Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Essay contest (9): What should we change? Let’s start with our culture

Interesting question: What one thing is the most important to change in order to prevent, shape and win war in the information environment?

IO_Integration_into_Joint_Operations_-_Notional
IO_Integration_into_Joint_Operations_-_Notional

 

By COL Chip Bircher, U.S. Army
Best Defense contest entrant

Interesting question: What one thing is the most important to change in order to prevent, shape and win war in the information environment?

 

By COL Chip Bircher, U.S. Army
Best Defense contest entrant

Interesting question: What one thing is the most important to change in order to prevent, shape and win war in the information environment?

I can look at my white board and see a list that grows every day of items we either need to tackle, or are in the process of changing, across all DOTMLPF domains in order to be better postured for future land operations. Since Tom is looking for the silver bullet, I’ll do my best to simplify the list: We have to change the culture of our force.

The way to change our culture is to make information operations either a core competency or a warfighting function, something so important to the force as a whole that it is no longer relegated to a small cohort of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, but instead is at the heart of everything we do, operationally and institutionally.

The information environment has become the preeminent maneuver terrain for operations, and it will only increase in importance. Look at the “Gerasimov Doctrine” or see how ISIS is maneuvering in this terrain to understand how our adversaries and potential adversaries have realized the critical importance of information operations. While we man, train, and equip our forces to fight and win future wars, we have missed the point that we are engaged in a war now, every day — a war being conducted in the information environment, the battle of perception. Unfortunately, we currently think of this key terrain as an afterthought, and will continue to flounder — or have happenstance success — because of our culture. Doctrine defines how we operate and even how we think about ourselves — ADP 1, the Army, is under revision to describe what is important to the army as a profession; now is the time to change culturally how we as a force view the information environment.

If the information environment is maneuver terrain, information operations (IO) is how we conduct combined arms maneuver and wide area security in this terrain. IO is not a “thing,” just as combined arms maneuver is not; IO is how we plan, synchronize, execute, and assess engagement, information warfare (actions focused on adversaries’ use of the information environment), information protection, and communication alignment actions across the operational environment. Truth is a powerful weapon — perhaps the most powerful in our arsenal. By changing how we approach operations in the information environment, by inculcating the principles of truthful communication to shape the security environment we can move beyond the argument over misused and misunderstood terms like IO, information warfare, cyber, public affairs, psychological operations, and propaganda. The culture change occurs when senior leaders understand that combined arms maneuver does not equate to combat arms. Real change will only occur after our doctrinal foundation acknowledges this.

Doctrine is the heart of how our services deliver capabilities to meet our nation’s defense needs. Once we adopt information operations as a core competency or warfighting function we can then tackle the rest of the capability challenges. Imagine organizational structures designed to allow commanders to maneuver effectively in the information environment, as opposed to structure defended today by the disparate tribes that make up the information community. Imagine training and leader development programs that begin at the lowest level, teaching and mentoring all soldiers on the importance of information and how it not only enables operations, but more importantly how operations enable effects in the information environment. Imagine a personnel system that develops and manages the talent necessary to not only master the technical aspects of this environment but also understand the cultural and content-driven complexities.

I often hear senior leaders discuss how important culture is to our force and operations — not just our ability to understand the cultural nuances of the physical and mental environments in which we operate, but also the cultural underpinnings of ourselves. If we truly want to prevent, shape, and win our nation’s wars, we must change our cultural beliefs, through doctrine, in order to win the information war, the war in which we are engaged every day. And in order to do this, information operations must be inculcated in the very fiber of our collective being as a core competency.

The author is the Director of the U.S. Army Information Operations Proponent, Mission Command Center of Excellence, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent the current position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.

Image credit: U.S. Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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