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Special Information Warfare: Evolving Australian and Allied Special Operations Forces to Fight and Win in the Chaos

11 October 2021
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The proliferation of information technologies, the rapid pace of military modernisation and the return to Great Power competition are challenging traditional notions of national security as it applies to Australia and its coalition partners.  The impact of information on modern warfighting is unhinging the asymmetries traditionally afforded to Australian and allied Special Operations Forces (SOF), calling for new ideas, concepts and capabilities.

Taking a uniquely Australian perspective, in this AARC Occasional Paper Benjamin Johanson makes a strong case for Special Information Warfare (SIW) as a new capability for SOF to fight and win in the chaos. Johanson contends that SIW presents as an opportunity to complement current Army, Defence, joint and whole-of-government information warfighting development initiatives.  He draws a picture of what ‘future ready’ could look like for SOF armed with a cyber-enabled SIW capability. He also provides timely information-centric considerations for partners as focus shifts more heavily to great power competition in a time of heightened global instability and uncertainty.

Johanson’s proposed ‘future ready’ cyber-enabled SOF emerges from an examination of trends in the employment of cyber and IW capabilities by US SOF under its multi-domain operations (MDO) national security and force posture, alongside Russia’s new generation warfare (NGW) concept. The paper first examines Australia’s current state of play in light of the strategic direction provided by the Chief of Army, the operating environment, the convergence of technology and the need to think about ‘information’ differently. It then draws on insights from the US pursuit of the MDO operating concept from both a conventional and a SOF perspective to highlight the lessons that support the argument for an SIW capability. This is followed by an examination of Russia’s NGW theory and practice, providing a warning about warfare to come and the need for change to respond to emerging threats posed by such developments. Lastly, the paper draws together the key lessons from the US and Russian examples, underpinned by the strategic direction from the Chief of Army, to make the case for an SIW capability within Australian Special Operations Command.

As Professor David Kilcullen observes in his foreword, Australian planners today face a much more threatening yet, somehow, far less concrete environment than at any time since the 1930s. In Special Information Warfare: Evolving Australian and Allied Special Operations Forces to Fight and Win in the Chaos, Benjamin Johanson offers important insights for anyone seeking to get a grip of what has happened, what it means, and how we might adapt to it, now and into the future.

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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