Keywords: Information Advantage, Information Operations, doctrine development
To emphasise the complexity of operations in the Information Environment, there appears to be a divergence of thinking between US and NATO doctrinal development with different terms gaining prominence – Information Advantage and Information Operations.Key differences exist between how the US and NATO perceive the Information Environment and their operations within it.
This is the first in a series of articles in which we explore the development and application of Information Operations to achieve Information Advantage. This aspect of modern operations is heavily impacted by continually evolving technology and data flows. To counter a range of threats and be able to achieve their objectives, commanders must have access to a range of information types from a variety of sources. These must then be rapidly processed and visualised to facilitate effective decision making. The need for technology that automates and assists the human elements of this process is the driving force behind SensusQ and the development of its platform. This provides a single application for all intelligence collection, processing, and dissemination tasks. Many of the concepts incorporated in the application’s development are also applicable in the private sector, which has many similar information processing requirements to that seen in the defence sector.
Development of doctrine in the Information Environment
Military doctrine continues to evolve as new technologies are developed and integrated into or replace existing capabilities. Nowhere is this more so than in the Information Environment, which has seen its role change from supporting traditional warfighting disciplines to being considered its own domain of operations. With an increasing focus on the contribution made by information in achiev¬ing strategic aims; concepts and definitions are continually adapting to incorporate both theoretical models and practical experience.
To emphasise the complexity of operations in the Information Environment, there appears to be a divergence of thinking between US and NATO doctrinal development with different terms gaining prominence. This is the first part of a series of articles exploring some of the terms most commonly used to describe operations in the Information Environment starting with ’Information Advantage’.
Information Advantage is an idea that first emerged in the late 2010s. However, it was not until 2021 that the US Army made it an official doctrinal term and the foundation for future conflicts in the information space. Prior to the emergence of Information Advantage, concepts such as Information Warfare, Information Superiority, and Information Dominance were commonly used, which have all been the subject of much academic analysis.
The move away from the term ‘warfare’ is sensible, as it has a particular legal definition. Within International Law, nations are in a binary state of ’peace’ or ’war’ with the latter requir¬ing a formal declaration and the appli¬cation of the Law of Armed Conflict. This imposes a range of constraints (what must be done) and restraints (what cannot be done). However, as these can be considered too onerous and risk international condemnation and loss of support if they are not followed, nations tend to adopt states of undeclared ’conflict’ instead.
The nature of Information Advantage as an objective
In an era of ’Systemic Competition’ in which there is a clash of values and accepted behavioural norms, Information Advantage is seen as an objective to be achieved against adversaries. It has evolved from previous doctrinal terms such as Infor¬mation Superiority and Information Dominance. Information Superiority is defined by the US military as: ’The operational advantage derived from the ability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary’s ability to do the same.’ Information Dominance offers a similar definition with the US Navy’s description being ’the operational advantage gained from fully integrating the Navy’s information functions, capabilities and resources to optimise decision making and maximise warfighting effects’. Both terms reflect the challenge of being able to effectively gather and assimilate the increasing amount and variety of information types available at all levels of command. However, more recently both Information Superior¬ity and Information Dominance have fallen out of favour. This is due to the acceptance that in reality it is impossible to dominate or have superiority over the information environment, as air forces might seek air superiority.
In any conflict, the commander who has the best overall situational awareness and is able to exploit their resources most effectively will have the best chance of achieving their objectives. Descriptions of Information Advantage reflect this aspiration by exploring more than just the acquisition and processing of information, but its use to achieve a desired end state. The US explains Information Advantage as having five pillars: to enable decision-making, protect friendly information, inform and educate domestic audiences, inform and influence international audiences, and conduct information warfare.
The challenge is to combine these elements to achieve better situational awareness and collective understanding than the adversary and thus facilitate superior decision making, a state known as ’decision dominance’. Decision dominance requires commanders to be able to appreciate the physical and virtual information environments in real time, a difficult and challenging proposition.
US perspectives and practises
As of late 2021, the US Department of Defence did not have a formally recognised definition of Information Advantage in its Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. In 2018, the UK published an Information Advantage concept note. This described Information Advantage as ’the credible advantage gained through the continuous, adaptive, decisive and resilient employment of information and information systems’. However, the UK has decided not to progress this concept further because it is regarded only as a temporary state that cannot be permanently achieved. Instead, it is sought as an enabling condition using the full range of military and non-military capabilities to change (or maintain) the behaviour of audiences to achieve a successful outcome. The UK’s current position appears to be to align its national doctrine with that of NATO’s Information Operations development, which will be the subject of later articles.
Recognising the need for Information Advantage addresses the challenges of combining multiple capabilities in a coherent and synchronised manner to successfully influence an adversary and achieve decision dominance. This is the state in which a commander can sense, understand, decide, and act faster and more effectively than an adversary and so achieve an advantage in the information environment.
Properly exploited, this decision advantage will lead to operational advantage and ultimately mission success in all operational domains, not just the information environment.
To many, this will be familiar as a derivation of John Boyd’s competitive decision-making model, ’The OODA Loop’, which comprises four stages of Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. However, it can be argued that to obtain true Information Advantage, a wider range of elements should be considered, and its ambition should be broader.
Information should be regarded as complementary to other military assets as a means of power projection capable of both coercive hard power and attractive and persuasive soft power. Although decision domi¬nance and influence both contribute to Information Advantage, some strategies may only apply to one aspect. A cyber espionage campaign, for example, may not be detected by the adversary and may not influence their behaviour. However, it may con¬tribute greatly to understanding their thought processes and so contribute to decision dominance.
Requirements for achieving Information Advantage
To achieve Information Advan¬tage, three essential elements are required: strategic political direction, a decisive end state, and identifica¬tion of the targets to be affected. The initial policy must come via formal tasking from political leadership, and the targets must be clearly iden¬tified, ranging from key individuals to an entire population. With this information, targets are identified through strategic and operational level Persistent Audience Analysis (PAA). This informs the operational and tactical level Target Audience Analysis (TAA), which determines the most effective course of action against the most influential persons or groups. In the information environ¬ment, there are no non-combatants with potentially everybody in the adversary country a legitimate target.
Without a comprehensive TAA, Information Advantage may not be achieved, and this emphasises the importance of a close relationship with the intelligence community for accurate, relevant, timely, and actionable reports. From the TAA campaign, objectives and military strategic effects can be derived leading to an operational plan.
The challenge of achieving, and measuring, Information Advantage is that to be most effective, it must encompass every component of the information environment. Based on the outcome of the TAA, a compelling narrative must be produced, which will form the foundation of every activity.
Narrative Dominance as an aspect of Information Advantage
In the fight for control of how events are described, connected, and explained, Information Advantage can also be seen a route to ’narrative dominance’. This utilises the levers of power and exploits every event to proactively support and reinforce the narrative to gain the initiative in the full spectrum of confrontation scenarios. To quote Joseph Nye “In the information age, it’s not just whose army wins, but whose story wins.” Within this narrative may be a series of tropes, which are smaller ’building blocks’ of possibly repeated devices or conventions familiar to the audience used in telling the storey.
An important part of any narrative supporting the strategic objectives is a counter narrative seeking to undermine the adversary’s own infor¬mation campaign. In this constant battle of narratives, the primary means by which they are created and disseminated is through Strategic Communications. This comprises diplomacy, Psychological Operations, and Public Affairs, a component of which is Media Operations, which together form a constituent part of the wider doctrine of Informa¬tion Operations.
Despite the increasing complexity of technology to disseminate the message, humans have the same cognitive and perceptual limitations that they have always had. The techniques used in current influence operations may draw on well-established and proven social science methods with only the medium updated to reach the target audience. The degree of interconnection between what may have previously been regarded as distinct and separate disciplines highlights the importance of achieving Information Advantage. As US doctrinal development continues, it will be interesting to compare it to the parallel work being undertaken to refresh NATO Information Operations doctrine and highlight where they deviate. The next article will investigate current published Information Operations doctrine and how it can be applied to today’s information environment.