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CHIPS Articles: Developing a New Model for Maritime Tactical Information Dominance

Developing a New Model for Maritime Tactical Information Dominance
By Capt. Danelle Barrett - April-June 2011
In an orchestra, each musician produces exquisite music independently and relies on the conductor to synchronize its effort to achieve a sum greater than its parts. As the Navy moves toward an environment where information dominance has the potential to surpass traditional combat power to achieve operational effects, a new conductor is needed to manage the information cacophony in the tactical environment.

In the same way the conductor synchronizes the efforts of an orchestra, the information warfare commander (IWC) is key to leveraging the tactical advantages of the new information landscape to improve assimilation of information, standardize procedures and use transformational technologies to revolutionize operations. The role of the IWC must be refined within this reality to achieve national strategic, operational and tactical outcomes.

To this end, the Chief of Naval Operations tasked all Navy admirals and vice admirals to take part in the implementation of information dominance in a letter issued March 20, 2011 (3800, Ser NOO/S010l) and to report their progress within the next few months. Each tasking names specific commands to take the lead for each area of responsibility. A few of the CNO's directives include: the development of doctrine and requirements at the operational level of war (OLW) to support information dominance; develop a plan and scope for tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to support information dominance; develop a plan to integrate vigorous, information-intensive training into the Fleet Response Training Plan (FRTP); and develop an approach for dominance environment experimentation.

Currently, information dominance is the squeaky violin of the maritime orchestra, not harmonized for maximum effectiveness. Establishment of the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) in 2009, which combined intelligence, information warfare (IW), information professional (IP) and oceanography officers into one restricted line warfare community provides an opportunity to implement a new IWC construct afloat that improves the use of information as a main operational battery. A senior IDC captain should be that information conductor for the strike group.

The Tactical Information "Conductor"

The role of a strike group IWC in tactical operations requires a revised framework that incorporates both non-kinetic and transformational operational capabilities with tactics, techniques and procedures in a significantly more sophisticated manner than what is done today. With proper direction, and a sustained effort to improve integration of the currently disaggregated information batteries, harmonization will improve speed and accuracy of decision making, shared situational awareness, and the ability to achieve desired operational effects. The IWC should be the conductor providing that reality.

Over the years, the IWC position was filled by officers with varying degrees of expertise. In the past, the IWC function fell under the command and control, communications and computers (C4)/IW department, led by an 0-6 submariner. In some strike groups, the IWC was the commanding officer of the carrier or other ship without an assigned warfare commander role.

Regardless of who had the job, the primary focus was on the pillars of Information Operations (IO) most germane in the maritime environment: tactical military deception, electronic warfare, and computer network operations, specifically computer network defense. In the last five years, N6 and IW billets have decoupled on most strike groups with an IP captain in charge of the C4/N6 department and an IW commander working for the IWC. Recently, some strike groups have designated a senior IP officer as the IWC, retaining the same traditional IO focus, but missing the opportunity to create the tactical information conductor.

The legacy Napoleonic staff structure on strike groups is not agile or responsive enough to achieve the tight integration needed to advance information power, particularly using transformational non-kinetic capabilities. Each department provides information support in its respective specialized, or stovepiped areas, to multiple strike group warfare commanders. In the best circumstances, information “seams” are discovered and course corrected during the planning phases, but seams often emerge at later stages, like during a brief to the commander, or in the most unfortunate cases, during execution.

Since the strike group staff already has the resident expertise representing each core competency of the IDC (several IPs, IWs, intelligence and one oceanography officer), a logical and effective first step is to align their efforts under the direction of the information warfare ommander. The IWC, as supporting commander, would coordinate with other warfare commanders to ensure their requirements are met by these experts, prioritizing their activity based on commander’s guidance. Conversely, depending on the mission and operational requirements, the IWC may be a supported commander for strike group assets and capabilities by other warfare commanders.

Beyond closer integration of the key tenets of information dominance, increased emphasis on use of new technologies and influence operations can revolutionize tactical operations. The responsibility of the IWC must evolve beyond the traditional maritime IO, so that the battlespace is viewed through a new optic. Specific future tasks for the IWC are:

- Creatively combining oceanography, meteorology, hydrography, bathymetry, intelligence, communications and information operations to achieve desired operational effects. A comprehensive analysis of information from these disciplines aligned to support the commander's critical information requirements, mission planning, execution and post operational assessments, would address questions important to mission success sucha as: how are sensor data and other information across all IDC disciplines combined into actionable intelligence for decision makers? Likewise, the threat posed by enemy capabilities in all of these areas must be critically assessed to identify exploitable vulnerabilities.

- Integration of the “Fifth Domain” [“Learning to Operate in Cyberspace,” by Rear Adm. William Leigher, Proceedings, January 2011] of cyberspace operations into planning and mission execution.Maintaining situational awareness of command and control infrastructure requires the IWC to predict, identify and mitigate threats. Threats may be environmental, enemy-imposed or self-induced. The IWC would lead the development and execution of exercise plans to operate in a satellite denied or bandwidth reduced environment and would manage the tactical electromagnetic spectrum to ensure uninterrupted command and control of forces.

- Employment of non-kinetic capabilities for influence operations nested in the larger joint task force and theater strategic communication efforts. This involves close coordination with other warfare commanders to include non-kinetic strikes (leaflets, psychological operations broadcasts, etc.) into the air tasking order and larger battlespace.

- Institutionalize a sustained and purposeful knowledge and information management effort to standardize practices for quality, expeditious information exchange and reuse. The focus should be on improving sharing and synthesis of information among the composite warfare commanders (air, surface, subsurface and strike), and removal of barriers to information sharing internal to the strike group and with external entities including coalition partners. Lastly, there should be an iterative refinement of the strike group battle rhythm to improve speed and accuracy of decision making.

- Leverage transformational technologies, such as social networking tools, for information sharing even in bandwidth limited situations, and unmanned vehicles (UV) for improved situational awareness, kinetic and non-kinetic strike, and communications relay for sustainment of command and control links. While some of these functions are performed in an ad hoc manner in the fleet today, the harmonization of their effects is not always deliberate, planned and measured to adequately gauge effectiveness, and best practices are not institutionalized. Lessons continue to be observed and relearned.

While there are many operational tasking messages promulgated (i.e., the OPTASK IW, Communications, Chat, Information Management, Link, etc.) to address specific elements of the information domain, they are not always comprehensive or fully coordinated. For example, has the OPTASK Communications properly accounted for frequencies used for UVs to prevent interference? Does the OPTASK Information Management include provisions to exchange time-critical products, like imagery or oceanography products, with bandwidth disadvantaged units including coalition partners? How does the strike group disseminate tasking for implementation of strategic communications themes and messages? The IWC should ensure alignment of these tasking orders and institutionalize best practices.

The IWC should also direct the assessment of an adversary's ability to integrate those same information disciplines. For example, does the intelligence preparation of the battlespace account for the enemy’s ability to synchronize its information, or are there vulnerabilities that could be exploited to friendly advantage? The IWC should ensure this type of analysis translates to operational plans and targets of opportunity.

Looking to the Future: Unmanned Vehicles in Maritime Operations and Influence Operations

The Navy is increasingly employing aerial and subsurface UVs for persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, signals intelligence, support to mine warfare, strike and targeting operations, and for undersea environmental sensing and mapping. Systems used or planned include the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV). Use of UVs will significantly complicate the information battlespace without a deliberate strategy for managing sensor feeds and information capabilities. The IWC, at the forefront of developing strategy, would implement tactics, techniques and procedures to leverage transformational capabilities.

For UVs to be a true game-changer for tactical operations, they should be multimission capable with some platforms organic to the strike group. As new UV capabilities with global reach evolve, operational commanders can improve joint sharing of these rare assets with tactical commanders, adding to the UV cluster of resources available for maritime operations. Organic strike group UVs could be rapidly deployed or redirected by the IWC, in coordination with the other warfare commanders, to deny adversaries a tactical advantage.

Ideally, multimission capable, modular carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), with different packages, could be managed by the IWC to perform various functions: ISR platforms to track vessels of interest, an electronic warfare package to jam enemy sensors, or as aerial communications nodes to extend high data rate communications beyond the horizon. When this capability exists inthe future, the IWC would orchestrate their use in operations. Additionally, as interoperability issues between UUVs and existing fleet platforms are resolved, the IWC should understand how to incorporate sensor data from those platforms and use it for executing operations.

A second game-changer for the IWC is the optimized use of strategic communication, including influence operations. Strategic communication starts at the top with the president and National Security Council, who provide doctrine assisting Navy and joint planners in nesting their actions, themes and messages into the higher level influence campaign. There is a tight link between the diplomatic and information elements of national power at the strategic level, and an equally strong link between strategic communication, public affairs and information operations at the operational and tactical levels.

Working with the joint task force and numbered fleet staff, the IWC would ensure that the message sent is the right “non-kinetic fire” for the target audience, is received in a manner that will have the desired impact, and can be measured to validate the effectiveness of both the message and the delivery mechanism. As the IWC coordinates, plans and executes influence operations at the tactical level, nontraditional communications media, such as social networks and microblogging, should be included. Intelligence preparation of the battlespace should consider social network targets with the same level of scrutiny and effort applied to kinetic targeting.

On the tail end, the IWC can improve processes for influence operations battle damage assessment (BDA), conducted with the same rigor used to assess a kinetic strike. The IWC would ensure that the command and control pieces of strike group influence operations are synchronized across all lines of operations and that the plans developed are worked in close coordination with higher authorities. Strategic, operational and tactical plans must be in lockstep, with clearly identified desired effects for strategic communication, including maritime tactical influence operations, to avoid sending conflicting messages to an adversary.

Information is the new game-changer for friendly and enemy forces alike. Maintaining information superiority will provide the tactical advantage for success. Key to this becoming reality is to redefine the IWC role with an IDC officer as the new conductor in operations standardizing techniques, tactics, procedures, doctrine and training across the fleet.

Capt. Barrett is an Information Dominance Corps officer with two previous carrier strike group tours.

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