Small Wars Journal

Making Sense of the Information Environment

Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:01am

Making Sense of the Information Environment

Robert S. Ehlers Jr., and Patrick Blannin

Core Aspects of the Information Environment

The Department of Defense (DoD) and its Five Eyes (FVEY) counterparts (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom) spend increasing time and effort trying to make sense of the Information Environment (IE).  While the IE appears new as a reality and a concept, it is not. In fact, it is merely the latest definitional means for making sense of how human beings use information to influence the direction and outcome of competition and conflict.  A brief reading of any well-known military theory, from any age and across cultures, reveals the important and often decisive role of having a superior understanding of one’s adversaries, and the centrality of using that understanding wisely to gain advantage over them.  In short, information is the means by which all parties to a conflict build understanding of one another and themselves, and “the IE” is the medium through which this information flows as the various players use it to influence each other’s decision calculus. While DoD and FVEY comprehension of the IE is still maturing, its fundamental qualities are evident. It is ubiquitous. It is largely unbounded, relatively unregulated, hyper-connected, and it exists simultaneously in—and permeates—all domains and problem sets.[i]

The IE is global in nature, although there are multiple information-heavy complex problems (ICPs) within the global IE.  Accordingly, the global IE is a highly complex and emergent system of systems in which information moves and produces impacts with rapidly increasing speed and often high-order and unanticipated impacts.  The global IE and ICPs comprise a wide range and diversity of actors with much greater aggregate influence than they had in the previous century. Because information flows are often not controllable even by powerful states, they can produce effects far beyond what any state could create.  To make things more complex, non-state actors, which often seek to create influence to achieve their own strategic aims, now play a central and often disruptive role as influencers and force multipliers within the global IE. Further, they often act outside of accepted international norms.  Non-state actors use new media and advances in information communication technology to lessen the impact or even undermine the effectiveness of statecraft. Consequently, a diverse group of actors can now generate alternate information-centric forms of power to exert influence in various ICPs.[ii]

However, the complex and contested nature of ICPs mean that an ability to exert and leverage influence requires more that the capacity to generate it. First, one’s opponents are often in positions of organic or earned advantage and thus have the initiative.  Second, each ICP within the global IE exhibits unique actors, drivers, and characteristics, requiring distinct approaches. Third, efforts to exert influence thus produce a dynamic and co-evolutionary “wrestling match” with inevitable cascading effects. Consequently, successfully mitigating a threat in one ICP can negatively impact another or even create entirely new problem sets. Although an understanding of 2nd and 3rd order effects is not new, the specific (and not fully understood) nature of the global IE requires specific considerations of their impacts.[iii]

Further, this means that gains in the IE are temporal. Actors can only establish information-related advantages for a period of time. Therefore, in an information-dense, hyper-connected ICP in which states have limited control over information flows, the desired audience receptions of, and reactions to, information must be prioritized. This process of prioritization is the essence of shaping, which is itself the key to exerting long-term influence to change a target’s decision calculus. The ability to shape is key to operating effectively and generating influence, but there are limits to how much shaping is possible even in favorable circumstances. Shaping is part capability, part will, and part credibility. States must consider their capacity to shape and influence when aligning ends, ways, and means. In combination with the open-ended problems that are the norm today, these dynamics associated with shaping highlight the need for long-term focus and strategic patience.

What is the Information Environment?

FVEY doctrine and concept documents articulate the IE as comprising three dimensions: physical, informational, and human (or cognitive).  The physical dimension comprises the infrastructure facilitating the transmission, reception, and storage of information.  The informational dimension includes the wired networks allowing content and data flow to be collected, processed, stored, disseminated, and displayed. It forms the links between the physical and human dimensions.  The human (cognitive) dimension includes the individual and collective minds of decision makers and all others who act upon and are in turn affected by information flows.[iv]

Based on these core aspects of the IE, the FVEY partners currently define it as “The aggregate of the individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate or act on information.”[v] This definition is foundational but incomplete because it does not emphasize the primacy of context in ICPs.  Nor does it clarify the meanings of the verbs in the definition (collect, process, disseminate, act); namely, what they mean, who does these things, why each matters in a particular way, and how they are intertwined and interdependent.  Consequently, this definition provides a useful baseline but is insufficient for helping military personnel and policymakers comprehend what “the IE” is. Decision makers seeking to gain advantage in national-security problems need to understand there are multiple ICPs within the global IE and that each has unique contextual, cultural, cognitive, and temporal characteristics.

Fortunately, the DoD has taken a first, if tentative, step toward addressing this with the following recent definitional update:

The information environment comprises and aggregates numerous social, cultural, cognitive, technical, and physical attributes that act upon and impact knowledge, understanding, beliefs, world views, and, ultimately, actions of an individual, group, system, community, or organization. The information environment also includes technical systems and their use of data. The information environment directly affects all OEs [operational environments].  Information is pervasive throughout the OE. To operate effectively requires understanding the interrelationship of the informational, physical, and human aspects that are shared by the OE and the information environment. Informational aspects reflect the way individuals, information systems, and groups communicate and exchange information. Physical aspects are the material characteristics of the environment that create constraints on and freedoms for the people and information systems that operate in it. Finally, human aspects frame why relevant actors perceive a situation in a particular way. Understanding the interplay between the informational, physical, and human aspects provides a unified view of the OE.[vi]

Despite this improved definition, to understand the term “IE” in both its basic and more nuanced aspects, it is first necessary to break it into its two component words.  “Information” is “the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence.”  This includes knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction, whether openly or using the tools and tradecraft of intelligence. Further, it is “something…which justifies change in a construct (such as a plan or theory) that represents physical or mental experience or another construct.” This means the delivery of information occurs for a purpose, which is generally to change or reinforce the decision calculus of target audiences.  These are often adversarial, but allied, partner, and neutral audiences are also important in addressing a problem to gain advantage.[vii]

An “environment” comprises “the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.”  However, the fuller definition is more revealing:  “the complex of…factors…that act upon an organism or…community and ultimately determine its form and survival.”  Viewed from the perspective of General Systems Theory, this element of the larger definition takes on real significance, as does the third and final piece of the definition: “the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community.”[viii]

Only by combining these definitions can one begin to develop a basic understanding of what comprises the global IE and its ICPs, and from there to make sense of the improved DoD definition.  Even the improved definition is only a point of departure. To be useful, information must be properly conceptualized, contextualized, understood, and delivered to a target audience—and often multiple audiences—within its specific environment for a specific purpose.  Done properly, this will yield an increasing degree of influence over targeted individuals and groups. When the degree of influence reaches a certain point, the target may decide to act and behave as the influencer desires.  The ‘saturation point’ leading to a change in behavior is determined by many factors, and the influencer has limited command over them.

This means certain kinds of information and delivery techniques are more or less important depending on the target’s contextual and cultural realities, and, in the case of decision makers, their cognitive processes and emotional states.  Most available information will be irrelevant to influencing the target.  Understanding that there are multiple ICPs at play within the global IE serves as a reminder that even though these problem sets are distinct, they are often intertwined, interactive, and interdependent.  Addressing them in close coordination with their companion operational environments (OEs) thus requires specific types of information and delivery mechanisms suited to the targets within these problem sets.

The IE and the OE: Coequal and Interdependent Companions

This false dilemma that “the IE” and the Operational Environment (OE) are distinct, and that one predominates, cognitively hamstrings analysts, planners, and operators as they wrestle with what comprises “the IE” and how they should act within it.  The fact that they are highly interconnected, interdependent, and interactive is foundational to helping decision makers understand how to work various problem sets.[ix]

To address ICPs effectively, it is essential to understand that each one has a coequal and interdependent OE constantly interacting with it, receiving and in turn delivering inputs. Information Operations (IO, or Inform and Influence Actions [IIA] in ADF parlance) with specific Information-Related Capabilities (IRCs) comprise the most basic, tactical means used to design activities, produce effects, and achieve objectives leading to an end-state.

One other key difference centers on the fact that while the global IE is purely informational and revolves around what humans do with the information they produce or acquire, ICPs and OEs contain a range of things that are not strictly informational. Geography, climate, and weather are three examples. The FVEY countries produce a great deal of data to help them understand these factors and how they impact military and other activities. Yet they exist independently of the production and use of information in ways that human constructs such as culture, society, and economy do not.  Nonetheless, geography, climate, and weather do have direct effects on the gathering, management, dissemination, reception of, and reaction to information.

The IE and the Competition Continuum

Another important concept driving how organizations coordinate them both in terms of definition and during employment is the competition continuum discussed in the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning.[x]  This continuum exists from peace to existential conflict, with the majority of competition occurring within the “gray zone” in the middle of the continuum, where many actors choose to further their strategic aims.  The competition continuum informs what an ICP encompasses and how those within it may operate. Any misunderstanding of how an adversary views a problem set within the competition continuum will negatively impact friendly efforts to achieve an end-state.  Opponents within ICPs often have differing levels of commitment and thus willingness to expend resources and endure sacrifice to achieve their ends.  Understanding this and designing information-focused activities accordingly is essential.

The ADF has recently sought to articulate the conceptual nuances of the contemporary global IE and its impact on national security, operational concepts, force design, and capability development. Documents such as the draft Information War: ADF Manoeuvre in the Information Environment (ADF MIE) conceive of the battle for influence taking place across a spectrum of contest—in other words, along the competition continuum—incorporating non-linear and intertwined layers of cooperation, competition, confrontation, and conflict (“4C”).[xi] Toward the far end of the spectrum of contest there is an inherent spectrum of conflict. Here, conventional military forces deploy for a range of tasks designed specifically to manage conflict.  These include: civil-military cooperation, low-level operations, peace support operations, counterinsurgency, and a range of activities under the purview of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).[xii] Engaging across the full spectrum of conflict requires decision makers to consider a full range of military operations as well as military operations other than war. Figure 1 of the Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations presents this spectrum as a conflict continuum which extends from peace to war incorporating a range of military actions.[xiii]  These include major operations and campaigns; crisis response and limited contingency operations; and military engagement, security cooperation, and deterrence.

Contest within the competition continuum is dynamic, with actors engaged in simultaneous defensive and offensive activity across the 4C. The spectrum of contest is complex because actions taken within it are complicated, temporal, and subjective as various audiences will interpret them in different ways. For example, two states can be simultaneously engaged in cooperation, competition, and confrontation. As a consequence of a combination of various IRCs and methods, and the effects they deliver, operations in the global IE do not conform to a linear spectrum of conflict; military campaign models; the military phasing construct; or the separation of effort into the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. A clear progression from peace to “war” (armed conflict) is generally not the appropriate lens through which to view, understand, and operate within the global IE or an ICP. Rather, they are informed by four key components: context, culture, cognition, and change over time (including cause-and-effect dynamics).  These factors, which drive how people decide and act, interact in complex ways to drive developments within an OE, its companion ICP, and the global IE.[xiv]

Information Maneuver and Mass

As ADF MIE emphasizes, the concept of maneuver is also critically important within the global IE.  Real maneuver occurs in the global IE, an ICP, and the corresponding OE.  It is both informational and physical. The former is referred to as “information maneuver” and the latter simply as “maneuver.”  The concept of information maneuver helps people working on complex problems understand that how, when, and to what end they use information, and how well they coordinate its release with other activities (including physical maneuver), is of vital importance in achieving their aims.[xv]

Information maneuver and physical maneuver distinguish themselves from simply moving physical assets because positional advantage can be military or political, and both rely on having an information advantage. Synchronization of information delivery is thus an intrinsic characteristic of maneuver within an ICP. The ADF’s draft ADF MIE paper maps out how to maneuver within the global IE and ICPs to gain positional advantage. Competitors also seek information advantage through A2/AD actions to produce a level of stand-off capabilities that effectively disaggregate FVEY Joint and Combined forces to undermine their national-level capabilities and associated authorities. This manifests itself in political separation; physical separation; and functional separation. It is a direct impediment to maneuver, but an effective information maneuver scheme provides the means to counter and defeat such actions.[xvi]

Mass, the cousin of maneuver, also plays an important role in gaining advantage within an ICP.  Information mass, like physical mass, is real, and it complements the use of physical mass across all IOPs.  However, it is also distinct from physical mass and can be used independent of it, while physical mass relies on the use of information for its employment.  The less tangible but very real nature of information mass acts as a multiplier for physical mass and may even set conditions for avoiding the use of lethal force.  The capacity to generate information mass enables a state to deliver information effects (including physical mass-like effects) through Operations in the Information Environment (OIE—the DoD term) or Information Warfare (IW or iWar—the ADF term) while still being able to maneuver at speed in the global IE and ICPs. Information mass is an enabler of and is in turn enabled by long-term influence efforts. By leveraging information mass, states can effectively maneuver within the global IE and ICPs to achieve national security objectives short of armed conflict.[xvii]

The Global IE, ICPs, and Whole-of-Government Action

Achieving national or supranational influence in and through the IE is not solely a military function.  In fact, because the purpose of seeking an information advantage is to achieve strategic priorities and desired end-states short of armed conflict, the military should usually be a supporting element of a larger, whole-of-government effort. It must therefore offer a range of information-focused options to policy makers in pursuit of strategic priorities.  These efforts are generally long term and are best viewed as campaigns in the fullest sense of the word.[xviii]

Exerting influence within physical environments has long remained the state’s prerogative given the high cost and complexity of maintaining traditional elements of power such as capable military forces and international engagement mechanisms. However, smaller states and non-state actors are increasingly able to outwit larger states by engaging in more effective information maneuver and mass, leveraging information-centric power to exert influence across the competition continuum. These largely gray-zone efforts include disinformation and denial of access to information, intimidation, coercion, and overt aggression. However, just as in conventional operations at the level of conflict, no one military service, national security organization, government department, or other entity or actor can ‘win’ alone. Doing so requires an enduring whole-of-government approach in order to gain advantage in the battle for influence. In the larger “wrestling match” for long-term advantage there are at least three types and levels of effort: IO / IIA, Information Activities (Info Actys), operations in the information environment (OIE) / IW, and influence. First, the fight for information superiority through IO / IIA is a Joint and IC obligation. Second, the battle for information advantage through IW and OIE is a whole-of-government effort. Third, in the global IE, the contest for influence—the highest level of effort tied directly to one’s grand strategy and meta narrative—is whole of society, not just whole-of-government.[xix]

The common thread through all three levels of effort is the desire to impose one’s will upon an opponent. Each layer also has a temporal component. Tactical-level IO / IIA is immediate, operational-level IW and OIE occur over months and years, and strategic-level influence is generational. However, they are mutually supportive, interrelated, and directly associated with the pillars of any status-building framework: credibility, reputation, will, and capability.[xx] One must also consider the duality of competing yet supportive timeframes that set the conditions for an enduring influence capability. There is a contentious and challenging relationship between managing an ongoing problem evolving over years and managing short-term problems and crises in light of that longer problem.  Inevitable missteps in the longer influence campaign will produce short-term problems and crises which, if not effectively addressed, will derail the larger effort.  Of critical importance here, combating propaganda, conducting IO, and messaging at all societal levels involves messengers who are trusted and credible to the target audience. Trust is fundamentally psychological and builds on effective narratives.  Trusted messengers are generally created over longer timeframes, not in the short term.

Concluding Thoughts: What Comprises “the IE”?

While it is the norm to refer to “the IE” as an overarching term for the arena within which one aims to gain advantage working a specific problem, the reality is that there are many ICPs within the global IE, each relating to a distinct problem.  Each ICP has its own character driving operations within it.  However, one can discern that “the IE” includes the following attributes:

First, “the IE” is a composite of the global IE and the multiple ICPs residing within it. While FVEY military and other government organizations spend most of their time dealing with ICPs and their companion OEs, the global IE is always impinging on and driving them.

Second, each ICP within the global IE is unique.  As such, it contains all of the information already in existence and either in use or potentially useable to gain advantage in that particular problem set.  Further, it includes all new information created to address the problem or just relevant to it.  In this sense, an ICP incorporates information already produced, currently being produced, and yet to be produced.  Understanding what the latter might be and how to develop and use it falls into the realms of anticipatory analysis and sense making.

Third, the global IE and ICPs are interwoven, interdependent, and coequal with a companion OE.  This is significant because people waste time and energy attempting to create a false dichotomy between them.  One does not rule the other. In fact, each answers to the other.  Efforts to privilege one makes people less capable of integrating information-specific activities and effects into a larger operational or strategic design or plan.  This problem is reflected in the old expression that to make an operational plan more effective, one need only “sprinkle some IO on it” toward the end of the planning process.  Such an approach is dangerous.

Fourth, the global IE and ICPs are maneuver spaces in their own right and have their own kind of mass.  Information maneuver is interdependent with physical maneuver but also transcends it.  Engaging in information maneuver within a given ICP and its companion OE describes how policymakers, commanders, and others employ information temporally and spatially for maximum effectiveness as they seek to gain advantage.  Maneuver within an ICP goes hand in hand with producing the appropriate degree of “information mass” at the right places and times. Information maneuver supported by information mass aims to ensure one’s own meta narrative, narratives, and messages overwhelm the opponent’s and render them ineffective.  Maneuver and mass, among the oldest ideas discussed in military theory and practice, have every bit as much relevance in the global IE and ICPs as in a related OE.

Fifth, the global IE and its ICPs are comprised of, among other things “The aggregate of the individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate or act on information” as defined in JP 1-02.  This reminds us of these critical human and systems components, but this becomes useful to us only in combination with other aspects of the global IE noted above.  To work effectively within a problem set, people must understand much more about it than just the individuals, organizations, and systems at play.  They must understand the problem they are trying to address; the adversary’s and others’ views of it; interrelationships between the ICP and its companion OE; and how to effectively mass and maneuver information against the right targets, with the right effects, to achieve an end-state.

With these characteristics of “the IE” now clear, it is possible to propose a preliminary definition and contributory factors:

“‘The IE’ is the space within which opponents mass and maneuver information, often in careful coordination with physical assets, to gain advantage within an ICP.  It is not a single entity, as the term implies, but rather a composite of the global IE and many ICPs related to distinct problem sets with national-security relevance.  Effective operations within the global IE and ICPs will ideally yield long-term influence and advantage over opponents.  However, depending on an opponent’s skill, any advantage gained may be of short duration.  The global IE and its ICPs are therefore also arenas of long-term competition and conflict, which require patience to gain advantage and initiative.  This has major implications for shaping organizational structures and processes to facilitate long-term focus and effectiveness.  To gain advantage in an ICP, one must also consider carefully how and why to use information mass and maneuver to produce effects, achieve objectives and end-states, and support strategic priorities.  Information (and physical) mass and maneuver are so central they are part and parcel of any ICP, not merely the means for employing information within it.  Finally, because each ICP in the global IE is unique and requires a distinct range of skill sets and insights to manage it, anyone hoping to work effectively within it must assemble a tailored and carefully structured aggregate of individuals, organizations, systems, and processes.”

With this holistic but by no means fully mature definition of “the IE” in mind, stakeholders are better prepared to think about, understand, plan against, and deal with ICPs.  Further, practitioners have another definitional arrow in their quivers for education and training purposes.  One of the most important yet challenging aspects of operating within the global IE and its various ICPs is understanding how military and other government personnel must take account of them as they analyze, plan, and execute OIE / IW.  There are many training courses dealing with specific aspects of this.  However, there are few education courses that discuss how to address ICPs, and to organize and structure organizations to address them, over long time horizons and for maximum effect and advantage.  Nor is there any common lexicon among the FVEY countries, much less within the DoD military Services and US government.  Educational programs become particularly important as the subject matter they address becomes more complex, “cloudy,” and of greater consequence.  It is time to make education a full partner along with training, experience, and vigorous professional engagement as the FVEY countries address ICPs facing them in the current and future national-security environments.[xxi]

The views and opinions expressed in this document are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any government, agency, organization, or employer connected to the authors.

End Notes

[i] Some examples of formal  FVEY IE documentation: US Department of Defense (DoD), Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment (JCOIE) (July 2018),; DoD, Joint Concept for Human Aspects of Military Operations (JC-HAMO), (October 2016); DoD, Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment, (2016),; US Marine Corps, Marine Air Ground Task Force Information Environment Operations Concept of Employment, (July 2017),; Department of National Defence, Information Operations Policy for CF International Operations  - COS J3 Information Operations, (Kingston, ON: Canadian Army Land Warfare Centre. 2014); Joint Doctrine Centre, JDN 2/19 Defence Strategic Communication: an Approach to Formulating and Executing Strategy, (2019),; UK Ministry of Defence, Joint Warfare Publication 3-80, Information Operation, (June 2002),; New Zealand Army, Future Land Operating Concept 2035 (FLOC 35): Integrated Land Missions, (2016),; Department of Defence, Australian Defence Doctrine Publication 3.13 Information Activities (ed. 3), (2013); Commonwealth of Australia,  Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy: Enabling innovation, growth & prosperity, (Canberra: Australian Government, 2016),; NATO, AJP 3.10. Allied Joint Doctrine for Information Operation, ed. A, Ver. 1, (NATO Standardization Agency, 2014).

[ii] While it is plausible to consider each ICP to be an IE (or “problem IE”) in its own right, the authors believe there is one “IE”—the global IE—within which reside a multitude of ICPs.  Information flows between the global IE and these ICPs, and between the various ICPs themselves. This creates a particularly complex and interactive environment within which various players attempt to gain advantage and achieve strategic priorities over a long time period.  In this article, the terms “ICP,” “problem,” and “problem set” are used interchangeably.

[iii] Joint Publication (JP) 1-02, The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, (November 2019); Australian Defence Glossary, ‘information environment’, ID: 70608.

[iv] JCOIE, passim.

[v] JP 1-02, 104.

[vi] JP 3-0, Joint Operations, 17 Jan 2017 Incorporating Change 1, 22 Oct 2018, pp. IV-1 - IV-2.

[vii] Merriam Webster online, italics added,  Accessed 20 December 2019.

[viii] Merriam Webster online, italics added,  Accessed 20 December 2019.

[ix] See JP 3-0, Joint Operations (17 January 2017 incorporating changes from 28 October 2018),; JP 3-13, Information Operations (27 November 2012 Incorporating Change 1 20 November 2014); and JP 5-0, Joint Planning (16 June 2017),  JP 3-0 and JP 3-13 give the OE precedence over the global IE and ICPs.  Conversely, JP 5-0, a planning document, focuses more heavily on the global IE and ICPs rather than specifically on the OE.  While the difference in scope is logical given the purpose of the documents, neither JP 3-0 nor 3-13 rises above the level of the OE in any substantial or sustained way.  Given the complex and coequal interrelationships among the global IE, ICPs, and OE, this approach is not highly effective.  Publications by the other FVEY countries (see footnote 1) focus more heavily on the global IE and its ICPs, and view them as interactive with—not subordinate to—their companion OEs.

[x] Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC), Figure 1, p. 8 (16 March 2018),

[xi] Joint Influence Activities Directorate. ADF: Manoeuvre in the Information Environment (Draft), (August 2019); Additionally, Australian Army. Land Warfare Doctrine 3-0 Operations, (2018),  refers often to cooperation, competition, and conflict, as does The Mad Scientist Initiative at US Army TRADOC, which recently released an anthology titled The Information Environment: Competition and Conflict, which explores the 4C continuum ( The ‘Spectrum of Contest’ is a phrase  adopted as the title of a research monograph currently under development by one of the authors of this paper. This normative spectrum of relations has been the focus of previous multidisciplinary research such as Liebovitch, L. S, Naudot, V, Vallacher, R, Nowak, A, Bui-Wrzosinska, L & Coleman, P., 'Dynamics of two-actor cooperation–competition conflict models', Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Vol.387, Iss. 25, (2008), pp.6360-6378,  

[xii] Unites States Army, FM 7-0, Training for Full Spectrum Operations (Washington D.C.: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2008), pp. 1-96.

[xiii] JC-HAMO, 2016, p. 4.

[xiv] Australian Army. Land Warfare Doctrine 3-0 Operations, (2018), pp. 8, 9,;

[xv] Joint Influence Activities Directorate. ADF: Manoeuvre in the Information Environment (Draft), August 2019); UK Army. Force Troops Command Handbook (Headquarters Force Troop Command, 2017), pp. 9-12,; UK MoD. Joint Concept Note 2/18 Information Advantage, (Whitehall, UK: United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, 2018), pp. 5, 8,;  US ARCYBER. The US Army Landcyber White Paper 2018-2030 (2013), 

[xvi] Joint Influence Activities Directorate. ADF: Manoeuvre in the Information Environment (Draft), August 2019); See also: UK Army, Force Troops Command Handbook, pp. 9-12; UK MoD, Joint Concept Note 2/18 Information Advantage (Whitehall, UK: United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, 2018), pp. 5, 8.

[xvii] Ibid; see also speeches given by ADF Vice Chief, Vice Admiral Johnston, and Head of Information Warfare MAJGEN Thompson: Keynote Address: Australian Strategic Policy Institute: War in 2025, June (2019),; 2019 iWar Forum Keynote – The Missing ‘I’ in DIME, (October 2019),; Information Warfare – A New Age? , (October 2018), 

[xviii] See publication cited in Footnote 1 and the JCIC for detailed discussions of this topic.

[xix] The following is a brief consolidation of FVEY definitions.  While this consolidation focuses on points of agreement, there are still many points of divergence regarding definitions.  Further, the same term may mean different things in the various FVEY lexicons:

  • Information War(fare) (IW or iWar) – IW is the contest playing out in the Information Environment as states and other actors compete and confront each other in pursuit of their national or individual interests, alongside disruptive non-State actors. 
  • Information Activities (Info Actys) — Coordinated and synchronized actions to place civilian and military elements into a position of advantage in the information domain in order to affect the understanding, will and capability of specific targets.
  • Information Operations (IO) – IO is the tactical and operational level planning and execution of integrated, coordinated and synchronized kinetic and non-kinetic actions against the capability, will and understanding of target systems and / or target audiences, particularly decision-making, while protecting one’s own.  In the DoD, “IO” is being phased out and replaced by “Information Joint Function.”
  • Operations in the Information Environment (OIE) — Actions taken to generate, preserve, and apply information power against a relevant actor in order to increase or protect competitive advantage or combat power potential within all domains of the operating environment.  In US parlance, these occur at a higher level than IW and stretch across all information-focused actions from the tactical to the grand-strategic, in the latter case by impacting larger influence efforts.  OIE is the rough equivalent of the ADF’s IW (iWar.)

The current ADF working definition for IW (from the current Head of Information Warfare MAJGEN Thompson) is “the context for the provision and assurance of information to support friendly decision-making, whilst denying and degrading that of adversaries.” This definition provides the ADF with doctrinal flexibility in the IE and means the ADF can participate in the information “contest” wherever it occurs across the traditional spectrum of conflict. Morgan, E & Thompson, M., “Information Warfare: An Emergent, Australian Defence Force Capability- Discussion Paper 3”, Building Allied Interoperability in the Indo-Pacific Region, (Center for Strategic & International Studies, October 2018),  

Definitional aspects of “the IE” within the DoD are evolving.  The term “IO” is being replaced by “Information Joint Function.”  Further, only the DoD is currently using the term “Operations in the Information Environment” (OIE).”  These OIE are seen as occurring within an OE.  However, the DoD recognizes the larger-than-OE and larger-than-military aspects and impacts of OIE, so there is positive movement on this front in terms of meshing OIE with the OE, its companion ICP, and the global IE. Ultimately, efforts to gain and maintain advantage within the global IE and ICPs will depend on how well DoD and other FVEY terms align, reflect reality, and are mutually supporting.

[xx] Patrick Blannin. Defence Diplomacy in the Long War: Beyond the Aiguillette, Doctoral Thesis, (Bond University Publications, 2017).

[xxi] The Information Environment Advanced Analysis (IEAA) Course is the only graduate-level, Joint Staff-certified, Joint credit-awarding course focusing entirely on the global IE and how to analyze, plan, and operate against ICPs with maximum effect.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Pat Blannin is an Operations Analyst; published author; and an experienced Teaching Fellow with a history of working across Government, higher education and the private sector. He’s a research professional skilled in concept generation and application; strategic studies; policy analysis (Defence, national security, diplomacy & Counter-Terrorism); and Adaptive Red Teaming.

Dr. Robert Ehlers is a retired Air Force colonel with 24 years of service as an intelligence officer.  His military assignments included command at the flight, squadron and group levels, and faculty duty at the Air Force Academy and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.  His Ph.D. is in history from Ohio State University. Upon military retirement Rob served as the Director of the new Center for Security Studies and Professor of Security Studies at Angelo State University, leading the development of seven new online degree programs. He currently is JMark Services Inc.’s senior mentor of the Information Environment Advanced Analysis Course. He is the author of Targeting the Third Reich: Air Intelligence and the Allied Bombing Campaigns; The Mediterranean Air War: Airpower and Allied Victory in World War II, and the  edited work Technology, Violence, and War: Essays in Honor of Dr. John F. Guilmartin Jr.



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