In the past few years there has been much discussion over how the traditional intelligence (N-2) role on a carrier strike group (CSG) staff has been affected by its realignment under a post-command captain (O-6) Information Warfare (IW) officer as the IW Commander (IWC).1 The March 2019 Proceedings Podcast debate between Captains Cliff Bean and Henry Stephenson invited commentary by CSG N-2s who have operated under the new construct. This is our first-hand insight of the concept in practice to supplement the arguments on both sides of the issue. Based on our observations as CSG N-2s with vastly different workup and deployment experiences, we feel the alignment is working to the advantage of naval intelligence and the broader IW community.
The alignment of all CSG staff IW officers—the N-2, the communications officer (N-6), the meteorology and oceanography (METOC) officer, and the information operations (N-39) officer—under the IWC strengthened their individual functional areas and enhanced the cross-IW integration needed to succeed in great power competition. Although some within naval intelligence remain concerned the IWC is an additional “filter” that may slow or distort intelligence reporting to the CSG commander, we did not see that occur. Moreover, the new IWC Tactical Memo (October 2018) standardized N-2 alignment under the IWC and empowers the CSG staff O-5 intelligence officer to more effectively provide intelligence to decision makers. It also expands the N2’s responsibility to be the functional head for battlespace awareness.
From Workups through Deployment
During the work-up cycle, the IWC was a tremendous resource in helping resolve intelligence manning, training, and equipping challenges. This was particularly apparent during the work-up cycle milestones, including reports and briefings at 270, 180, and 90 days before the strike group deployed; and the command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) briefings where they provided forceful backup in engaging with senior fleet and type-commander leaders. The O-6 IWC was a strong advocate directly in tune with our day-to-day intelligence challenges and well positioned to exert additional influence when needed.
During deployment, alignment under the IWC was also a great advantage. We had the autonomy to lead the CSG intelligence enterprise with the benefit of a warfare commander as a direct advocate. Throughout both our tours and many months of deployment, in different regions and under several different IWCs of multiple officer restricted line designators, we do not recall a single incident where any IWC attempted to screen, influence, or give their own intelligence assessments. IWCs did ask questions of our analysts that required further research to answer, but that is no different than our admirals and other warfare commanders.
The IWC construct’s greatest benefit is that it unites the IW staff elements into a closer-knit team than previously existed. Throughout our tours there were many matters that required integrating IW functions. For example, on deployment our N-2 teams coordinated daily with the METOC team to incorporate atmospheric and oceanographic effects into intelligence assessments, with the N-39 and N-6 updating our tactical situation assessments on potential threats to CSG communications and the electromagnetic spectrum. During maintenance and work-up phases, we worked closely to plan common training events, develop IW tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and doctrine. It may have been possible to accomplish some of this as independent staff N-heads without an IWC, but the level of readiness would have been diminished.
Focused Collection Operations
The value of the IWC construct was especially apparent during focused collection operations (FCOs)—events that have been undertaken more frequently in recent years to maximize naval tactical collection capabilities and organic CSG battlespace awareness. For Commander Pacific Fleet and Commander Fifth Fleet’s premier FCOs in 2018, the CSG-1 and CSG-9 IWCs were designated supported warfare commanders, respectively, driving close integration of IW functions across all strike group platforms throughout the stages of planning and execution. The process started with the N-2 and METOC team conducting extensive joint intelligence preparation of the environment (JIPOE). The CSG N-2 collection managers selected CSG collection assets, determined optimal positioning, spearheaded coordination across subordinate and external commands, and led the concept-of-operations development. The N-6 team determined command-and-control processes, including the collection data transmission architecture. Finally, the N-39 team managed resources and electromagnetic spectrum assessments in real time.
The IWC directed the FCO from the aircraft carrier’s supplementary plot adjacent to the task force command center, dynamically retasking collection assets as needed based on evolving conditions. Ultimately, this IWC-driven planning and execution led to highly successful missions. These missions could have been successfully executed with independent N-heads forming an operational planning team. However, CSG unity of command, economy of force, and integration of IW functions would have been more complex
As with any tactical operation, tension occurred between warfare commanders when prioritizing asset allocation and positioning. Without the IWC designated as the supported commander, the bargaining for intelligence collection assets would not have been a level playing field. With an IWC, we were able to execute the operational order and make tactical decisions in real time to control ships and aircraft. If nothing else, this process would have been slower and less productive without the IWC construct.
Protecting the N-2’s Independence with an Expanded Role
Concerning the N2’s role as an intelligence advisor to the CSG commander, we both had close relationships with our admirals. While deployed, our daily battle rhythm included 3–4 short intelligence updates to the admiral, and we could always drop by the admiral’s cabin to personally brief him on matters requiring urgent attention. We usually notified the IWC beforehand if possible, but never delayed updates if timeliness was an issue. We never felt our role as the admiral’s principal intelligence advisor was being usurped. At the evening warfare commanders’ board, for example, the O-6 leaders—including the IWC—sat at the head table along with the N-2. The admiral called on the O-6 leaders to provide their updates during this forum, and the IWC provided a general update on operational matters across the IW functional areas. However, for any question requiring intelligence or analytical insight, we routinely led the conversation.
As previously mentioned, N-2 alignment under the IWC has now been formalized with the 2018 publication of the IWC Tactical Memo. This doctrine still cites Naval Warfare Publication 2-01: Intelligence Support to Naval Operations as the primary reference for CSG intelligence operations. It holds the N-2 responsible to the CSG commander and subordinate warfare commanders for all intelligence and cryptologic personnel assigned to CSG subordinate units, and for directing all intelligence operations during deployment and integrated portions of the work-up cycle. In the CSG O-5 intelligence officer’s new battlespace awareness role, he or she retains the traditional missions defined in NWP 2-01, including indications and warning, intelligence preparation of the operational environment, target intelligence, operational intelligence, collection management, and assessments—while gaining responsibility for the physical environment characteristics that the METOC enterprise provides in the geospatial, electromagnetic, and acoustic realms. The N-2 also gains an additional billet—maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance officer—to conduct collection operations. Therefore, the O-5 intelligence officer is empowered with additional resources, a broader scope of responsibility, and a clear-cut commanding, rather than just advising, position.
Finally, we believe the battle space awareness officer could provide better support to the CSG commander and warfare commanders if the IWC was broken off the CSG staff and into an independent IW squadron (IWRON) command, similar to the destroyer squadron and carrier air wing—separate afloat commands that assume warfare commander roles in the CSG construct. The IWRON would likely embark the carrier at the same time the CSG staff does during the early work-up cycle, and IWRON staff would provide the same level of support they currently do. While disembarked, the IWRON staff could continue to provide battlespace awareness, assured command-and-control, and integrated fires support—while enjoying additional autonomy to advance IW-related doctrine and TTPs that will ensure maximum IW capability is brought to the fight during work-ups and deployment.
Although staff personality dynamics will continue to shape how each CSG staff conducts business, standardizing the IWC afloat structure with a Tactical Memo helps transcend personalities by clarifying roles across the fleet. Furthermore, this standardization will help ensure intelligence manning, training, and equipage are resourced as needed to deliver maximum warfighting effectiveness.
With more authorities, continued access and influence with the CSG commander and warfare commanders, and the support of the O-6 IWC, the future of the battlespace awareness officer (N-2) under the IWC construct is bright.
1. Henry Stephenson, “Masters or Jacks? Treating the Information Dominance Corps as a General Warfare Competency Risks Weakening the Skill Sets of Its Specialists.” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 140, no. 10 (October 2014); William R. Bray, “Intelligence is Not Warfare!”, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 142, no. 11 (December 2016); Tony Butera, “Navy Information Warfare Needs More Resources—and Command at Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 1 (January 2019); Henry Stephenson, “Navy Information Warfare: A Decade of Indulging a False Analogy,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 1 (January 2019).