We Want Information!

US Army HF Radio

The US Army’s embrace of information warfare forms a key part of its Multi-Domain Operations posture.

“We want information!” demanded ‘Number Two’ in the cult 1960s spy thriller The Prisoner. This character was right to make the request. Information is as integral to military success as firepower and manoeuvre. Depriving information to one’s enemy while accumulating it for oneself is a sine qua non for victory.

This was a topic under discussion at the Association of Old Crows’ Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) 2021 conference held at Belcamp, Maryland and online. Delegates were briefed on how the US Army will situate Information Warfare (IW) in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO).

MDO and IW

MDO is a hot topic. It emerged in 2018 as a response to the US’ 2018 National Security Strategy. A publication on MDO by the US Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted the country’s changing national security priorities. These have shifted from countering violent extremism, witnessed in the Afghan and Iraqi theatres, towards “confronting revisionist powers, primarily Russia and China, that are said to ‘want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model’.”

Strategically, Multi-Domain Operations focus on the US Army’s role in the joint force alongside the navy, air force and marine corps. The joint force must counter and defeat near-peer adversaries in the sea, land, air, space and cyberspace domains. The CRS document also defines operational MDO. This “provides commanders numerous options for executing simultaneous and sequential operations using surprise and the rapid and continuous integration of capabilities across all domains.” The aim is “to present multiple dilemmas to an adversary in order to gain physical and psychological advantage and influence and control over the operational environment.”

IW is intrinsic to Multi-Domain Operations. The US Department of Defence’s Dictionary of Military Terms defines Information Warfare as “actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting adversary information, information-based processes, information systems, and computer-based networks.” This is done “while leveraging and defending one’s own information.”

Information Advantage

In his presentation, Lieutenant General Stephen Fogarty, commanding general of Army Cyber Command cited information advantage, decision dominance and “the need for speed” as the three pillars of IW. Information advantage merges cyber effects, electronic warfare and information operations.

He stressed the golden rule of sensing, understanding, deciding and acting while continually assessing what is happening in the battlespace at all levels. This is a nod to the famous OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop of strategist Colonel John Boyd. Those who navigate the OODA loop faster than their opponents are more likely to achieve success. In the era of MDO, the OODA loop is dependent on robust communications networks that can share information.

These networks will link all aspects of the force including personnel, weapons, sensors, aircraft, vehicles and headquarters to name just five. Assets will use conventional telecommunications and cloud computing to continually share data. IW supports rapid OODA loop navigation by ensuring commanders understand exactly what is happening in the battlespace in real time.

Adversaries will appreciate the importance of these networks to the US Army. Gen. Fogarty warned that adversaries will engage them with cyber and electronic attack. Therefore, one must always assume that the electromagnetic spectrum will be contested in tomorrow’s battles. Safeguarding these networks will help decision dominance. This in turn will help commanders maintain the initiative.

Gen. Fogarty warned that information shared across these networks must not be stovepiped. Instead, data should be merged to provide a comprehensive real-time picture of the battle. He cautioned that creating stovepipes can slow decision making. Stovepipes create friction and indecision: “This means that we are no longer faster and more effective than the adversary.”

He concluded by stressing that the integration of disparate capabilities for information sharing will be critical to the army’s success in future battles. Success will not necessarily be contingent on developing new processes to aid information sharing. Instead existing processes must be accelerated.

Returning to our cult TV series, Number Six waxes lyrical that information can always be gathered “by hook or by crook”. The army will need a similarly steely determination to gather and share information from all its capabilities to prevail in tomorrow’s wars.

by Dr. Thomas Withington