The Marine Corps created the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Information Groups (MIG) in 2017 as a means of modernizing its force and keeping pace with adversaries who exploit the so-called information environment via cyberattacks, propaganda and electronic warfare.
As a new commander takes the reins of these units, its outgoing leader explained how it is maturing, adapting, and gearing up for the information fight. Those lessons started at a 2018 exercise known as Trident Juncture.
“[That exercise] was a seminal event for II MIG and really put us on track for where we are now. The first big take-away for us is everything takes place in the information environment,” Col. Jordan Walzer, the outgoing commander of II MIG, told C4ISRNET. “Given this was the biggest NATO exercise of its kind since the Cold War, the world was watching. We knew we’d face cyberattacks, propaganda, disinformation, foreign intelligence collection, and narrative warfare – and we did. For what the MIGs were designed for, Trident Juncture was a live-fire environment."
Col. Brian Russell, who most recently served as the director of plans and strategy for U.S. Cyber Command’s Joint Task Force-Ares, the online offensive against ISIS, is expected to take over June 10.
The MIGs have expertise in cyber, intelligence, electronic warfare, signals intelligence, communications and information operations, but with the advent of new information capabilities, the Corps needed to modernize.
“As Marines, we’ve long clung to this sacred cow we call the Marine Air Ground Task Force, or MAGTF, and for good reason – it worked. Our ability to task organize with four combat elements – command, ground, air, and logistics – made us the greatest expeditionary fighting force in the world,” Walzer said. “But the MAGTF construct hasn’t really changed since 1963 … We can’t saddle ourselves down with Industrial Age thinking. It’s time to elevate the MIGs as the MAGTF’s fifth combat element, the Information Combat Element.”
Officials have long maintained that the MIGs would not be built overnight. Exercises and events, such as Trident Juncture, help the Marine Corps shape the direction of these forces and better understand what needs to be tweaked.
Walzer noted that in the future, conflicts will likely be decided before the physical fighting begins.
“The winners and losers of the great power competition will likely be determined left of any kinetic fight. Competition may not fit nicely with everyone’s perception of war but it most definitely is warfare,” he said. “And should we have to fight at the high end, fire and maneuver have to be combined with information-related warfighting capabilities if we’re to achieve true asymmetric advantage.”
To that end, he said another critical lesson the unit took away from the exercise is that their team can win. He said the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan think tank, conducted a postmortem on the anti-NATO disinformation campaign during Trident Juncture and determined NATO persevered.
“We won the battle of the narrative. And if we did it once, we can do it again,” he said.
As with many forces in the information environment, the MIG will have to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
“We’re really going to have to review the structure of the MIGs as we move forward. We can walk and chew gum but the problem is we want to run … Our aim point of being ‘fully online’ has changed over the last three years and it’s time to think bigger and bolder,” Walzer said. “Ask me where this MIG is going to be in five or 10 years and I honestly couldn’t tell you. But I can tell you I can’t wait to see it.”
Working with partners
One of the common threads senior leaders have discussed recently is in the face of emboldened adversaries, the military must partner better; both within its sister services and partner nations.
“For the MIGs to reach their full potential, I believe we need to take a hard look at how we view componency and command and control relationships as we integrate as part of the naval and joint force,” Walzer said.
The commandant of the Marine Corps issued guidance last fall that calls for greater overall naval integration, acting more as an extension of the Navy versus a second land Army, which extends to the information warfare realm.
“Over the last year, II MIG’s made huge strides revitalizing our Navy-Marine Corps Team. We’re now aligned and integrated with the Navy in ways like never before,” Walzer explained. “Together, we’re building a shared understanding of the information environment which allows us to plan, pull our resources, and leverage complimentary capabilities. The Fleets are moving forward and we’re right there with them – shoulder to shoulder.”
Walzer also explained II MIG hosted the Army last year for the largest electronic warfare exercise the Corps has participated in.
For international partners, Walzer said II MIG integrated well with their British counterparts.
“We’re proud of our special partnership with the Royal Marines of 30 Commando Information Exploitation Group,” he said. “The MIGs strive to leverage capabilities from our joint and interagency partners – an ‘all of government’ approach. But we can’t stop there. We need our allies and partners, now more than ever. World-class teammates like 30 Commando allows us to hone our game.”
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.