How to Set a Theater from an Information Warfare Perspective

Abstract: Whereas the characteristic of war as an act of violence remains unchanged, warfare itself has developed throughout the history of humankind. In all times, successful military leaders exploited all given, known, and required domains of warfare. However, the increasing importance of the information domain as an enabler of asymmetry appears to be undervalued. Multi-domain operations are to include this vital domain more coherently. Furthermore, multi-domain operations have the potential to increase efficiency in modern kinetic warfare. They are more than just a compilation of all services. In this concertation, the information domain has to be addressed simultaneously, actively as well as collaboratively during preparation and execution. While setting the theater, the joint force can provide its best advice on capability requirements to fight with and for information, and, consequently, understanding, while gaining and maintaining a deep understanding of the operational environment. Information warfare requires collaboration, coordination, as well as synchronization across all levels of command in preparation.


Bottom-line-up-front: All-domain warfare, guided by information warfare, increases the probability of success in theater and the homeland. It is a powerful asset, especially before an armed conflict breaks out.


Problem statement: How to set a theater to conduct multi-domain operations with a Joint Force from an information warfare perspective?


So what?: Information warfare requires collaboration, coordination, as well as synchronization across all levels of command in preparation and the will of permanent self-synchronizing, especially when setting the theater and execution with a focus on the joint force.


Connected World
Source: Pixabay.com/Gerd Altmann

The Threat – Why MDO?


The U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation as the primary threats to U.S. national security interests. Both actors are known for conducting at least basic instantiations of multi-domain operations (MDO)[1], either based on the Great Rejuvenation’s ambition[2] or the so-called Gerasimov doctrine[3]. While the Russian Federation unilaterally successfully annexed parts of Ukraine by dominating this kind of operations, the PRC focuses on information warfare in its capability development plan. Thus, the necessity is given, the U.S. needs to prevail in MDO as well to ensure at least the idea of peace through strength, as mentioned in the NSS.


While the Russian Federation unilaterally successfully annexed parts of Ukraine by dominating this kind of operations, the PRC focuses on information warfare in its capability development plan.


Information Warfare – Threat and Opportunity


Waging war in the information domain is inevitable.[4] The term itself describes the coordinated and synchronized engagement of information activities to achieve at least superiority in the information domain, a rather functional than geographical area. Hence, the approach that limits information warfare mostly to cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, and psychological operations fallaciously reduces an infinite battlefield.


Everything an actor does or even does not do may have an impact on the battlefield and its virtual aura. What happens far too often, though, is that this sphere of war gets ignored or underestimated. “Use it or lose it” is a legitimate credo for the information domain. Wars are seldomly won solely but often lost in the information domain. Providing commanders with accurate and relevant information, however, is a crucial prerequisite of successful warfare.[5] Therefore, one can define information warfare as a permanent fight for and with information.



Fighting for Information


Every soldier is a sensor for and an emitter of information on the battlefield. Well educated and trained soldiers, as well as technological advances,mean that modern deployed armed forces are well-supplied with data. The challenge nowadays is how to filter with this Big Data the irrelevant from the relevant information in a timely manner. Collected data must be processed to gain information, which has to be evaluated and turned into intelligence and knowledge. This theoretically simple process bears demanding challenges. Due to the aforementioned reasons, processing data requires analytical and technical support, if not Artificial Intelligence (AI), to ensure currency. Nowadays, the human information computing capability of the soldier is the limiting factor in this process! Regarding AI, China, as an emerging power, is superior to the U.S. by setting the benchmark with quantum supremacy by combining AI and Quantum Computing as an quantum intelligence service.[6] Processing, evaluating information, and disseminating intelligence on time are pre-conditions for superiority in decision-making, allowing to create multiple dilemmas for an enemy on the battlefield. However, technology itself is an opportunity for, as well as a potential threat to, the respective superior power. It is heavily linked to a capable industrial base and technology but bears the risk of creating dependence on technology and its weak points.[7]



Fighting with Information


In a digitalized and globalized world, data and information circulate in real-time around the planet. States publish their respective NSS as open-source documents. Without deploying troops, adversaries or allies are shaped in that way by using the information domain. This phenomenon is not limited to the strategic or political level. Information creates non-kinetic effects, shaping, enabling, degrading, or even hampering tactical success. In this regard, it is irrelevant whether the respective effect was desired or undesired; it exists, and it affects the environment. Hence, it is of utmost importance to synchronize and coordinate these effects collaboratively on the level overseeing all services and component commands – the operational (joint) level. Within an operational level command, joint effects management is one of the primary duties, covering effects, actions, and end states with information. This expands the traditional - on the physical domain focused - OODA loop from “Observe – Orient – Decide – Act” to “Observe - Orient- Decide – Explain, incorporating the “Act” as the physical changes”.


In this regard, consistency through all levels is crucial. Nations, coalitions or alliances tend to announce campaign objectives publicly, explaining the “why” they are going to war. Linked to this strategic guidance, the operational level has to coordinate tactical actions. Information warfare aims to achieve superiority in the information domain and break the adversary’s will to fight simultaneously.



MDO – A new Concept?


Evolution in combined and joint arms and military cross-service engagement led the U.S. Army (together with the USMC) to the concept of MDO.[8] This concept is based on the idea of projecting and employing American as well as partnering nation’s military forces in all known domains in an agile and self-synchronized way. The purpose is to contest potential adversaries both in armed conflicts and below the threshold of armed conflicts, for example, by deterrence. The underlying intellectual paradigm shifts from attrition based thinking (fire and observe) to effect based thinking (identify weakness’ in enemy structures and networks and choose the right means to neutralize a node or connection).


The fact that MDO, by definition, include the U.S. Army forces and partners leads to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S.’ primary partner when it comes to projecting and providing security.[9] To ensure interoperable planning within the alliance, the Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive (COPD) was introduced in 2010. The COPD’s definition of joint operations at the operational level is, content-wise, congruent with the U.S.’ understanding of MDO.[10] The remarkable difference is that the former focuses on the operational level, whereas the latter is an army – and, therefore, tactical - concept. COPD’s crucial element is the idea of collaborative planning and execution, including all levels of command. Whereas the strategic level defines “what” to do, the operational level links “what” with “who”, addressing all services and domains, leaving the “how” to the tactical level . A plan is completed and ultimately executed by the services, component commands, and domain-representatives, elaborating on and reporting their possible contributions to defined effects while detailing “how” to execute tasks. Therefore, subordinates’ contributions in this collaborative and iterative process are vital.


While the Russian Federation unilaterally successfully annexed parts of Ukraine by dominating this kind of operations, the PRC focuses on information warfare in its capability development plan.

As the interface between the military-strategic and tactical level, the operational level joint force must coordinate and synchronize all effects inside the enemies structures and networks in correlation with the overarching strategic narrative. Joint effects management within the Joint Coordination Board Cycle is the core of this level of command, bringing kinetic as well as non-kinetic effects in line with the operation’s purpose. It embodies the heart and brain of information warfare and opens the discussion whether military structures must be heavily flattened or de-cluttered to grant the necessary speed of command.


MDO are, therefore, not an entirely new concept, but they will allow to raise the level of complexity for any possible enemy on the battlefield by maintain ones initiative. Like joint operations at the operational level, they are based on robust, secure connectivity, collaboration, and interoperability at the highest level. MDO are, especially in deterrence, mainly driven by the fight with and for information. An operational-level joint force command must be enabled to coordinate all means in this direction almost in real-time. The only revolutionary element about MDO is that they are, doctrinally speaking, expands the ground force into an all domain force. . Although not replacing joint operations, they are capable of setting effects on the tactical level in a campaign’s initial phase. Their rapid deployment can enable the buildup of a joint force or de-escalate the conflict by deterrence.[11]



Setting the Theater


U.S. doctrine outlines that setting a theater includes all required preparatory measures to execute strategic plans. Although generally executed by the theater army, setting the theater is, based on his situational awareness, the geographical combatant commander’s responsibility, covering military-strategic agreements and logistical measures. The outcome of setting the theater should be favorable conditions to execute military operations rapidly. Thus, finalizing time-intensive activities such as outsourcing, forward stationing, or providing headquarters before the main force deploys, is vital.[12]


The outcome of setting the theater should be favorable conditions to execute military operations rapidly.

Whereas U.S. doctrine focuses on the strategic requirements when it comes to setting the theater, the role of the joint force is undervalued in this regard. MDO are deterrent in character and broad in capabilities, but as well in requirements and preconditions. Therefore, the contribution of all services, component commands, and domains represented in a joint force are to be included when setting the theater.[13] This is a prerequisite for a smooth transition to execution.


When setting the theater, the joint force commander has to understand the operational all domain environment. Consequently, all services will be aware of where to fight for information and by which channel to address when fighting with information. Furthermore, domain-specific requirements can be defined early in the requested force posture. Expanding “need to know by need to share” in this phase will complement and enrich the geographical combatant commanders’ efforts to set the theater.[14] Excluding the joint force contradicts the efficiency of MDO.



Conclusion


MDO have the potential to increase efficiency in modern warfare by increasing complexity on the enemy. They are more than just a (joint) compilation of all services.[15] In this concertation, the information domain must be addressed continuously. While setting the theater, the joint force can provide its best advice on capability requirements to fight with and for information.


Information warfare requires collaboration, coordination, as well as synchronization across all levels of command. All-domain warfare, guided by information warfare, increases the probability of success in theater as well as in the homeland. It is a powerful asset, especially before an armed conflict breaks out. Removing information warfare activities makes a multi-domain force an effective, but inefficient and ghost-driving kinetic power-pack. It loses value in modern warfare.


All-domain warfare, guided by information warfare, increases the probability of success in theater as well as in the homeland.

 

Matthias Wasinger, Ph.D., Austrian Army Officer. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent the views of Austrian Armed Forces, the Austrian Ministry of Defense, or the Austrian Government.

 


[1] Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, “Homeland Defense,” An Interview with Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 94, 3rd Quarter 2019.

[2] Jonathan Ward, China’s Vision of Victory: And why America must win (Fayetteville, NC: The Atlas Publishing and Media Company, 2019), 84-87.

[3] Charles K. Bartles, “Getting Gerasimov Right,” Military Review, January 2016, 33-36.

[4] Richard Poisel, Information Warfare and Electronic Warfare Systems (Boston, MA: Artech House, 2013), 20-21.

[5] The attributes of relevant information, according to Fewell and Hazen are Relevance, Clarity, Timeliness, Age, Currency, Accuracy, Consistency, Completeness, Comprehensibility, Secrecy/Security, Authenticity, Value and Degree of interoperability. Brevity might be considered as an additional attribute. (Poisel, Information Warfare and Electronic Warfare Systems, 21-22.)

[6] Ward, China’s Vision of Victory, 86.

[7] Poisel, Information Warfare and Electronic Warfare Systems, 26-50.

[8] William Perkins and Andrea Olivieri, “On Multi-Domain Operations: Is NATO Today Sufficiently 'Joint' to Begin Discussions Regarding Multi-Domain Command and Control?,” JAPCC, 16-17., accessed March 15, 2020, https://​www.japcc.org​/​wp-​content/​uploads/​JAPCC_​J26_​screen.pdf.

[9] The President of the United States of America, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington: 2018), 48.

[10] Jack Watling and Daniel Roper, “European Allies in US Multi-Domain Operations,” RUSI Occasional Paper, October 2019, 8-9.

[11] Watling and Roper, “European Allies in US Multi-Domain Operations,” 1-8.

[12] Headquarters, Department of the Army, Field Manual 3-0 Operations, 4-12 - 4-13.

[13] Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Comprehensive Operations Planning Directive, 4-09.

[14] Watling and Roper, “European Allies in US Multi-Domain Operations,” 15.

[15] Perkins and Olivieri, “On Multi-Domain Operations,” 17-18.

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