Email this Article Email   

CHIPS Articles: Harnessing Information Power

Harnessing Information Power
Leveraging Information Dominance Warfare as an Instrument of Naval Power
By U.S. Navy Captains James H. Mills and Danelle Barrett - January-March 2015
“Information is power” or so says the age-old quote. Over the past five years, the U. S. Navy has made great strides in shaping and delivering greater Information Dominance (ID) warfighting capabilities to the fleet and to the combatant commanders. ID brings together a focused effort of capabilities delivering Assured Command and Control (C2), enhanced Battlespace Awareness, and effective Integrated Fires.

We are at a critical stage in our use of information to fight and win wars, and information power has matured into a key component of maritime power. Given the importance of maritime power in the National Security Strategy and the growing dependence the world has on the information domain, it is vital that the Navy increases investment in ID capabilities and further expands the operational use of ID Warfare (IDW).

Information domain refers to the maneuver space of information; this includes physical systems like cyberspace (the space comprised of the Internet, computers, RF and other electromagnetic transmission systems), information as a product the fuels decision-making and planning processes, and information as the foundation for intelligence analysis and understanding of the physical environment that leads to knowledge.

Information Dominance Warfare is the integration of Information Warfare, Intelligence collection and analysis, Information Operations, Electronic Warfare, Spectrum Management, Computer Network Defense, Communications Security, Information Management, and understanding of the physical environment into a focused area of military operations. IDW can be both a supporting and supported warfare area.

Information power is something our nation, its military, and our peers have long sought. This concept, to which the Navy is fostering under the term “information dominance,” is not new. Gaining operational advantage over an adversary using information has been integral to military operations for generations, and military commanders have generally relied on the trade craft of intelligence to accomplish this. A classic example of how an information advantage, specifically the use of cryptology, turned the tide is at the Battle of Midway. Here a U.S. fleet overmatched in military hardware and platforms not only defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy, but also turned the tide of the war in the Pacific. Conversely, changing an adversary’s perception of the battlespace through information shaping and deception (what is commonly known as information warfare) is another critical tool for military strategy and operations. An example of this was the deception of Hitler and the Wehrmacht in the location, timing, and strength of the Allied invasion of Europe through deliberate application and control of the information domain.

“Command” is not effective without “control,” and a commander cannot attain coherent understanding of the battlespace or assure C2 without secure communications, timely transfer of intelligence, a shared situational awareness of the battlespace, protected internal collaboration and planning capabilities, and trustworthy combat systems. The most effective military operations take into account and adapt to the operational forces’ physical environment on land, at sea, and in the air or space.

Having an integrated understanding of the complex physical environment (weather, currents, electromagnetic interference, ducting, ice flows, terrain) is crucial to the effectiveness of any operation. History is replete with examples of how weather, oceanography, the electromagnetic environment, and terrain have direct consequences if not taken into account by a military force.

Recognizing the need to advance information-related capabilities, the Navy fused the information domain disciplines of intelligence, cryptology, communications, meteorology and oceanography to deliver capabilities that better exploit the strengths of each holistically. One outcome of this fusion is the establishment of the Information Dominance Corps (IDC) comprised of the OCEANO, Information Warfare, Information Professional, and Intelligence officer communities, the supporting enlisted ratings (Aerographer’s Mate, Cryptographic Technicians, Information Systems Technicians and Intelligence Specialists), and the talents of the associated civilian workforce.

The Navy also organizationally aligned for increased effectiveness by establishing the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6), U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet as the commander overseeing ID operational commands (Naval Computer and Telecommunications Stations, Network Information Operations Commands, Intel Centers, Fleet Weather Centers), the new Information Dominance Forces Command (IDFOR) Type Commander, and the Navy’s elements of the national Cyber Mission Force.

These actions lead to a more integrated and inter-disciplinary approach to the development of information domain requirements, resourcing, tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and capability delivery. Some examples of these capabilities include the expansion of autonomous vehicles (X-47B, unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs), MQ-4C Triton) and sensing capabilities, the revitalization of Navy’s networks through programs like the Next Generation Enterprise Network and the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services, the development of enhanced electronic warfare and cyber warfare capabilities, and improvements in the timeliness and relevance of operational intelligence products.

“OK, so if information power is not something really new, what’s the big deal about ID?” says the skeptic. A nation’s ability to understand and exploit the information domain has been a constant in warfighting for generations. The Navy recognized this in its formative information-centric initiatives starting in the 1990s with Copernicus Forward, Information Technology for the 21st Century, and FORCEnet.

The difference today is the pervasiveness of information technology and the voracity with which information influences all elements of national power. Today’s political, economic, social, and military affairs are shaped by the sheer volume and ubiquity of information now available to the world’s population. A general estimate is that the volume of information humans is creating is doubling every two years and exceeds our ability to capture and store all known information.

Through Internet advancements, global explosion of mobile communications and social media, industry’s reliance on information technology, and the rise of a Millennial generation that thinks and acts in “digital think,” the ability to shape, maneuver within, and control the information domain is increasingly more challenging. The stakes are higher for modern nations given the significant reliance on information technology in financial markets, utilities and energy industries, and global outsourcing industries— which all require trustworthy and timely information exchange. Adversaries are prepared to exploit these capabilities. Without “dominance” of the information domain, our nation will cede a strategic advantage and limit our ability to achieve military strategic objectives.

Again… enter the skeptic: “Give me an example of harnessing this ‘information power.’ How does information dominance improve something?” One example of harnessing information power is in the automotive industry. Look at where this industry is going with modern automobiles, which are far more complex than the Space Shuttle. Global Positioning System (GPS), traffic information, and vehicle navigation systems positively impacted the effectiveness of shipping companies, added convenience and time savings for consumers, and increased fuel efficiency (better routing leads to fewer emissions and cost savings).

Internal vehicle communications increased safety, added conveniences, and now inter-vehicle communications prevent collisions and save lives. Information technology advances warn drivers of road hazards, increase the performance and efficiency of modern engines, and are leading to self-driving cars. The industry’s ability to harness the information domain leads to advances in design and manufacturing where the automaker can tailor vehicles to consumer preferences, minimize design and engineering costs, and build vehicles that are more profitable and higher in performance.

None of these advances can take place without the auto industry understanding and exploiting its information domain. Like the Navy, the auto industry must also assure C2 and communications within these systems. Just think of a hacker being able to spoof navigation systems or shut off vital systems like a car’s brakes. The auto industry must maintain a high level of “information dominance” in order to avoid a staggering legal liability, ensure the safety of its consumers, and meet shareholders financial expectations.

ID is critical to every aspect of Naval warfighting. Whether it is the flight control and navigation of a Tomahawk missile, the software and networks that control a Joint Strike Fighter, the steering and damage control systems of surface combatants, or the information exchange to an SSBN supporting nuclear deterrence, ID capabilities and personnel are embedded within each mission thread. The traditional warfighting enterprises of Naval Aviation, Surface Warfare, Submarine Warfare, and Special and Expeditionary Warfare all depend upon ID capabilities being trustworthy and resilient.

ID is unique in that it is the only warfighting domain that crosses all the other warfighting enterprises in both a supporting and supported role depending on the specific operation. It is vital to all warfighting enterprises that the Navy has a strong and credible IDC and IDW capability set. Traditional warfighting capabilities require timely intelligence and understanding of the environment, secure and reliable communications, and trustworthy and defensible C2 capabilities. Whether it is our desire to defeat an adversary’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities or master a war at sea strike, the commander needs confidence in his C2 processes and the sensing and intelligence that describes the battlespace.

Not only is ID integral to every warfare domain, it is also a maturing warfare domain in its own right. We’ve seen the strategic impact when the information domain is compromised by leaks of national security information through insiders, financial losses by banks when credit card systems are hacked, loss of competitive economic advantage when trade secrets are exfiltrated or reverse engineered by other nations, and when national infrastructure is disrupted by cyber-attacks. In none of these cases were kinetic strike a prime factor; no ordnance was dropped, missiles launched, or guns fired. Without firing a single projectile, espionage or cyber-attack can have devastating economic or strategic effects on a modern nation.

While it is difficult to match the U.S. in conventional forces, cyber operations present an opportunity to be a great equalizer. It is more enticing to nations and terrorists, given the relatively low barrier of entry, to build disruptive cyber capabilities. Our Navy has long protected the homeland from nuclear attack or disruptions to sea lines of communications. It must also stand ready to defend our nation’s information domain and be prepared to go on the offensive when necessary.

Attaining predominance in the information domain is not an inexpensive proposition simply due to changing information technology. The many permutations that an adversary may use to channel and exploit the information domain and its technical nature necessitates a cadre of highly educated and trained Sailors, officers and civilians. It is easy to presume that the details of building and operating information domain capabilities can be out-sourced or left to industry partners. The reality is that the Navy must raise the level of investment in the human capital that supports the information domain as well as the software, hardware, and platforms that deliver effects and support traditional warfighting.

Just like the boiled frog, there is the perception that the information domain can easily be harnessed, with minimum investment, by out-sourcing critical functions to contractors or reliance on other agencies, or through resourcing information domain work roles with personnel whose principal training and expertise is not within the IDC-related disciplines.

We often see stories in the media complaining of high software costs or the inability to deliver a large information technology project on time. Were there Information Dominance Warriors, experts skilled in the information domain, in positions of leadership on those projects? Would we build jet fighters or a nuclear-powered ship without experienced aviators and nuclear engineers overseeing these projects? In both cases, the answer is no.

So what must be done so the Navy remains on track and stays ahead of the competition?

Standardize the IDW Commander within the Composite Warfare Commander structure. The Navy should rally around a single approach to integrating IDW within the tactical and operational levels of war. Establish within our strike groups and fleet commanders staffs an IDW commander, which integrates the N2, N6, meteorology and N39 functions in a manner that removes the existing seams. The benefit is a higher level of integration of these capabilities in support to the Commander, a cross-pollination of talent, and maximizing information domain capabilities vice having independent activities hidden behind Napoleonic lines of operation.

Increase investment in the IDC and optimize the talent. Today IDC officers and Sailors comprise 7 percent of the Navy’s end strength. The Navy continues to operate and manage ID-related specialties outside of the IDC as independent communities, such as electronics technicians, electronics and communications Limited Duty Officers, and others who specialize in acquisition oversight of ID capabilities. Aboard many of our ships and squadrons, we operate with Communications Officers, Electronic Warfare Officers, and Electronic Materiel Officers manned by traditional URL officers with limited experience or training specific to the information domain.

The pace of technology change and dynamics of our adversaries’ tactics call for greater expertise and experience from Petty Officer through Admiral. Ship COs see the tip of the iceberg with this in feedback from ongoing Cyber Security Inspections, in which 99 percent of the fleet fails. This is not about billets, it is about ensuring we maintain reliable C2 and shared situational awareness. This demands a highly information savvy and professionalized cadre of talent. This situation can easily be corrected by (1) aligning ET, electronics LDO, and C4I EDOs to fall under the IDC umbrella; and (2) shifting junior officer COMMO, EWO, and EMO billets in our combatants and aviation squadrons to the IDC.

The fleet would benefit from these alignments because the expertise will be focused on enhancing warfighting readiness and building an IDC with greater proficiency from the most junior levels. The approach must be disciplined akin to how the nuclear power enterprise established the technical expertise needed to realize robust fleet nuclear power capabilities.

Increase investment in development of IDW tactics and training. To establish the world’s preeminent combat aviators, the Navy created the Navy Strike Air Warfare Center, Top Gun, a rigorous and disciplined aviation training pipeline that fostered aviation camaraderie and culture. To establish the world’s preeminent Special Operations Warrior, the Navy developed a rigorous and disciplined SEAL training pipeline, a dynamic capability integration approach, and an unmatched warrior ethos. In IDW, the Navy must also invest in a continuum of training, tactical proficiency and culture of warfighting.

Initial work on the IDW career continuum is in progress to retool accessions courses, the basic schools, training pipelines, and IDC qualifications. Follow through and a committed investment in this continuum must ensue. This effort could be reinforced through establishing an IDW Readiness Manual to guide individual and unit training and readiness.

Retool warfighting capability investment from an information ecosystem lens. It is old news now that fiscal realities will pressure programs of record to deliver with smaller budgets. DoD has a long history of developing programs independently. Those programs that touch the information domain must be scrutinized for their ability to act as good citizens within the information ecosystem. The Navy and the DoD built an ecosystem in which our information intensive and combat systems operate. To ensure the Navy does not waste excessive resources or disable a ship from some information systems incompatibility, it is imperative that IDC expertise is resident in key positions that oversee the requirements generation, development, testing, and deployment of ID capabilities.

The IDC should be fully engaged in unmanned vehicle/autonomous vehicle requirements definition, development and delivery as most of these platforms are principally information sensors and nodes that must be integrated into the information domain.

Stabilize ID-related organizational alignment. The Navy has conducted a series of organizational changes as ID concepts and capabilities matured. At Navy headquarters, we experienced the disestablishment of the N6 directorate and alignment with N7, the reestablishment of the N6 directorate as a separate staff element, and the most recent merger of the N2 and N6 directorates. We’ve seen the establishment of Naval Network Warfare Command as the first information domain type commander and the associated subsuming of Naval Security Group, Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Stations, and Naval Space Command. We then saw the emergence of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, the U.S. 10th Fleet, and Navy Cyber Forces.

Today, we are on the verge of another alignment that will establish the Information Dominance Forces Command Type Commander. These were all necessary “growing pains” as the Navy developed the right focus and dedicated organizations to oversee operations and maneuver within the information domain. An unintended side effect of these constant realignments is difficulty in meeting desired capability and operational delivery goals with the constant distractions of organizational change. It’s best to stabilize the organizational construct, their associated missions, functions, and tasks, and keep a steady helm so that capabilities envisioned by the ID strategies can be realized.

Prepare for technology change. One thing that is constant within the ID is rapid technology change. For example, the technologies of nuclear power, which came from the Manhattan Project in the 1940s, though improved, largely remain the same as they were decades ago. Technology change in the ID is highly dynamic. Today’s digital computers in your pocket (smart phones, smart watches, smart glasses) are several orders of magnitude more advanced than the ballistic computers of World War II and the first generation of digital computers in the late 1940s.

Telecommunications advances in optoelectronics (fiber optics, lasers), wireless mobility, and improved satellite communications all laid the groundwork for the explosion of data we see today across the emerging Internet of Things (where every appliance, device, sensor, and vehicle is “wired” to the Internet).

Sensing and artificial intelligence, or machine learning, continue to advance at a tremendous rate leading to advances in AVs, biometrics, medical diagnosis, industrial control systems, and even game show contestants. In the last example, IBM’s Watson computer system was specifically developed to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy! in 2011. Watson competed against former winners and received the first place prize of $1 million.

Without unique arrangements to exploit our nation’s commercial and academic research base, the Navy risks falling behind. The ID enterprise must ensure the Navy fosters relationships to take advantage of such opportunities through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, fellowships, dedicated research and development funding, and partnerships with industry consortia and professional organizations.


In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, April 16, 2013, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus pointed out that “Whether ashore, in the air, on or under the world’s oceans, or in the vast cyberspace, the Navy-Marine Corps team operates forward, as America’s ‘Away Team,’ to protect our national interests, respond to crises, deter conflict, prevent war, or, when necessary, fight and win.”

The “Away Team” needs a clear picture of the other team’s game plan, knowledge about how our team matches up against the other players, a flexible zone defense, and a good read of field conditions. ID is that “secret sauce” that brings to bear intelligence capabilities to understand the opposing team’s game plan and tendencies, allows assured C2 and Integrated Fires in our play execution, and understanding of the environment so that we know how best to position our players.

While technology is important, it’s the people and processes that matter most. The Navy has a unique opportunity to shape the future of warfare and meet its global demands by leveraging ID warfare as an instrument of naval power. To be predominant in modern naval operations and warfare, the Navy must be masters of the information domain.

Capt. Danelle Barrett is an Information Dominance Corps officer with 25 years experience in communications and information operations. She is the Chief of Staff of Navy Information Dominance Forces Command.

Capt. James Mills is an Information Dominance Corps officer with 23 years experience in fleet combat systems and cyber operations. He currently serves as the Senior Information Professional Detailer.

Capt. Danelle Barrett
Capt. James H. Mills
Related CHIPS Articles
Related DON CIO News
Related DON CIO Policy

CHIPS is an official U.S. Navy website sponsored by the Department of the Navy (DON) Chief Information Officer, the Department of Defense Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI) and the DON's ESI Software Product Manager Team at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

Online ISSN 2154-1779; Print ISSN 1047-9988
Hyperlink Disclaimer