of information that impact the outcome of military operations often at a speed of decision-making outpacing military decision-making. We ignore this component of the modern battlefield at extreme peril!
CDR Dahm is right that we need to understand how to achieve an Information Advantage though Information Superiority remains a term that’s likely to always be misunderstood. To pretend that we will have “superiority” in the IE comparable to that of air superiority is a fool’s errand. The volume of information, the speed it travels and the ubiquity of handheld computing with wireless communications means that we must understand how its use impacts military operations but to pretend we can have “superiority” over it is something we will eternally chase without ever achieving. The author suggests we take another look at C2W doctrine developed late in the Cold War which was largely overcome by the information revolution so fully on display during Desert Shield/Storm. We cannot go back to the 1980s and the application of a C2W doctrine in a world that is awash in information. The Navy remains ‘at sea’ in understanding the modern battlefield it seems.
Defense One was last up this week with more highlights of the hearing on IW – https://breakingdefense.com/2021/03/new-strategy-aims-to-up-dod-ic-game-to-counter-disinformation/ citing the comments about updating the Defense Intelligence Strategy and bringing more resources to bear in the IC focusing on information efforts of adversaries. All good! Let’s hope the reorganization in DoD will bring a level of attention to the policies and resources necessary to support the development of new capabilities and the policies to use those capabilities on the modern battlefield.