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Thread: Rethinking “IO:” Complex Operations in the Information Age

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    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Rethinking “IO:” Complex Operations in the Information Age

    Rethinking “IO:” Complex Operations in the Information Age

    by BG Huba Wass de Czege, US Army, Retired, Small Wars Journal

    Download interim version of article as PDF

    We are in a period of unprecedented and rapid change, and this realization should make us skeptics of wisdoms revealed as recently as a decade and a half ago when the problems the military faced were very different. Paradigms that might have seemed sensible then confuse more than clarify today.

    In the years just prior to September 11, 2001, a new American Way of War emerged to replace Cold War paradigms -- those underlying unthinking ways of thinking embedded in our doctrines. The April 2000 Defense Planning Guidance tasked U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) to develop “… new Joint warfighting concepts and capabilities that will improve the ability of future Joint force commanders to rapidly and decisively conduct particularly challenging and important operational missions, such as … coercing an adversary to undertake certain actions or denying the adversary the ability to coerce or attack its neighbors …” The object of these operations were to be rogue states such as Iraq, North Korea, Libya, and Panama were or had been. What emerged was dubbed the “Rapid Decisive Operations (RDO)” concept. It rested on four pillars. An Air Force and Navy capable of controlling air, space, and sea domains from which to coerce enemies with a hail of precise air and naval missile power; increasingly more capable special operating forces to penetrate enemy territory and provide targets; and a new core capability called “Information Operations” to “influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decisionmaking, while protecting our own.” In this “domain,” as in the others, the term most used in the late 1990’s to describe the product of American technological superiority was not just superiority, but dominance. RDO asserted that leveraging these asymmetric superiorities in the air, space, naval, and information domains would not only conserve scarce ground forces and reduce casualties, but they would also achieve rapid and decisive results. As we saw versions of RDO applied in Kosovo in 2000, in Afghanistan in 2002, and in Iraq in 2003, it became clear to most professionals that this new paradigm oversimplified complexities then not well understood. In fact the chief failing of RDO was an utter lack of respect for the difficulty of what it set out to do: either to achieve relevant dominance in any sense; or to coerce any determined adversary to undertake any actions what-so-ever. Even denying an adversary the ability to coerce or attack its neighbors has to be approached with humility today. However, thinking about the Information Operations component of this package has been most resistant to revision, especially two prized and related tenets. One is that “the integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, and operations security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities” is the best way to gain the maximum benefit of so-called IO core, supporting, and related capabilities. Another is that when these capabilities are thus integrated, an independent IO “logical line of operations” can influence the behaviors of adversaries and the publics that support them with so-called “information effects” alone. This is an amateurish outlook, and not shared by all IO practitioners, especially those who have been in the trenches, and working closely with the Brigade Combat Teams most involved in the real challenges of trying to “influence” the behaviors of real people under stress. While progress is being made on other fronts of “Defense Transformation,” IO is stuck in a late 20th Century time warp. Future Shock author Alvin Toffler, in a passage from a 1996 book, makes this relevant point: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." In this case a Pentagon bureaucracy, the tyranny of a slow-to- change, lowest-common-denominator and top-down-biased Joint Doctrine, plus engrained habits of thought stand in the way of learning, unlearning, and relearning...

  2. #2
    Council Member Spud's Avatar
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    Mar 2008
    Canberra, ACT, Australia


    Hey guys thanks for positing this. Shame it wasn't up a couple of weeks earlier as it would've gone a long way towards focusing discussion at the recent Influence Activities workshop for ABCA nations. He goes through some of the key issues and transformation that we struggled with all week.



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