WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is gearing up for its first information warfare-focused exercise next year.

At a newly created information warfare training facility in Playas, New Mexico, the Air Force is planning what it calls an information warfare flag in spring 2021, Lt. Gen. Chris Weggeman, deputy commander of Air Combat Command, said during a virtual conference Nov. 17 hosted by AFCEA’s Alamo chapter.

The Air Force’s training events are called flags; Red Flag is its premier air-to-air training exercise.

In October 2019, the service created 16th Air Force, its first information warfare-focused entity, combining capabilities from numbered Air Forces to fuse capabilities related to cyberspace, electromagnetic spectrum operations, information operations, intelligence gathering and weather.

Weggeman said the information warfare flag will involve “live fire and live fly.” The new training facility will also provide these live services and will aim to refine information warfare tactics, such as honing cyber electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities.

Meanwhile, 16th Air Force plans to hold its first information warfare weapons and tactics conference, Weggeman said, which will emulate the Combat Air Force Weapons and Tactics Conference.

“They’ll focus mission-area working groups of pressing IW problems and challenges, and focus on developing on tactics, techniques and procedures for optimizing IW forces and capabilities integration to deliver those required mission outcomes that we need for our component and combatant commanders,” he said.

Critical to the success of the Air Force in the information environment will be developing experts in this converged area. The Air Force realizes it needs personnel that “can think about the information environment, that can think about perceptions and behaviors and sentiments of different audiences around the world and really incorporate that kind of an understanding to how we plan and execute and assess everything that we are doing,” according to Sandeep Mulgund, an adviser for Headquarters Air Force.

But accomplishing this is a challenge, Mulgund said at the conference. “We really need to build up a cadre of people that have that really unique expertise, thinking about the operational environment in that way.”

Adversaries have thought about these issues differently — to include warfare on a continuum as opposed to the more Western binary approach of peace and conflict — which can constrain actions against malign action.

The U.S. sees space and cyberspace as domains of warfare, but China and Russia also view them as theaters of operations for information activities, explained Brig. Gen. Gregory Gagnon, the director for intelligence at U.S. Space Command.

“They don’t constrain themselves so much to domain thinking, which can be a little constricting for us Westerners. They become more expansive in their thinking and really work to integrate the two because everything done in space is done through cyberspace,” he said at the conference.

Similarly, Mulgund said that intelligence typically focuses on an adversary’s physical capabilities, but the U.S. military needs to be able to think about the information environment.

They have to understand “how is information flowing, who’s talking to whom using what channels, what are they talking about, what do we think they think, and how do we incorporate that understanding into how we plan and access,” he said.

“Developing that group of folks, a really deep bench of folks that can think that way, will be a big part of where the Air Force wants to go from here.”

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

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