The Army wants to give battlefield commanders the ability to drill down into local social media feeds and identify potential communication tools such as Wi-Fi networks and cellphone towers as a way to help slow the flow of information.

Those techniques are part of an experimental program the Army is running in hopes of rebuilding its information operations capability.

Many military leaders and members of the academic community posit that, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States lost much of the robust information operations-related capability it possessed during the Cold War.

[Is the US behind in cyber-enabled info operations?]

The military is now trying to rebuild those capabilities, especially as adversaries, such as Russia, have demonstrated their willingness to use sophisticated capabilities in both military contexts. This includes the incursion in Ukraine and domestic interference such as the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Army wants tactical cyber, electronic warfare and information operations capabilities at the tactical edge that could be used to help commanders suppress the use of adversary communication or connectivity capability prior to assaulting towns in future operating environments.

The CEMA Support to Corps and Below pilot seeks to game out what types of organic capabilities will exist. It also aims to inform doctrine and force structure changes.

[Here’s how the Army wants to integrate cyber, EW into operational formations]

On the information operations front, Army leaders discussed how IO planners and operators embedded with brigade combat teams can bring effects to bear and inform commanders about the information environment they might be operating in. This includes monitoring what might be posted on social media that could affect operations or the local populace.

In some case that planner has been physically located in the tactical operations center and performed the role as a lead planner, Col. (P) William J. Hartman, Deputy Commander Joint Force HQ – Cyber (Army) Army Cyber Command, said Dec. 13 during an Association of the U.S. Army-hosted event in Arlington, Virginia.

“In other cases,” he said, “the BCT has made the decision that that IO specialist is best positioned in reach where they have access to a more consistent access to social media feeds to integrate with the intelligence reach element and we’ve honestly been successful using both of those.”

Ultimately these decisions are up to the brigade and how that information officer best integrates with the brigade operations process, Hartman said.

Every mission and every environment will be different, Col. Paul “Tim” Brooks, Mission Assurance Division Chief, Department of the Army Management Office – Cyber, said during the same event. The mission requirements and peculiarities of the information environment will shape what forces do and the types of capabilities that can be brought to bear, he said.

Thus, the first job for the information operations field and the information operations professionals are to look at that environment and help the commanders build a tailored package for that environment and particular mission, he added.

IO delivery through cyberspace is one of the key things that has been done very successful at the combat training centers during these rotations in the information environment, Maj. (P) Wayne A. Sanders, Branch Chief at CEMA Support to Corps and Below ARCYBER G39, said during the same event.

He noted that they recently started looking at military information support operations and military deception.

Brooks noted that the force has to think outside the box. Where six to eight years ago they were just focused on MISO, they’ve got to expand beyond that to a holistic picture.

“How do we blend information capabilities in new and different ways? How do we use MISO in combination with our cyber capabilities,” he said. “We’ve got to look for new and creative ways so we can stay ahead of the dynamic environment.”

Sanders explained, depending on what the commander wants, they have started to insert IO planners within the brigade combat team tactical operations center to monitor social media. They can read these feeds to see if adversaries on certain networks and facilitating malicious activity through social channels to coordinate attacks against friendly forces. An item may come out through social media, he said, that forces might want to influence, deny or degrade the adversary’s ability to get that message out using a cyber or electronic countermeasure.

Or social media monitoring could be used to gauge host nation sentiments toward U.S. operations in country. If the BCT commander had a bad engagement, he’ll want to know and monitor the response to see if maybe he needs to deploy public affairs to counter the negative messages.

Laurie Buckhout, president and CEO of the Corvus Group and a former EW officer in the Army, said during the event that Russia looks at these capabilities as long term tools in a conflict from phase 0, or the shaping phase of a conflict, which comes before deterrence and followed by seizing, forward. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said, acknowledging progress and optimism in the way the Army is charting forward.

The Russians, she said, look at how they can do intensive nation-oriented information operation campaigns tied very closely to a national military strategy. The U.S., in turn, has to make senior leaders embrace the concepts and get them educated on what they can do via the information environment to really start to shape elements in phase 0 on, she added.

Brooks explained that the Army has been wrestling with is what their role in phase 0 is, noting allies are much more willing to act in the information environment tin phase 0 in various ways.

It is extremely important, he said, for DoD and the Army to understand how to fight in phase 0 better and more effectively within the constraints of laws and ethics.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

More In C2/Comms
Unleash the Space Force
Numbers outlining China's military space prowess are understandably alarming, but they don’t tell the whole story, Todd Harrison argues in an op-ed.