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Information Operations Sweep Across Milieu of Peace and War

September 1999
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Focus of U.S. Army’s approach encompasses vulnerabilities and opportunities presented by information dependence.

Moving rapidly to gain information dominance on the battlefield, the U.S. Army will fully equip and deploy a digitized division by next year. This continuing quest for information dominance and situational awareness also calls for outfitting a fully digitized Army corps by 2004.

Digitizing Army units involves the use of modern communications capabilities and computers to enable commanders, planners and individual soldiers to rapidly acquire and share information. Army officials are convinced that resulting improvements in situational awareness will revolutionize the conduct and tempo of all phases of combat operations.

Information operations are at the heart of both current day-to-day Army functions and force modernization plans. However, full spectrum information operations are about more than technology, people and the operating environment. Information operations are an integrating strategy, service officials contend. The Army uses the term information operations, rather than the term information warfare, to describe its cornerstone for digitized forces because electronic and information warfare are subsets of information operations.

The service looks at information in a much broader context and addresses the capability from the perspective of protecting friendly force functions to acquire, manipulate and use information. Simultaneously, information operations also encompass denying an opponent the same capabilities. This denial involves more than simply jamming, more than going after infrastructure such as computer networks, and more than physical force. Techniques and practices range across all levels, from tactical to strategic, according to Col. Alfred Elliott, USA, who is assigned to the office of the Army deputy chief of staff operations in the Pentagon.

The value of information as power on the battlefield is clear to Army leaders, the colonel reports. His approach is to emphasize both offensive and defensive applications. The Army of tomorrow will be structured to deny information to an enemy through secure communications and direct attacks against hostile command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) assets.

As part of this effort, the Army battle command system provides a secure and adaptable information architecture to link commanders at all echelons. War requires gathering information. In order to build a complete picture of a theater, the Army is acquiring a new range of information systems. The first elements are intelligence and sensor systems that can be used to provide information about enemy and friendly forces, Col. Elliott says.

As an example, Army doctrine for full spectrum information operations builds upon three pillars that begin at the Army staff level: deputy chiefs of staff for operations, intelligence and C4. Each functional area plays an equal and critical role, the colonel notes. At various points in the cycle, one or another of the pillars may tend to dominate—for example, intelligence in the early phases of an operational buildup.

Maj. Russell Bodine, USA, an information operations officer in the Army operations center, explains that deception, psychological operations, operations security, electronic warfare and physical strikes are part of information operations. Other facets include civil affairs, counterdeception, counterpropaganda, counterintelligence, computer network defense, computer network attack and public affairs, he adds.

As part of its modernization strategy, the digitized units in the Army of the 21st century are expected to become a capabilities-based, threat-adaptive force that centers on patterns of operations. These patterns involve gaining information dominance, projecting the force, protecting the force, shaping the battlespace, conducting decisive operations and sustaining the force.

In the near- and mid-term, from 2000 to 2014, the Army expects to transform the current force into what it calls Army XXI. This effort involves upgrading existing weapons systems and platforms through the insertion of new technologies, particularly those enabling mental agility through shared situational awareness, seamless command and control, and related applications of information technology, Col. Elliott offers.

Advances in information technology are expected to provide the Army with a tactical internet and digitized command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR). The Army tactical command and control system, Army battle command system, Force XXI battle command brigade and below system, along with new voice and data radios provide this tactical internet and C4ISR capability from corps-level headquarters to individual tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. By 2006, the RAH-66 Comanche reconnaissance helicopter is expected to become the Army’s quarterback of the digitized force.

Service officials are convinced that Army XXI will achieve information dominance through the digitization process, while maintaining a superior combat capability. The force will use information technology to improve systems such as the M1 Abrams tank and the Bradley fighting vehicle. Simultaneously, a limited number of new systems are underway, such as the Comanche helicopter, the Crusader self-propelled 155-millimeter howitzer, and  the Army tactical missile system/brilliant antitank.

In the longer term, the Army’s modernization process involves what is called the Army after next, Col. Elliott adds. In the period 2015 to 2025, the Army plans to continue modernization through upgrades to relatively new systems already in the inventory at that point—Comanche, the Javelin manportable medium antitank system and the Crusader. Other newer systems also are expected to be introduced that will fully exploit mental agility through embedded information technology systems, while securing a revolutionary level of physical agility.

This future force relies on leap-ahead advances in material, propulsion and other basic and applied science and technology to revolutionize mobility, lethality and survivability. The Army after next places priority on systems that provide embedded information dominance and physical agility to outmatch an enemy. In the midterm period from 2006 to 2014, science and technology will focus on embedded information dominance, with initial steps aimed at developing physical agility.

But the state of the art in science and technology also must leap ahead to respond to Army after next requirements. To synthesize physical and mental agility on the battlefield, the Army will invest in high-risk, high-payoff technologies. Prompt and effective integration of technologies will be required for new weapons systems. The requirements focus on smaller, lighter hybrid power systems, on signature control and active countermeasures that protect new weapons systems from detection by enemy sensors, and on human engineering and cognitive engineering to make soldiers more effective.

Protection schemes, both passive and active, will be required for land systems. Other necessary rapid technology progressions include advanced materials that offer great strength at reduced weights; alternative propellants; biological and chemical protection, antidotes and vaccines; increased fuel efficiency to reduce consumption; the logistics train necessary to sustain weapons systems; and logistics efficiencies.

With a decline in total Army personnel of 630,000 between 1991 and 1998, a fall in active divisions from 18 to 10, and more than 700 bases closed worldwide, the Army plans increases in modernization investments. Advances in technologies—from computers and communications to materials and sensors—provide the foundation for revolutionary changes within the next two decades, Army officials claim.

To modernize, the Army must match advances in weapons and platforms with a parallel revolution in the way it conducts its business affairs, Col. Elliott emphasizes. This means fundamentally restructuring the way the Army acquires, supports and maintains equipment. Revising business affairs comprises four basic principles:

• re-engineering research, development and acquisition activities by adopting modern commercial practices where they improve performance and cut costs;

• consolidating acquisition and material development organizations by removing redundant functions and maximizing synergy;

• encouraging competitive commercial acquisition and material development functions by applying market forces where they can improve quality, reduce costs and respond to customer needs; and

• eliminating excess support structures to free resources and focus on core competencies.

The Army is trying very hard to avoid using information operations (IO) as a buzzword, Maj. Bodine maintains. The service plans this capability as a functional area, not as a separate “IO branch.” A functional area for information operations specialists has recently been created, and officers at the field-grade level are being trained in how to pull together the various pieces of information technology and systems, he continues. The focal point for this effort is currently the Army’s Land Warfare Information Activity, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Information operations are being implemented through various demonstrations and experiments by the Army. There is no battle laboratory per se for this capability, Col. Elliott observes. However, Army warfighting experiments serve to function as an information operations battle laboratory. The Army triad operates with an information operations campaign plan, dividing up and assigning units the responsibility for developing doctrine and capabilities. This is a living plan, constantly changing as some items are completed and others are added.

Maj. Bodine clarifies that field support teams of information experts are being assigned by the Army to various units as campaign planners for commanders. As the information operations officer cadre expands in what is called functional area 30, he says, this element will become organic to commands at the division and corps levels. These individuals are trained to provide expertise on how to execute information operations on the battlefield. As part of exercises and training, red teams try to disrupt Army networks while others seek to protect the networks from disruption or penetration.

Because of the limited pool of trained information operations personnel and a competitive employment environment in today’s economy, the Army is involved in identifying those persons in the Reserve and National Guard with industry job experience and skills in computer network security, the major says. Once identified, these individuals could be used to augment computer emergency response teams as part of their Reserve training obligation.

The Reserve component initiative, Maj. Bodine relates, uses acquired civilian skills to address emerging needs of command and control protection. These skills involve commercial network proficiency, employment of information assurance tools, identification of system and architecture vulnerabilities, intrusion methods expertise, identification of specialized aspects related to computer crime, Microsoft operating systems and software certification. Other related skills include system and network security, tactical packet switch network proficiency and analysis of network architectures.

One of the keys to success on the battlefield is to leverage information operations to improve a commander’s knowledge of the battlespace to enhance mental agility. Warfighting experiments are helping to refine the important techniques involved, Col. Elliott comments. Although the basic nature of war remains unchanged, its character is in constant transition, these two Army officers believe. Information itself is becoming a strategic resource vital to national security. This reality extends to warfighters at all levels.

Everyone shares in computer network defense activities, which is the object of keen interest at the highest levels of the Army. There are Army and regional computer emergency response teams as operational elements to assist commanders, Maj. Bodine says. The Army system of systems brings new vulnerabilities from commercial software products within each of the systems that must be detected and defended. The computer emergency response teams provide rapid response and connectivity on a 24-hour basis, he stresses.

As a proactive measure, the Army conducts vulnerability assessments of various networks and briefs the commanders on the status of their networks. Information operations officers provide knowledge about the latest vulnerabilities that are surfacing such as attacks from viruses and worms, Maj. Bodine adds. Technical expertise is available from a range of sources, including commercial vendors. Usually, the Army reacts to network threats before they emerge in a public forum.

Working with software vendors, the Army develops a series of antiviral products and constantly works on solutions to recognized problems. There is a way to distribute these products electronically to Army units immediately, Maj. Bodine asserts. The reaction time to develop effective solutions against possible network threats continues to shrink, he insists.

Some potential adversaries are quickly exploiting information and information system technologies such as telecommunications, automated data processing, sophisticated decision aids, remote sensors and related capabilities, Col. Elliott comments. This spectrum of applied technologies involves established radio frequency, microwave, satellite, coaxial and optical fiber transmission systems to new generations of digital and advanced personal communications systems.

The availability and relatively low cost of information technologies in world markets increase the likelihood that they will be used by potential adversaries against the Army. These technologies are finding their way into advanced command and control systems as components of advanced weapon systems and in offensive information warfare capabilities, Col. Elliott explains.

Both Col. Elliott and Maj. Bodine agree that dependence on information and information systems as well as the exposure of vulnerabilities to a full range of threats bring focus and relevance to Army information operations. The Army’s fast-track approach of demonstrating selected technology with moderate risk results in quick transition to development. The unique characteristics of information operations are setting in motion revolutionary capabilities that will enhance and support Army warfighting into the next century.