This is a subject we have not touched much in our FDR/SDSR coverage, as we balance our pragmatic real world budgetary realism with our love of all things shiny and our delight in delivering our fantasy fleets.
Information Operations to use the latest NATO acronym is an immensely broad subject area, but this is not going to be a really long article, because I am going to give you a couple of excellent links so that you may go and research the topics yourself.
Disclaimer, I did ten years in communications in the Navy. I have literally had concepts such EMCON (emission control) and COMSEC (communications security) drummed into me since I was a ‘baby sailor’, so even though the landscape has broadened I have some experience in this realm, so I will try to keep the coverage at layman’s level.
When I joined the jolly old RN in the post-Falklands early 80’s we talked a lot about Electronic Warfare (EW). There was much discussion of why HMS Sheffield had not picked up the active transmitting radar of an Exocet missile on its passive radar detection kit (Electronic Support Measures or ESM). My first ship, and many others were having their ‘passive countermeasures’ (i.e. chaff rockets) supplanted with the new Type 670 jammer. Meanwhile our overall doctrine in the face of the Soviet naval “intelligence-reconnaissance-strike complex” and its fleets of missile carrying Backfires and Bears was to be very careful with our EMCON, to run often run around in radar and radio silence, so as not to attract attention to ourselves. On the other end of the scale, even though we had secure SHF satellite communications, we often practiced loosing the satellites to ‘enemy action’ and reverted to good old HF radio for long range comms.
In the air EW was both tactical, the use of external jamming pods alongside the chaff and flares on our tactical aircraft (although we were waaaay behind some of our allies in equipping our planes with such kit) and strategic with Canberra’s, modified V bombers and other ‘assets’ in use.
I did not get to play much with the army in those days, so I am not really sure how we used signals intelligence or direction finding as a targeting aid against the Warsaw pact hordes, but I am sure Army signalers got ‘EMCON’ bashed into them as forcefully as I did !
Things move on. Technology certainly has moved at a great pace thanks to Moore’s Law, with computer processing power doubling every couple of years. When I left the TA the Panasonic Toughbook laptop I would use in the field had way more processing power than the whole Computer Assisted Action Information System (CAAIS) computer fire control system of my first ship (an Exocet / Sea Wolf broad-beamed Leander). The proliferation of computers has been a double edged sword for the military. We can pack massive processing power in aircraft or ships, even in the back of an armoured command vehicle. Software definable radios, and silicon powered encryption technology mean that every member of an infantry squad can speak to his buddies clearly, in the middle of a firefight over an encrypted channel the bad guys can’t eavesdrop on.
On the other hand, one of my roles in the TA was as the secondary ‘Unit IT Security Officer’ (primary was the ‘regular’ WO). Our systems are now open to a new form of attack – electronic attack. Our systems can be ‘cracked’ by the bad guys (I am an ‘old school’ IT geek, I don’t use the term ‘hack’ or ‘hackers’ in this context). Sure its questionable how tactical such electronic attacks can be, but it is a well known fact that our systems are constantly be probed / attacked at a higher (non-battlefield) level.
One of the reasons Electronic Warfare has burgeoned into Information Operations is the way many different disciplines or areas now overlap:
- Strategic communications
- Civilian mass media
- Military PR
- Psychological operations
- Computer Network Operations / Computer Network Attack (CNO/CNA – “cyber defence / cyber-warfare”)
As a TA soldier I was a member of 15 (UK) Psyops Group, the UK’s tri-service Psychological Operations Group, so I have another perspective on this complexity. The UK’s Psyops capability is small, as is our military mass media capability, but the UK’s Psyops team has a great pedigree and a very successful track record. On the other side of the coin you might be surprised by the quality of the psyops products (DVD’s for example) churned out by the bad guys in Iraq, and we might also say that they have a more fertile audience who ‘want’ to consume their message.
So now we can be campaigning with bombs and bullets, locally attempting to win ‘hearts and minds’ with various physical projects, doing hearts and minds on a bigger scale with TV, radio and Internet, while electronically attacking and disrupting the enemies communications and mass media, and perhaps coming full circle to ‘kinetic’ operations against enemy information assets.
See, I told you it was getting complicated………
This is not to even mention really high tech EW stuff such as using electronically scanned phased array radars to generate and transmit advanced waveforms which can be used to attack enemy electronic systems, cracking the bad guys air defence network etc – any sci-fi geeks out there see the connection to the Cylon surprise attack on the Colonials and why the Battlestar Galactica had discrete non-networked systems !
So, before we get to the conclusion here is your homework; if your interested go read up on the topic at these two excellent UK web sites:
- The Information Operations page at the Information Warfare Site
- Prof. Phil Taylors site at the Institute of Communications Studies at the University of Leeds
(Prof. Phil used to come and lecture at 15 Pysops and it always incredibly interesting).
You might be surprised at the depth of the ‘open source’ / unclassified content at these sites.
So, does this burgeoning area of military operations need considerable investment in the post-SDR British military ? I would suggest it certainly does, but how do these abstract concepts hold up against the more traditional and easy to understand concepts of bombs and bullets ?
The US is struggling to setup its multi-service Cyber Command, but at least they are on the right track, acknowledging that there has to be a long term career path for “military geeks”.
So what are we going to do about it ?