Keeping up with the Pentagon in the information age
3 Sep 2018|

Between March and July 2018, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a raft of new or revised authorised statements of military doctrine. They included a landmark ‘note’ on strategy, a joint concept on integrated campaigning, and a doctrine on peace operations. The flood of publications reflects the changing priorities of the Pentagon under Defense Secretary James Mattis that were outlined in the new national security strategy issued by the White House last December.

The strategy note is of most interest. It supplements three earlier joint doctrines on military policy, joint operations and joint planning. The guidance is not intended to be authoritative, but rather ‘provides context for those who develop national strategy and implement it at subordinate levels’. The note says that force can be applied in ‘any domain (land, maritime, air, space) and the information environment (to include cyberspace)’. Cyberspace is not, in the Joint Chiefs’ view, a fifth domain of warfare but an environment shared by the four physical domains. This has to be a fundamental point of strategic reorientation for all countries’ armed forces.

The update on cyberspace operations replaces the 2013 joint publication and reflects organisational changes (the establishment of Cyber Command as a functional combatant command, and the new Cyber Mission Force), but it also provides new guidance on the command and control of cyberspace operations and their planning.

One of the big changes is the distinction between two modes of command and control for cyberspace operations: ‘routine’ and ‘crisis/contingency’. An important feature of this section for Australia and other US allies is its recognition that a military alliance in cyberspace will look and operate differently from other forms of cooperation: ‘the level of integration of US cyberspace forces with foreign cyberspace forces will vary depending upon in-place agreements with each partner and may not mirror the level of integration of other types of forces’.

Outer space receives special attention in what appears to be a completely new doctrinal manual on space operations. The executive summary gives useful background on the recent announcements by the US about the creation of a new branch of the armed services for military operations in space. The doctrine remarks on the intimate mutual interaction of outer space and cyberspace in US military thinking: ‘many space operations depend on cyberspace, and a critical portion of cyberspace can only be provided via space operations’.

That’s also the view of China’s 2015 military strategy: ‘Outer space and cyber space have become new commanding heights in strategic competition among all parties. The form of war is accelerating its evolution to informationization.’

As the clunky word ‘informationization’ suggests, China now accepts, as the US does, that there’s an inseparable link between information operations and cyberspace operations. China has adopted the longstanding US concept of ‘information dominance’ as a centrepiece of its military strategy.

The shift by competitors of the United States like China, but especially Russia and North Korea, to enhanced conflict with the US below the threshold of war or the use of armed force, especially by cyber-enabled information operations, has led the US to bolster its already formidable information warfare capabilities. One of the new doctrinal publications, the Joint concept for integrated campaigning, reflects this change. The publication is an effort to offer ‘an alternative to the obsolete peace/war binary’. The document promotes the idea of ‘integrated campaigning’ and stresses that ‘the integration of physical and information power’ is a ‘critical element to enabling globally integrated operations’. These considerations also inform newly released doctrines on counterinsurgency and civil–military operations.

One of the more ground-breaking documents is the update of Joint Publication 3-27, Homeland defense. The 2013 version had itself revised the cyber elements of an earlier version to see them as part of the information environment and not just as combat support activities. The 2018 version repositions information operations as one of seven joint functions and provides much more detail on cyberspace operations. It specifically recognises the role of Cyber Command in homeland defence missions, and assigns Special Operations Command a primary responsibility for coordinating cyber missions against terrorists in US territory.

It also asserts a new mission of coordination with the private sector for cyber homeland defence operations involving US military forces: ‘For cyberspace, the vulnerability and complex interrelationship of national and international networks demand closely coordinated action among the military, private sector, and other government entities at all levels.’

This is all unclassified information. One needs to be a serious sleuth to decipher the sheer volume of text and the meaning of the changes. That said, Australia and its closest ally, the US, appear to be worlds apart in their governments’ willingness to engage with all of their military personnel, their corporate sectors, and their citizens about the gravity of threats in the information environment, including cyberspace.