An Iraqi Army soldier mans a checkpoint adorned with an Iraqi soccer poster courtesy of the US PSYOP
This summer, the Army unveiled its emerging information advantage doctrine at TechNet – Augusta. Although the Army information advantage term is new, several experienced military members and civilians questioned whether it truly is anything new or just a repackaging of information operations. Information advantage and information operations have similarities in affecting friendly and enemy decision-making, yet analysis reveals the two terms have noteworthy differences.
Information advantage differs from information operations because the former focuses on outcomes instead of processes, captures the importance of information and the contributions of joint information-related capabilities, and is commander-led instead of staff-coordinated. Indeed, information advantage is an improvement over information operations, and the only recommendation for improvement is that the Army not omit the joint term information-related capabilities.
According to a recent Army definition, information advantage is a condition when a force holds the initiative in terms of the use, protection, denial, or manipulation of information to achieve situational understanding, improve decision-making, and affect relevant actor behavior through the coordinated employment of all relevant military capabilities. Information advantage is achieved through five lines of effort (LOE): enable decision-making, protect friendly information, inform domestic and international audiences, influence foreign audiences, and conduct information warfare.
Meanwhile, “Information Operations (IO) is the integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities (IRCs) in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own” and has no supporting tasks according to Joint Publication 3-13. The new joint publication for operations in the information environment recognizes information as a joint function and mentions information advantage without defining it. Information advantage is more useful because it improves upon information operations.
First, information advantage focuses on an outcome. As Colonel Mike Hammerstrom previously stated in C4ISRNET, “it is a condition not an activity.” The condition exists through, or is created by, the collective effects of activities across the five LOEs. Actions coordinated and directed within an LOE contribute to the condition of information advantage. By contrast, IO focuses on the integration of capabilities to affect adversary decision-making without stipulating whether the effect is favorable or not and without accounting for the decisions of persons other than adversaries and potential adversaries on the battlefield. Commanders care more about outcomes than integration.
Secondly, information advantage and the five LOEs acknowledge the enormity and importance of Information as an element of combat power. The LOEs help the commander organize the staff to oversee the vast range of IRC actions and impacts. Even though the Army is not including the term IRCs in its doctrine of information advantage, all IRCs support one of the five information advantage efforts all the time without exception. Whereas IO professionals previously used a euphemism regarding an IRC like psychological operations (PSYOP), that “sometimes PSYOP is just PSYOP” unless integrated with another IRC to achieve an objective or effect, this is no longer accurate.
While the first two differences often lead to turf battles over IO oversight, the third distinction solves the information advantage oversight by making it commanders’ business. Information advantage is a state of being for a commander to achieve rather than the staff function of coordinating and synchronization. The commander is responsible for achieving information advantage and can do it a variety of ways in employing capabilities and staff. Now, the commander can focus on directing information advantage as opposed to the staff process of integrating capabilities to achieve limited effects against adversary decision-making.
Information advantage needs to be commanders’ business because it recognizes information as part of a single operating environment. This implicitly knocks down the stove pipes of staff primacy and places information on equal footing with other warfighting functions like maneuver, fires, and logistics. To retain the importance of information advantage as a condition when a force holds the initiative, the Army should consider retaining joint IRCs instead of using the term information advantage activities. Other military capabilities contribute to information advantage as a stream of information which informs domestic audiences, informs and influences foreign audiences, and contributes to information warfare.
One cannot distinguish the information activity value between an armor battalion conducting offensive operations to complement the message of using overwhelming fire power, another armor battalion conducting a feint to send a message that it is the main attack and the battalion in reserve waiting to commit to success that can support both messages. All military activities have inherent informational traits. This was the fate beset upon IO as IO became all things to all people encumbered by colloquialisms like winning hearts and minds, mind trick, and IO campaigns. It might be best to describe information activities simply as the employment of IRCs.
Information advantage is different from information operations. It is a logical intellectual framework for military operations that recognizes the comprehensiveness, diversity, and significance of information on the battlefield. Information operations served a purpose for over two decades, and misinterpretation and differing perspectives amongst operators beset it. Information advantage more clearly aligns capabilities to a military purpose and allows for robust application of such. It is a worthy and overdue change for the Army.
The author is a retired Army Colonel who led the Army’s Cyberspace and Information portfolio from August 2012 to May 2016.