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Disruptive by Design: Transcending Cyber

The Cyber Edge
February 1, 2021
By Maj. Brian Kerg, USMC


Elevate Cyber Organizations to Encompass the Entire Information Environment


The Defense Department has an information warfare (IW) problem. While the information environment continues to grow exponentially in importance and ubiquity, rapidly transforming the character of competition and war, there is no organization within the department that directs, synchronizes and coordinates IW planning and operations.

U.S. Cyber Command serves this very purpose for cyber operations, as do its service components. But this necessarily anchors the focus of American IW on a single information related capability (IRC), at the expense of the many other IRCs and their ability to generate military advantage.

This lack of IW cohesion has bled down into the service cyber components, resulting in stratified approaches to organizing themselves for IW. The Air Force previously had separate numbered Air Forces for cyber and intelligence functions but consolidated them in 2019 under the 16th Air Force/Air Forces Cyber. While remaining cyber-centric, the 16th Air Force incorporates other IRCs, including electronic warfare, information operations, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Army Cyber Command is eponymously focused on offensive and defensive cyber operations, but it is broadening itself to reinvigorate the Army’s electronic warfare capabilities. By late 2021, it will focus on IW more broadly and aims to integrate cyber, information operations and electronic warfare by 2028.

The Department of the Navy further highlights the misalignment in cyber and IW. Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet integrates three specific IRCs—cyber, signals intelligence and space operations. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has different IW approaches at different levels of war. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command supports offensive and defensive cyber operations for the joint force, as well as network operations for Marine Corps networks. The Marine Corps Information Operations Center provides holistic IW subject matter expertise that can be made available across the service, while tactical units at the Marine Expeditionary Force level and below receive IW support from expeditionary force information groups.

While U.S. Cyber Command and the primacy of cyber generated an exceptional U.S. capability for military cyberspace operations, it leaves far too much military advantage on the table. There is no coherent, unified approach to IW within the Defense Department, hobbling any attempt to achieve superiority within the information environment and build a greater information advantage relative to America’s adversaries. This point becomes starker when comparing the American vision for IW with that of Russia and China, which have mature, unified, whole-of-government approaches to IW that continue to yield competitive advantage.

To rectify this, Cyber Command must transcend cyber and take on the full scope of IW by deliberately evolving into U.S. Information Warfare Command with a mission to direct, synchronize and coordinate IW planning and operations. While cyber will remain a key capability, this will permit all IRCs to be similarly developed and employed as part of a holistic, coherent and threat-informed approach to IW that can better compete with other great powers. In turn, the service components will reorganize themselves to align with the Information Warfare Command and consistently provide integrated IW to the joint force and to their own tactical formations. In this way, IW will mature into a game-changing warfighting asset. In phase zero, steady-state operations, IW will provide a means to meaningfully compete with adversaries, consistently win the battle of the narrative and ensure the U.S. remains the military, diplomatic and economic partner of choice for all nations. In decisive combat operations, this mature IW capability will enable the U.S. to maximally exploit the information environment, influence and disrupt adversary decision making and pursue cognitive defeat mechanisms.

Maj. Brian Kerg, USMC, is a Marine Corps officer and writer currently serving as the fleet amphibious communications officer, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He is a nonresident fellow at Marine Corps University’s Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity. Follow or contact him on Twitter @BrianKerg.

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