Each of the military services are reorganizing under a banner that’s loosely referred to as information warfare.
The Marine Corps’ version of this idea is to follow a concept it is specifically calling “operations in the information environment [OIE].” It is purposefully not using the term “information warfare.”
Lt. Gen. Loretta Reynolds, the Corps’ deputy commandant for information, is taking the lead in this area. She spoke recently with C4ISRNET’s Mark Pomerleau to help unpack the Marines’ information environment concept, explain how it’s different from what other services are doing, and to explore what challenges lie ahead for the information environment.
C4ISRNET: The other services are reorganizing under information warfare. What’s the Marine Corps’ approach?
LT. GEN. LORETTA REYNOLDS: You’ve heard Commandant Gen. [David] Berger talk about the idea that the fight today is an information fight. What does that mean?
I think it means, what is our message, how are we communicating our message, are we aggressive enough with our message, and do we understand how to measure the impact?
It’s like the art and the science of the information fight. The art would be how do you think about influence and are we moving aggressively enough in the right directions. I think the science is the cyber fight; it’s the space fight.
We see our adversaries maneuvering in all these domains right now. They are maneuvering in space. You saw Gen. [Jay] Raymond’s story about what the Russians are doing. Unsafe, unprofessional behavior. What are we going to do about it? We know what the cyber fight has looked like.
I always go back to [former commandant] Gen. [Robert] Neller’s comments about how we’re going to have to fight to get to the fight.
We call it “operations in the information environment” for a reason. We don’t call it “information warfare” deliberately, because we believe firmly that we have to think differently about strategic communications.
How we talk about warfare to the American people, how we talk to them about what’s happening, how we talk to them about the geography of this battlespace, if you will, that is to say that they’re in it, is really important.
C4ISRNET: U.S. Cyber Command’s VirusTotal effort is disclosing adversary malware. There’s been ideas pushed out by 16th Air Force about potentially disclosing enemy missile locations through ISR. How does this idea of increased transparence fit with what the Marine Corps is doing?
REYNOLDS: We have been very risk averse with regard to the information that we have. You can’t deter anybody if you’re the only one who knows that you have a capability. And, so, we really have to be more thoughtful about being able to share information that the world believes we have anyway.
We have a vice chairman [of the joint chiefs of staff] right now who is very thoughtful about this kind of thinking. We have adversaries right now who are going to push the limits and we have to expose that every time it happens. Every single time it happens, we have to expose it and we’re too slow.
C4ISRNET: How do you see this coming together? You created information command centers that would coordinate a lot of these issues at the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) level. Do you see that as the focal point? Are the MEF Information Groups (MIGs) the tactical manifestation of what you’re trying to do?
REYNOLDS: They are. The MIGs were built to be able to think about this in direct support of those MEF commanders.
Where the naval integration piece of this comes in is how we, the Navy and the Marine Corps, get organized for this information fight at, say, the [Joint Force Maritime Component Command] level.
Because right now the joint force is trying to figure out, as you’re developing Space Command and we already pulled out Cyber Command, how you integrate all this stuff at the combatant command level where all the authorities are.
Where can we, Navy and the Marine Corps, work together in this information fight? Is it inside the JFMCC? Can we just build an integrated staff inside the JFMCC in Pacific Command, in
European Command and others, so that we can synthesize all
of this and make it make sense? Because the danger is you begin to think differently. In terms of operational and strategic fires, you don’t want to plan for it as a whole and then have it picked apart at the combatant command level.
That’s where I think the JFMCC comes in. If we can get organized to think about this stuff holistically, the Navy has a ton of game and history and some of the science of this and I think where we can actually add a lot of value to them is in things like influence, perhaps information, and some of the psychological operations kinds of capabilities and the tactical. How can, for
example, the infantry squad leader with an attached electronic warfare support team extend the range of naval fires for sensing and recon and the spectrum? That’s where we want to add some value.
C4ISRNET: Do you see the need for an overall information warfare planner for the Marine Corps that would coordinate electronic warfare, cyber, communications strategy?
REYNOLDS: The whole point of the information groups was that we believe that someone has got to be able to understand what’s happening in the information environment for the commander.
Someone has got to be able to think broadly about what’s happening in cyber, how is space going to impact your ability to go do what you want to do over there in that [Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations], what is that messaging component, how do we want to use deception. Somebody has to bring all this together in a comprehensive way.
I use cyber as an example in this because sometimes we have treated cyber like a football game: it’s offense and defense. But sometimes there’s a soccer game going on and you may wish to allow something to happen, some intrusion, if it allows you access into someone. So, someone has to be able to accept that risk.
As you think about risk in the information environment, you need to think who’s looking at it, who’s got the big picture and who’s able to inform the commander. We have never deliberately planned for some of this stuff in the past.
C4ISRNET: From the Marine Corps’ perspective, what is the big problem that you’re hoping to solve as you’re trying to thwart malicious behavior from adversaries?
REYNOLDS: The most important thing we probably have to get after here in the near term is, no kidding, making this a part of who we are as Marines and how we think about war fighting.
You don’t add new war-fighting functions every day. [Former] Secretary [of Defense James] Mattis said information is a war fighting, battlespace function, the commandant said get it done and there’s a lot of work associated with that.
There’s how do you training entry-level Marines to think about them as being a player in the information environment. That’s that whole idea of playing defense every time you pick up your personal cellphone, getting your families ready for this fight, because they’re going to be targets; how do you combat disinformation, because it’s everything associated with who we are as Marines and how we think about this as actually part of the battlespace.
That’s hard and new. How do you get it into the Marine Corps University system, how do you get it into [professional military education], how do you make sure that it’s fed in with understanding into our experimentation?
One of the challenges, quite frankly, that we’re having is that, in the joint force, the language about this is all over the place. Is it [information operations], is it OIE, is it [information warfare]?
Everything that we do sets a precedent as we’re doing experimentation. We got a lot of good, smart people who are thinking about this, but at some point we’ve got to begin to standardize some things across the MIGS, buy some tools and then just get after it so we can being to assess ourselves and actually make progress.
We’re in a good place right now. It’s a good challenge for us to have because I think more and more people are thinking about this. But, at some point, we want it to sink in as this is doctrine, this is part of how we fight, and that whole culture change has been hard.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.