We Don't Need an IW Commander

By Commander Erik J. Dahl, U.S. Navy

Navy doctrine does not necessarily follow from joint doctrine, but it may be instructive that joint planning calls for information operations (IO) to be coordinated by an IO cell that includes representatives of all required joint staffs and organizations (J-3 Operations Directorate, J-2 Intelligence Directorate, etc.). This concept implies that IO responsibilities are shared by numerous commanders and subject-matter experts. The Air Force, which has invested considerable thought (and money) in information operations planning, also is choosing not to create a new specialty or commander, but to make information dominance an integral component of all mission areas.

The argument may be made that the Navy's composite warfare commander structure requires the designation of a single commander in charge of information warfare and operations—after all, a job generally doesn't get done unless someone is put in charge of it. But the past several years of experience, plus the implications of future warfare in the network-centric age, suggest that information warfare may be too important and too broadly applicable to be assigned to a single commander. The better approach at the battle group level is to encourage all warfare commanders to employ the tools of information and network-centric warfare, while the coordination to achieve coherence is performed at the flag-staff level by the Director of Space, Information Warfare, Command and Control (N6), or perhaps by a new N36 officer (equivalent to the air or surface operations officer).

Attempting to Bound the Problem

The current concept of information warfare includes five key "pillars": electronic warfare, operational security, psychological operations, deception, and physical destruction. These elements encompass a wide (and widely applicable) array of techniques and skills.

Electronic warfare, for example, touches on most naval warfare areas. It probably needs a senior-level advocate, but placing electronic warfare under the IW commander may not be the right way to achieve that advocacy. Operational security and psychological operations, on the other hand, have long been honored in the breach by Navy planners. They deserve more attention, but should they be the tools exclusively of the commander responsible for electronic warfare planning? Deception can involve actions ranging from deceptive troop movements to the employment of sophisticated information-age techniques. Should all such activities be under the purview of the information warfare commander?

Destruction clearly is available to all warfare commanders. This begs the question of whether the other elements also are (or should be) tools used by all commanders and warfare areas. But if they are, what does the IW commander bring to the table that is unique?

Part of the answer may lie in "computer war," which is coming to be termed the sixth element of information warfare. Also known as cyberwar or computer network attack, it is a new, largely unrealized capability, not yet well understood by most commanders. Nonetheless, it seems to be the most distinctive area of IW, and the only one that lends itself to being the exclusive province of a new IW commander. It may be difficult, however, to build a warfare specialty around this capability at the battle group level, because for the foreseeable future, such capabilities most likely will remain under theater-level and strategic planners.

The current Navy approach seems to presume that the five (or six) elements of information warfare are the responsibility exclusively of the IW commander—that is, that the IW commander is "in charge" of planning and execution of all these areas of warfare at this level. But these elements should not be seen just as components of information warfare; they have identities and utilities of their own. Collectively, they support information warfare. The IW commander, therefore, should not be responsible for these elements; they are too widely applicable for that to be the case. The unique responsibility of the IW commander (or coordinator) should be to integrate some activities within these six elements—along with other actions-toward the goal of attaining information dominance, to help achieve the military objective at hand.

Consider, for example, the situation in Iraq. Saddam Hussein's brain may be an information processor, but is an action intended to alter the behavior of that processor by definition an information warfare action—one directed by the IW commander? Should all attempts at altering enemy public opinion fall under that commander? This might require that the bulk of military operations be considered part of IW, because one basic goal of warfare is to force the enemy to change his mind. Some proponents would support that very proposition, but this is not helpful in determining what areas are the responsibility of the IW commander, as opposed to, for instance, the air or special operations commanders.

Can the same commander be responsible for affecting an enemy's computers, his strategic thinking, and his public opinion—using perhaps network attackers in one case, conventional forces in another, and a psychological operations campaign in the third? Many military actions—air campaigns, for example—will have an effect on all of these "information" systems, but they should not be managed by an information warfare specialist.

The requirement in all of these situations is for someone to plan and coordinate a wide variety of supporting initiatives and operations. To alter Saddam's behavior, air, surface, submarine, electronic, psychological, and other operations might be required—each planned and executed by the relevant warfare commander, but centrally coordinated for coherent effect. For the Marine amphibious landing feint in Desert Storm, for example, the IW integrator would see that activities in all warfare areas do not betray the deception, and help plan electronic, air, ground, etc., actions to reinforce the deception. At the command level, this coordination is performed by the battle group commander, but at the working level, we need a specially trained staff officer.'

Principles of Warfare

The Navy must rethink the traditional elements of information warfare. Electronic warfare and destruction should be seen as tools to be used by all commanders. Deception, psychological operations, and operational security are so closely intertwined and mutually supporting that they often are described under the single rubric of perception management, and they should in fact be seen as inseparable. They should not be assigned to a single commander—they are too important and fundamental to all warfare.

Deception, psychological operations, and operational security instead should be seen as principles of war, to be observed by all, in the same way as are offense and mass. Put another way, it would make no sense for one senior officer to be designated the commander in charge of surprise, or for the air warfare commander to be made responsible for maneuver, while the surface commander handles economy of force.

In the Navy, the importance of information in warfare is widely recognized, but the proper response is not to place more and more responsibilities on an IW commander as equivalent to the air, surface, and subsurface communities. Traditional warfare areas will continue to dominate in terms of funding and capability for many years to come, and information warfare is unlikely ever to become equal. Its weapons—defensive and offensive—often will be carried on traditional naval platforms, and those platforms will be owned by someone else.

The effort to develop information warfare into a new warfare specialty is misguided. If the future is network-centric, then all warfare commanders should be on board. Information warfare efforts will need to be coordinated, and the right person may be an N6, combining the C4I functions with command-and-control warfare; or it might be a new, tightly focused coordinating position under the staff N3, in the same way that information operations on the Joint Staff reside under the J-3. Either way, Navy information warriors may find their niche smaller than that currently envisioned in Navy planning but more effective.

Commander Dahl , a naval intelligence officer, is assigned to the staff of U.S. Forces, Korea in Seoul. He recently served as intelligence officer for the Fleet Information Warfare Center in Norfolk, Virginia.

 

 
 

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