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Future Joint Force Information Warfare Operations – Part 1

Information Warfare (IW)[1] is a whole of government challenge in which Joint Forces must play an integral part. Preparing for and conducting IW is difficult and requires a change to the way the Joint Force currently conducts warfare. The Joint Force is predominantly organised, equipped, trained and prepared for the challenges of the physical domain. The Information Environment (IE)[2] and IW present unique and unexpected challenges and complexities to the Joint Force that are outside of this more traditional domain.

IW operations are those that are designed to have a cognitive effect, resulting in the successful imposition of the Joint Force’s will. IW includes both words and actions; the importance lies in how the words or actions are processed, perceived or interpreted by the target audience, be they friendly, neutral or enemy. IW occurs across all doctrinal domains and, for the purpose of this blog only, operates in an analogous domain: the “cognitive domain”. The “cognitive domain” is used in this blog to describe the realm in which decisions are made by humans, and it is included because it is here that the effects of IW transpire.  

At the higher end of the spectrum of conflict, violent actions will dominate Joint Force operations; violence is a necessary and effective IW tool that can be affected through the physical and non-physical domains. However, it is not violence for the sake of violence. To paraphrase Clausewitz, it is violence conducted to compel an opponent to fulfil our will. At the lower end of the spectrum of conflict, violence is a less effective tool; however, there are other IW mechanisms that can be used to compel the target audience, including Key Leadership Engagement, Public Affairs, and Social Media. 

The IW threat to the Joint Force will come from many avenues and individuals, including state and non-state actors, individual antagonists, trusted insiders, and even inadvertent agitators. The IE is often depicted in training and doctrine publications as a problem for the future force, and it will be; however, the complexities of the IE and its impact on joint force operations is a contemporary issue, as we should be well aware by now. Within the IE, any purposeful actor is able to communicate, plan, agitate, and execute profoundly disruptive acts that range from the accidental, through unprovoked and malicious, to targeted and physically, emotionally and morally destructive.[3]

Information can be shared in near-real time across a global audience. This hyper-connectivity increases the risk of rapid, unintended military escalation, conflicts prosecuted by alternative (non-violent) means, and the virtual mobilisation of like-minded antagonists operating with no centralised authority or control. This creates a complex and uncertain environment for decision makers. Furthermore, state adversaries, non-state actors, and civilian populations are able to target, strike, effect, usurp and influence the Joint Force through the weaponisation of information. Similarly, information can, and should, be weaponised by the Joint Force.

Operations in the IE will include state actor and non-state actors, as well as motivated individuals unconstrained by the Laws of Armed Conflict, with the potential to conduct simultaneous kinetic and non-kinetic attacks on both soldiers and their families. Attacks in the IE include those that are un-attributable and those that lie within unclear or undefined legal areas. Absolute peace is unlikely in the IE, and military forces will never be able to gain superiority or supremacy in this domain. In line with this, the Joint Force Commander must excel at understanding and defining what success will look like in and through the IE, as it will be fundamental to tactical, operational and strategic mission success in the physical domain.

The increasing importance of the IE for mission success does not negate the requirement for the Joint Force to conduct IW in the physical domain, as a stand-alone operating environment or synchronised with Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA). A quick note on CEMA, given how much focus it receives in the capability development space: vital as it is, it would be a mistake for the Joint Force to evolve IW capabilities that rely purely on access to the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS). In a complex, congested, contested future operating environment, access to the EMS cannot be assumed, and where it is available trust cannot be assured.

To remain an effective fighting force, the Joint Force should review the priority it currently places on organising, equipping, training and preparing for the challenges of IW. While the ability to fight in the physical domains will always be vital, mission success is increasingly dependent on a Force that is effective in the traditional, doctrinally accepted domains, as well as in the “cognitive domain”. This will be explored in more detail in Part 2 of this blog.

[1] IW is defined here as Information Activities (IA), Cyber and Electro Magnetic Activities (CEMA), and operations in the space domain.

[2] IE is defined here as the aggregate of individuals, organisations, or systems that collect, process, or disseminate information.

[3] Freier, Nathan et al,. At Own Peril: DoD Risk and Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, forthcoming. 

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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