WASHINGTON — The U.S. military lacks the ability to quickly deploy personnel that can fend off malevolent actors trying to shape public opinion and must act now to build up such “information forces,” according to a newly revealed Pentagon strategy.

Conquering the information ecosystem from social-media chatter to government propaganda is increasingly important as mis- and disinformation proliferate and world powers including China and Russia try to influence foreign affairs from afar.

The Defense Department must “build a process to rapidly deploy teams of information forces, including the reserve force,” and foster a related workforce comprising military and civilian experts, according to the 2023 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment. Improved recruiting, training and career paths are needed for the effort.

The congressionally mandated document was made public Nov. 17, months after internal publication. Information warfare represents a persuasive brew of public outreach, offensive and defensive electronic capabilities, and cyber operations; it combines data awareness and manipulation to gain an advantage before, during and after major events.

“As this strategy makes clear, our ability to gain and sustain information advantages at the times and places of our choosing are critical to successful operations in the information space,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in the introduction. “Make no mistake: America’s competitors and enemies are moving quickly in the information environment, hoping to offset our enduring strategic advantages elsewhere.”

Emerging technologies play a critical role in both waging and foiling influence campaigns, according to the strategy.

Generative artificial intelligence, capable of imitating human interaction, can fuel spam, phishing attempts and impersonation, while automation can flood Facebook or X, formerly Twitter, with misleading and provoking posts. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of the former. The latter has been seen in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin Kennedy, the commander of the information warfare-focused 16th Air Force, at an event earlier this month said the discipline dominates international competition and shapes the fighting that can follow.

“It’s the essential enabler, as we’re looking to gain information and decision advantage,” Kennedy said at a Mitchell Institute event last week. “We’re employing forces across domains to make sure that we’re ready to seize the initiative in the information domain, and, through our information warfare capabilities, to prevail in conflict and set the conditions for peace, after the conflict, as we’re moving forward.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

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