A rapidly increasing percentage of the world’s population is connected to the global information environment. The new information age has seen rise of social media, bloggers, smartphones, plethora of cable and satellite news channels. It can also be seen in the ongoing Internet of things revolution, the internetworking of physical devices (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), vehicles, buildings, and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. Consumer product companies are mining Facebook, Google, and other data to understand customer preferences, global trends, and public opinion on matters of interest.
The Information Age is also transforming all military operations by providing commanders with information unprecedented in quantity and quality. In this information age of warfare, the advantage will be achieved through the speed and integration of information. The primary warfighting attributes will be decision speed and operational agility. Since around 1970, there have been extraordinary improvements in the technical means of collecting, storing, analyzing, and transmitting the information.“The amount of data both required and produced by defense systems and processes is rapidly increasing and becoming more difficult to manage. In the information age of warfare, relying on mostly human analysis is far too slow and the volume of data collected is far too great to achieve the decision speed required. This is where technological concepts of machine-to-machine dialogue, human-machine teaming, artificial intelligence, and autonomy come into play.
The ultimate fact of the information age is the proliferation of IT, which “incorporates information systems and resources (hardware, software, and wetware) used by military and civilian decision-makers to send, receive, control, and manipulate information necessary to enable 21st-century decisionmaking.
At the same time, the information environment is enabling social interactions that are radically changing how and at what rate information spreads. Both nation-states and nonstate actors have increasingly drawn upon this global information environment to promote their beliefs and further related goals. The terror groups like ISIS use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and internet forums to spread their messages, recruit members and gather intelligence. “The advent of the mobile phone means that everybody is now a cameraman. The smartphone made the Arab spring possible, but it has also enabled Da’esh to promulgate its propaganda, write Nick Watts,” Deputy Director-General of the U K Defence Forum.
Ongoing Information Warfare
The information age is also being exploited by countries through Information warfare (IW), a concept involving the battlespace use and management of information and communication technology in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent. At the heart of Information Warfare is that information or data is used as a weapon. It is different from Cyber Warfare which is the use of computer technology to disrupt the activities of a state or organization, especially the deliberate attacking of information systems for strategic or military purposes. While Cyber Warfare techniques are often employed to obtain the data, the analysis of the information and its use makes Information warfare (IW) very different from Cyberwarfare. Espionage or spying is an example of Information Warfare (with or without the use of information systems)
Disinformation, of course, is a critical component of this, but it’s far from the only threat. Beijing and Moscow are actively experimenting with both defensive and offensive information campaigns as tools of both domestic control and, increasingly, foreign policy. Defensive information warfare includes disinformation campaigns meant to discredit dissidents and the use of public data to, for instance, track and arrest journalists. Offensive campaigns, on the other hand, undermine and disrupt other countries by using digital media platforms and artificial amplification through automated or fake accounts such as bots, trolls, and sock puppets, as well as syndicated media distribution.
Unlike traditional weapon technologies, development of information-based techniques does not require sizable financial resources or state sponsorship. Information systems expertise and access to important networks may be the only prerequisites.
Maj. Jessica Dawson, research lead for information warfare and an assistant professor at the Army Cyber Institute, told one way they do this is called memetic warfare, which involves sharing memes on various social media platforms to stoke a particular reaction from various groups.
“When we think about memetic warfare, what’s really happening is we’re taking these sort of deep seeded emotional stories and we’re collapsing them down into a picture, usually it’s something that has a very, very quick emotional punch,” she said. “They’re collapsing these narratives down into images that are often not attributed, that’s one of the things about memes is they really aren’t, someone usually isn’t signing them, going ‘I’m the artist.’ There [are] these really emotional punches that are shared very, very quickly, they’re self replicating in a lot of ways because you see it, you react and then you immediately pass it on.”
Russia’s IW campaigns
Computer hacking, disinformation and propaganda are prime weapons in the 21st century arsenal. Russia has deployed these non-lethal but very potent weapons during its invasion of the Crimea and in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine. According to US intelligence officials, Vladimir Putin’s intelligence services are now deploying this arsenal in an attempt to either influence the US presidential election or undermine confidence in the democratic process.
In 2016, Russian influence operations on social media were reported to alter the course of events in the U.S. by manipulating public opinion. Russia was accused of using thousands of covert human agents and robot computer programs to spread disinformation referencing the stolen campaign emails of Hillary Clinton, amplifying their effect. The release of emails, and the use of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts — were designed to undermine trust in institutions through manipulation, distortion, and disruption.
The goal of these operations varies slightly, but experts said they serve the ultimate purpose of put down the United States compared to their own nations. Russia tries to undermine the credibility of the United States on issues such as human rights, something the United States is active in promoting on the world stage, by highlighting social divisions such as potential police brutality and racial injustice. Adversaries have exploited U.S. laws and principles, such as the freedom of speech with online platforms, which makes outright banning accounts difficult.
Moscow has used coronavirus disinformation to amplify anti-European Union sentiment and movements throughout Western Europe as reported in March 2020. The EU document said the Russian campaign, pushing fake news online in English, Spanish, Italian, German and French, uses contradictory, confusing and malicious reports. The EU and NATO have accused Russia of covert action, including disinformation, to try to destabilize the West by exploiting divisions in society.
The Russian incursion into eastern Ukraine, and the eventual annexation of Crimea in 2014, serve as the current model of a sustained IW campaign and provides examples of successes and failures in these efforts, write William R. Gery, SeYoung Lee, and Jacob Ninas. Russian IW, known as Reflexive Control, has its origins in Soviet doctrine and serves as a key component in their hybrid warfare operations. Reflexive Control “relies . . . on Russia’s ability to take advantage of preexisting dispositions among its enemies to choose its preferred courses of action.”During operations in Ukraine, Russia’s primary impediments included Western European powers and the United States. Russia took multiple actions to seize the advantage of preexisting dispositions among its enemies in order to conduct successful operations in Ukraine and, at the same time, avoid a large-scale confrontation with the West.
As part of Reflexive Control, Russia utilized a well-coordinated denial-and-deception plan, called maskirovka, through the use of “little green men” to establish checkpoints and secure key terrain in Ukraine. These little green men operated with speed and efficiency and wore no identifying patches or unit insignia. This lack of identification allowed Russia to deny any association with these forces, which were later acknowledged as Russian troops. By controlling information and being able to deny its involvement in the occupation of Ukraine during the early stages of the conflict, Russia was viewed as an interested party by the international community—as opposed to a belligerent. This fed directly into Russia’s view that Western Europe and the United States did not desire a direct conflict and would not press the issue of Russian involvement, even if discovered, write William R. Gery, SeYoung Lee, and Jacob Ninas.
Vasiliy Mikryukov, a doctor of pedagogical sciences and a member of the Academy of Military Science, argues that the operation in Syria is equally a classic example of Russia exploiting reflexive control theory (Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer, April 12). Mikryukov noted that the VKS operation caught the US and its allies by surprise, and it proved President Barack Obama’s contention that Russia would find itself in a “quagmire” as entirely misjudged. Mikryukov referred to reflexive control as a method of influencing an opponent to think or behave in a certain manner for the benefit of achieving strategic gains.
The recent Russia’s military operation in Syria tested many Network-Centric Warfare Experiments. Igor Korotchenko, the editor of Natsional’naya Oborona, notes the use of a military internet, which established high-speed secure data transfer between units. Moscow-based military-diplomatic sources were explaining to media that the use of Su-34 jets to strike targets was an important feature, and one that highlighted the network-centric dimension of some air operations. These platforms were network-enabled and, according to such sources, were testing the developing capability to operate in a single information network. Syria represents the fourth occasion, following Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine, on which decisive Russian military intervention has substantially altered the situation in Moscow’s favour.
In Crimea, Russian troops proved that Moscow can use highly trained and disciplined soldiers to execute a swift, effective campaign, one which resulted in the seizure of a large chunk of territory. And in Syria, Russia demonstrated a significant growth in its capability to project force far from its borders, as well as tangible changes to its arsenal.
Keir Giles in his research paper says: “ A distinctive aspect of information operations in Ukraine itself, and one with important implications for how cyber war may be waged in future, is the way Russian activity in the cyber domain facilitates broader information warfare aims,” and potentially even more significant for the nature of future cyber operations is the new interface between cyber and kinetic operations.
China stresses information age military capability
Dating back to Sun Tzu’s teachings, information warfare is the offensive and defensive use of information and information systems to deny, exploit, corrupt, or destroy an adversary’s knowledge, communications, and perceptive access and processes. It is designed to achieve almost costless advantages over one’s adversaries. It can be a supplement or a replacement for traditional military operations. Falling within the domain of information warfare are psychological operations, which are designed to influence adversaries’ attitudes and behavior, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives. In particular, they aim at subverting both the will of the populace and soldiers in the field and also the authority of those in command.
Information warfare has long been part of the Communist Party’s strategy. For decades, the Party’s information campaigns focused primarily within China’s borders, aiming to consolidate the Party’s position and prevent domestic criticism. In the last decade, however, Beijing has not only increased repression at home, but it has also messaged more aggressively abroad.
Scholars studying the efforts say the Chinese are growing bolder and more brazen, often taking pages from what used to be seen as Russia’s playbook in discrediting the United States. It’s a pattern so troubling to global intelligence officials that last week, Ken McCallum, the incoming intelligence chief of the British domestic security service, MI5, said that if Russia’s influence operations are like bad weather, China’s growing operations are like climate change — far more destructive.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has falsely claimed multiple times that the U.S. Army visited Wuhan in 2019 to spread the virus, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also pushed disinformation that blames the United States for the outbreak.
US Information warfare
It’s clear that China and Russia—the two countries that pose the gravest threats to the United States, according to the NSS—are using aggressive information warfare tactics to exploit the pandemic and to erode and undermine the liberal international order. These tactics, which include waging influence campaigns below the threshold of armed conflict, have forced the military, and U.S. government more broadly, to rethink its strategies and views toward conflict. Traditionally, the United States government has taken a binary view of war and peace, while adversaries such as Russia, in particular, have viewed conflict on a perpetual continuum.
In current and future warfare, information superiority could be the single most decisive factor. Brian Nichiporuk, the author of “U.S. Military Opportunities,” discusses IW concepts and postulates: The goals of an offensive information-warfare campaign are to deny, corrupt, degrade, or destroy the enemy’s sources of information on the battlefield. Doing so successfully, while maintaining the operational security of your own information sources, is the key to achieving “information superiority”—that is, the ability to see the battlefield while your opponent cannot.
Militaries around the world are developing new strategies for this new information age. “As Joint Doctrine 2/13 references, information has always been critical to successful conflict outcomes. But with the increase in speed, volume and variety of information and data now available to us, we urgently need to rethink the processes, skills, and technology we use to evaluate and gain operational advantage,” writes Bill Holford, VP, BT Global Defence, BTGS. In short, our asymmetric advantage in future battles depends on harnessing the vast amount of information our sensors can generate, fusing it quickly into decision-quality information, and creating effects simultaneously from all domains and all functional components anywhere in the world.
“The security challenges we face and the nature of potential adversaries demands that information is placed at the heart of operational capability rather than remaining an accessory to it. This means delivering assured networks and platforms that can operate in a contested electromagnetic environment. Military advantage will also depend on an ability to harness the potential of Big Data analytics, open source intelligence and making visualisation a key tool in decision making,” write General Sir Richard Barrons,Commander Joint Forces Command.
With information warfare growing in the competition arena, a clear strategy and a joint force provider to usher in this strategy are necessary for the United States to combat influence operations by foreign adversaries, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall said in April 2021.
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