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Part 1: Winning without Fighting –Information Environment Operations and Accelerated Warfare

12 September 2019
Part 1: Winning without Fighting –Information Environment Operations and Accelerated Warfare

In July 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) issued a change to United States doctrine, elevating information to its current position as the seventh joint function. This was done in recognition of the power information has to support military operations, particularly in the wake of modern technology and social media.

There is nothing new in recognising the power of information, or in seeing information as both a resource and a weapon. It is in transitioning this intellectual understanding into practical application where the Joint Force is failing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the changing character of war.

Despite the formation of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Information Warfare (IW) Division in July 2017, in the ADF there is no clear understanding or agreement of what IW is and how it should be conducted. For some, the power of weaponised information is understated, and for others it is overstated. For some, cyber warfare and information warfare are interchangeable terms and any conversation about IW invariably leads to a conflation of the two. And for some, the use of the word ‘warfare’ implies it is only an option for use in declared physical wars, which is potentially why the ADF’s working description of IW only considers friendly and adversary audiences. In doing so, it effectively fails to consider the not insignificant portion of the global population who are neither (as well as operations pre-Phase 1).

Despite this, the underlying themes of much of the debate are encouraging. It suggests that whether the Joint Force is targeting information on a system or using words to encourage (or discourage) a particular course of action, the outcome of IW is a target audience behaving in accordance with the will of the Joint Force; a similar goal to many other Joint Force activities.

In a previous blog I have described my concept of IW: actions that target the cognitive.  However, noting the ongoing debate over the term, perhaps a less contentious way to describe the concept of IW is to use the language operations in the Information Environment (IE). In doing so, the Joint Force can move beyond semantics, confusion and conflation, as well as the invariable restraints associated with legal war, and begin exploiting all the opportunities inherent in the IE. It can also begin to conduct IW (or operations in the IE) in a manner that reflects the ideas held within the Chief of Army’s (CA) Futures Statement on ‘Accelerated Warfare’ (AW).

AW describes both the operating environment and how we respond. In his statement, the CA notes future advantage will lie with those who can best prepare the environment. Furthermore, AW requires deep thinking about Army’s role in understanding, shaping and influencing the environment. None of these things can occur in isolation from the IE, and arguably the success of the Joint Force in AW relies on how well it has prepared the IE, particularly in Phase 0. To paraphrase David Kilcullen, by the time the first tank has rolled, we have already won or lost the war; a notion that echoes Sun Tzu’s idea that victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

This is because we are always in a state of both competition and conflict in the IE; the latter by virtue of the fact that there are always those who violently disagree with our ideas and our way of life. There is nothing new here, and of course the existence of conflict in the IE is not cause for undue alarm, nor does it indicate the Joint Force has lost operations in the IE. Losing in the IE is potentially when those with whom we are in conflict manifest their disagreement physically on a scale or in a manner that garners sufficient attention,[1] resulting in a change in the narrative and corresponding attitudes towards Joint Force activities.

Conflict in the IE cannot be readily contained or constrained. Any physical manifestation increases the level of conflict, with the inevitable feedback loop encouraging further attacks. With the changes in the character of war associated with technology and the instant sharing of information and ideas, a population cannot be isolated from the remainder of the IE by a democratic government.[2] The will of the populace cannot be easily defeated when it is so easy for them to find others who share their ideas, encourage their actions and celebrate their perceived successes.

IW (or operations in the IE for those who prefer the language) should be a daily occurrence and it would behove the ADF to accept this and behave accordingly. This does not mean arguing with those who disagree or conducting pre-emptive lethal strikes in the cyber domain. It means understanding that the IE is a long game and behaving accordingly; thinking deeply about Army’s role, and that of the Joint Force, in understanding, shaping and influencing the environment.

Leveraging the IE in AW in order to Win without Fighting will be explored in more detail in Part 2 of this blog.

[1] Metrics for this are difficult to establish up front. The manifestation could be a high-profile lone wolf attack, a car bombing that claims the lives of 1 or 100 civilians, or it could be a Joint Force military defeat or even a Joint Force military victory. The point is less about the scale or characteristics of the attack, and more about the effect it has on a society– much like an act of terrorism.

[2] China and North Korea are obvious examples of where a population has been effectively isolated from the remainder of the IE, however the mechanisms with which this has occurred are not readily exploited by any democratic government.

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.