The Information Environment and Capabilities
By Joseph W. Frost
Information is a critical component of any organization in the world. Specifically, the military depends on massive amounts of data to make decisions across all battlefield domains. The abundant information gained from various sources supplies joint-level leaders and staff with ample material to decipher, analyze, and create intelligence products. When given to the right people, these products can leverage opportunities that enable friendly military actions and reduce the effects of the adversary’s combat power. Joint planners have several capabilities to evaluate within information operations that aid in creating advantages for friendly forces. Joint commanders and staff must understand the information environment’s dimensions, military information support operations (MISO), civil-military operations (CMO), and military deception when planning dynamic information operations.
The information environment is “the aggregate of social, cultural, linguistic, psychological, technical, and physical factors that affect how humans and automated systems derive meaning from, act upon, and are impacted by information” (Joint Chiefs of Staff [JCS], 2022, p. GL-5). Three dimensions form the information environment. The physical dimension includes the concrete elements of the environment. Some examples include the civilian population, magazines, and electronic devices (JCS, 2014a). The informational dimension involves the range and distribution methods of data. The cognitive dimension focuses on the individual’s mindset toward the given or received information. Someone’s background, upbringing, or attitude toward the military could all sway the outcomes within this dimension. Communication, negotiation, and influencing skills are substantial factors in the cognitive dimension. All three dimensions are highly interconnected with the planning process and influence military actions and outcomes.
The Vietnam War’s media coverage exemplifies how all three dimensions link and can impact strategic objectives. The physical dimension of this example includes the deployed news anchors capturing real-time actions using cameras and disseminating these using televisions. The informational dimension covers the percentage of people within America who viewed the reports. Finally, the cognitive dimension captures how Americans perceived the military’s involvement and eventually showed little support for the war efforts, which influenced decisions at the strategic levels. One capability for joint planners to review that directly relates to these dimensions is MISO.
Military Information Support Operations
According to JCS (2014b), “the MISO process is used to develop and deliver influential messages and coordinate the execution of actions to affect the behavior of selected target audiences” (p. V-1). MISO will persuade a specific group of people through an indirect approach, altering their opinions, mental well-being, morale, and other cognitive factors. Joint planners incorporate psychological operations to impede, degrade, and disrupt enemy capabilities. Compelling an adversary’s military to change their mindset through nonlethal methods proves advantageous for achieving the mission and national strategic objectives. Operation Desert Storm demonstrates that correctly implemented MISO can drastically change the outcome of a campaign. Millions of psychological-related leaflets fell upon Iraqi forces, resulting in numerous surrendering enemies and causing catastrophic effects on the adversary’s personnel strength before the ground attack commenced (Jones & Summe, 1997). The decision to conduct an aerial bombardment of leaflets caused adversaries to question their commitment to their military’s mission. This example in Operation Desert Storm ties to all three information environment dimensions but had the most substantial correlation with the cognitive dimension. Another capability that alters a person’s perception and motivation is CMO.
According to JCS (2018), “CMO are the activities performed by military forces to establish, maintain, influence, or exploit relationships between military forces and indigenous populations and institutions” (p. I-1). CMO is an effective information capability that aids in building strong partnerships with host nations and within America. Additionally, these actions create a positive image for the military, improving trust, credibility, and rapport. Joint commanders use CMO in the operational environment to restore and stabilize the country in need.
The Haiti earthquake in 2021 illustrates the use of CMO. As a whole-of-government approach, the military worked with the United States Agency for International Development and other agencies to supply immediate aid until the country could manage operations (U.S. Southern Command, n.d.). The rapid deployment and logistical support helped Haiti survivors recover quickly from the devastating natural disaster. Receiving updated information from personnel on the ground allowed joint planners and government agencies to efficiently aid the population by employing the right resources to the necessary locations promptly. This example displayed all three dimensions of the information environment. The people of the military and the host nation comprised the physical domain. Additionally, the main flow of information came from face-to-face interaction with earthquake survivors and other locals, influencing the population’s perception of the United States, which involved both informational and cognitive dimensions. An additional capability that influences the information environment is military deception.
According to JCS (2017), “military deception is actions executed to deliberately mislead adversary military, paramilitary, or violent extremist organization decision makers, thereby causing the adversary to take specific actions (or inactions) that will contribute to the accomplishment of the friendly mission” (p. I-1). Joint commanders use deception in the operational environment to surprise and disorient adversary forces. Deception tactics and techniques give joint planners plenty of options to incorporate this misleading but favorable approach. However, accurate timing, correct utilization of resources, and confidentiality are necessary to achieve successful deception operations.
Operation Desert Storm highlighted another example of effectively integrating various capabilities during information operations. Strategic-level commanders and staff coordinated convincing deception operations against Iraqi forces. The Iraqi leader strongly assumed that coalition forces would attack from the coastline using amphibious vehicles, thus leaving their entire west flank unprotected (Breitenbach, 1991). The west flank was entirely desert terrain and challenging to navigate. However, the newly incorporated global positioning system technology helped coalition forces navigate the open desert. To improve deception efforts, “amphibious forces performed high-visibility exercises off the coast” (JCS, 2017, p. I-12). This training and preparation caused the Iraqi leader to fall further into the trap, as a sweeping ground attack began through the western avenue of approach. Operation Desert Storm’s deception operations were essential to the swift defeat of the Iraqi forces.
As outlined in the example, deception covers all three dimensions of the information environment. People and communication networks publicized the amphibious actions related to the physical domain. This dispersed information reached the entire Iraqi force, including the highest leader, influencing the minds of the enemy, which involved both informational and cognitive dimensions. Understanding the strategic benefits of deception helps a joint-level staff plan for and enhance military operations.
Joint commanders and staff must understand the information environment’s dimensions, military information support operations (MISO), civil-military operations (CMO), and military deception when planning dynamic information operations. Strategic-level planners must recognize how these capabilities, among many others, can influence the outcome of an operation in favor of friendly military forces. Capitalizing on the opportunities derived from obtaining and analyzing vast information becomes the most vital aspect of military operations. As a cornerstone of any organization, effective information operations empower joint commanders and staff personnel, improving decision-making that influences or neutralizes the target audience. History has proven that any military operation will depend on maximizing the information environment and capabilities.
Breitenbach, D. L. (1991). Operation desert deception: Operational deception in the ground campaign. Naval War College. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA253245.pdf
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2014a). Information operations (JP 3-13). https://tinyurl.com/2p8dshsj
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2014b). Military support information operations (JP 3-13.2). https://jdeis.js.mil/jdeis/new_pubs/jp3_13_2.pdf
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2017). Military deception (JP 3-13.4). https://jdeis.js.mil/jdeis/new_pubs/jp3_13_4.pdf
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2018). Civil-military operations (JP 3-57).
Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2022). Information in joint operations (JP 3-04). https://jdeis.js.mil/jdeis/new_pubs/jp3_04.pdf
Jones, J. B. & Summe, J. N. (1997). Psychological operations in desert shield, desert storm and urban freedom. AUSA Institute of Land Warfare. https://www.ausa.org/sites/default/files/LPE-97-3-Psychological-Operations-in-Desert-Shield-Desert-Storm-and-Urban-Freedom.pdf
U.S. Southern Command. (n.d.). U.S. military support to Haiti earthquake relief. https://www.southcom.mil/HaitiEarthquakeSupport/