Succeeding in the Human Domain

By Sergeant Dion J. Edon Jr., U.S. Marine Corps

The addition of MISO to the Marine Expeditionary Unit capability set has had an immediate positive impact on the operational design aspect of planning Joint and Combined military operations and it has led to a much more refined approach to intelligence and operations integration for the MEU commander. . . . The MISO mission and support provides me [with] critical context, insight, and validation of various levels of information for use in the planning and execution phases. As a key part of a networked organization, it provides timely, value-added tools that enable asymmetric advantages to the MEU or MAGTF level of operations. 1

Although the Marine Corps has seen the value of having MISO professionals augment its staffs, there are still serious challenges to effectively employing them. MISOs are enduring campaigns, the effects of which may not be seen for weeks, months, or years. Furthermore, approval for new MISO programs rests with the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and can take significant time. The confluence of the MEU’s role as a crisis-response platform and the fact that approval for MISO campaigns is a long process means that MEUs cannot use MISOs to influence foreign audiences in a timely and responsive manner.

Old Domain, New Name

According to the Marine Corps Operating Concept for Information Operations, “Future conflict will be dominated by wars fought among the people, where the objective is not to crush an opponent’s war-making ability but to influence a population’s ideas.” 2 General James Mattis expressed a similar sentiment: “We must recognize that the information warfare, the battle for the hearts and minds of the global audience, is just as heavy a priority as the military operation itself and the tactical events on the battlefield must feed the narrative.” 3 We must ask ourselves where this fight is taking place: air, sea, land, cyber, or somewhere else? The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) gave this warfare arena a new name: the human domain. Though the Marine Corps is comfortable operating along the entire spectrum of warfare areas, it has effectively ceded the high ground to opponents who have a superior understanding of maneuver in the human domain.

According to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the human domain focuses on “the perceptions, decision-making, and behavior” of “individuals, groups, and populations” (IGPs) who “exercise agency within the area of operations or beyond it in a way that can impact U.S., partner, and adversary interests.” It believes that warfare success relies on operating in this domain in an effective manner, which in turn relies on “identifying and influencing relevant IGPs to support U.S. goals.” 4 Furthermore, Major General Robert B. Brown, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, has opined that “the human domain is the only domain that can lead to victory.” 5

The Marine Corps should accept this area as an official focus and develop an operating concept to maneuver in it. To do so, the Marine Corps should support USSOCOM’s conception of cognitive joint force entry (CJFE), an approach that aims to “first understand the population within the context of the operational environment and then take meaningful action to effectively influence human behavior toward achieving the desired outcome.” 6 It does this through persistent access and engagement with target audiences to establish “cognitive depth,” engendering favorable perceptions of U.S. goals; “cognitive security,” engendering favorable behaviors to support U.S. goals; and “cognitive resiliency,” inoculating a population against enemy propaganda, in relevant IGPs. Persistent engagement to develop cognitive depth, security, and resiliency would allow the Marine Corps to “provide the United States with information and influence activities to gain greater strategic depth, provide enhanced security, and set favorable conditions for follow-on actions.” 7 The adoption of CJFE would give focus to MISO efforts from a MEU.

Improve MISO Training

To succeed in the human domain, MISO Marines must be forward deployed in austere environments, operate in a culturally attuned manner, and conduct rigorous multi-source target-audience analysis to support CJFE. This would require changes in how the Marine Corps trains and retains its MISO Marines, which can be achieved by the following:

Step one. Institutionalize MISO by making it a primary MOS. Currently, MISO Marines serve a three-year tour at MCIOC, after which they return to their primary MOS without the credit of a B-billet or other career recognition. Because of this, the retention rate for MISO Marines is 0 percent, due to the fact that it is not a primary MOS. Therefore, the Marine Corps loses an Army Special Operations Forces–trained Marine to the civilian contracting world, Army SOF, or the fleet, where their MISO-specific knowledge is unavailable. The MISO MOS should become a primary MOS with warrant and limited-duty officer opportunities so that the Marine Corps can retain its investment in behavioral experts who can support senior-level staff with technical expertise and advice. This would also allow the cadre to more quickly grow from the couple dozen trained MISO Marines to target levels. MISO NCOs should also be groomed as future Foreign Area Staff NCOs, where they can continue to put their cross-cultural expertise, interagency fluency, and behavioral understanding to good use.

Step two. MISO Marines should be regionally focused and language-qualified like their ARSOF counterparts, as language is a substantial part of understanding culture and influencing target-audience behavior.

Step three. Use MISO Marines to support Marine Corps Planning Process, Military Decision Making Process, and Joint Operational Planning and Execution Systems wargaming through strategic target-audience analysis. Fighting in the human domain requires that Marines understand how to predict the ways people will respond to their actions. Fortunately, a method to model how people will react to a course of action already exists: the strategic target-audience analysis, which has been validated by 20 years of research, wartime experience, and recognized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office as an effective formula.8 MISO Marines are trained in what the U.K. government deems Tier 2 and 3 target-audience analysis; however, the most effective target-audience analysis is Tier 1, which is taught at the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communications in Riga, Latvia. Tier 1 target-audience analysis is:

A multi-source, scientifically verified, diagnostic methodology undertaken in-country and in host language, and it is used to identify specific motivations for behavior. The output of Tier 1 target audience analysis is information deduced from methodically gathered data, which is tested against a scientifically derived hypothesis. 9

With a professional cadre of MISO Marines who are forward-deployed, dedicated to understanding and influencing relevant populations, and have a coherent operating concept for employment, the Marine Corps will be able to support our nation’s efforts to deter and defeat our adversaries. The human domain is the only area that can lead to victory; it is time we start fighting in it.

1. Email interview with Vance L. Cryer, 25 September 2015.

2. Erik D. Eldridge, “Marine Corps Combat Development and Integration, Marine Corps Operating Concept for Information Operations (ADA578)” (Quantico, VA: U.S. Government Printing Office), 4 February 2013,[1].pdf.

3. Vago Muradian, “Interview with Gen. James Mattis, Commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command,” Defense News , 23 May 2010, .

4. U.S. Army Special Operations Command, “SOF support to political warfare” (Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 10 March 2015, .

5. COL F. C. Dummar, USA, “Building the Human Domain Multi-Tool: Recruiting for Special Forces,” (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2013), .

6. U.S. Army Special Operations Command, “Cognitive Joint Force Entry” (Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Government Printing Office), 26 September 2014, .

7. Ibid.

8. Steve Tatham, “Using Target Audience Analysis to Aid Strategic Level Decision Making” (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Government Printing Office, 25 August 2015), .

9. Ibid.

Sergeant Edon is an infantry rifleman stationed at the Marine Corps Information Operations Center in Quantico, Virginia. His past deployments include two tours as the Company Level Intelligence Cell Chief for Echo Company, 2d Battalion, 6th Marines, and a deployment as a MISO noncommissioned officer supporting the 15th MEU, CTF-51, NAVCENT, SPMAGTF-CR-CC, CJTF-OIR, and JSOTF-AP.




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