In the spring of 2019, Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty announced his intention to transition U.S. Army Cyber Command into an information warfare command. The announcement reflected Fogarty’s conviction of the increased importance of information to cyberspace operations. “The power we are going to project globally,” he stated, “is information.”1 Discussion for the next year focused on expanding cyberspace operations to encompass information warfare and included proposals to rename subordinate cyber units and to shift the curriculums at Army training centers.2
Eighteen months later, in the fall of 2020, U.S. Army Cyber Command announced that information warfare had given way to the concept of information advantage. Designed to achieve “decision dominance,” information advantage was settled upon as a more appropriate description of the expanded Army mission in the information space — described as an environment of “unprecedented information warfare.”3 Organizations ranging from U.S. Army Cyber Command to the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center began to wrestle with the concept of information advantage even as they continued to use, at times interchangeably, the terms “information warfare” and “information operations.”
The arrival of the term “information advantage” to the doctrinal lexicon has marked the seventh shift in Army information operations terminology in under four decades. Beginning with “command, control, and communications countermeasures” (C3CM)4 in 1981 and transitioning through “command and control warfare,” “information warfare,” “information operations,” “inform and influence activities,” and “information advantage,” the Army has spent the greater part of the past 40 years trying to determine what information is and what it means for warfighting. The service has cycled and recycled through numerous attempts at doctrinal codification, and yet it seems to be in much the same place in 2023 as it was in the early 1990s: aware that the information revolution means something for warfare, yet unsure of what that something is, what it should be called, and what is the appropriate doctrinal response.
Why has the Army struggled to create an enduring doctrinal framework to describe the role of information in conflict? More broadly, why do militaries choose one doctrinal concept over other viable alternatives, and what determines whether a new doctrine will succeed or fail? This paper attempts to answer these questions by tracing the history of Army information doctrine from the late 1960s to the present. In so doing, it will offer a new perspective on the process of doctrinal reform that focuses on the role of intra-organizational competition between service sub-communities.
While external strategic conditions were decisive to doctrinal outcomes in the earliest phases of the information operations concept, over time, strategic conditions became less important than the preferences and interests of organizational actors when it came to influencing the process of doctrinal change. By the middle of the Global War on Terror, competing perspectives within the Army’s relevant organizational sub-communities had produced irreconcilable disagreements that stalled the process of doctrinal reform and prevented the Army from adequately responding to a new strategic reality. The history of Army information operations therefore suggests that there are important organizational determinants of doctrine that may operate independently of the demands of the overarching strategic environment. While theories of war may dominate the conceptual phase of doctrine development, underlying organizational and fiscal realities often force difficult and suboptimal compromises with respect to the final product.
This paper proceeds in three parts. First, it reviews relevant scholarship on military innovation to explore existing explanations for how and why militaries develop new doctrines. This discussion of the existing explanations for doctrinal change is then followed by the introduction of a new, sub-organizational theoretical perspective. Second, this paper briefly summarizes the historical context from which Army information doctrine emerged, concluding with a series of service structural reforms in the mid-1990s.5 Third, it examines the intra-organizational dynamics that were born of these structural reforms and that ultimately impeded efforts to change the Army’s information doctrine during the Global War on Terror. The paper concludes with a discussion of relevant lessons that may inform how to approach current operational and strategic problems.
The Sources of Doctrine and the Causes of Military Change
What is military doctrine, and how and why is it created? Doctrine consists of the fundamental principles that guide the employment of military force.6 It is important in that it “constitutes an organization’s formal articulation of its understanding as to how it will fight the next war.”7 Doctrine is more than a set of written military manuals — it serves as the central principle around which a service mans, trains, equips, and organizes itself, and it provides a common language for members of a military organization.8
Doctrine is created in response to a given set of strategic conditions. Its purpose is to generate the most effective military response to the most likely range of security threats that a nation will face. When strategic conditions change — or when new technologies arrive that may alter the way in which a military can navigate these strategic conditions — it is expected that doctrine will change in response, and with it, certain key aspects of the military organization.9
However, doctrine is not a purely rationalist reaction to external circumstances. In addition to being constrained by resources,10 doctrinal outcomes are filtered through and shaped by various non-rational influences whose effects on the development of new doctrines have been well documented by military innovation scholars.11 These influences can be broadly categorized as political, organizational, and cultural schools of thought.12
The political school of thought tends to focus on the role of civilian leaders, who can direct the military to make doctrinal changes in response to new strategic conditions.13 Those who fall within this school frame doctrinal change as primarily a principal-agent problem,14 in which naturally stagnant military bureaucracies must be directed by civilian leaders to modify existing ways of doing things. Different political structures can result in unique patterns of military change,15 while different civilian perspectives can result in directives that are more or less optimally suited to prevailing balance-of-power dynamics.16 The doctrine that results represents an articulated solution to the challenges of a given strategic setting, as interpreted by a nation’s political leadership.
However, the political argument for doctrinal change suffers from numerous shortcomings, not least of which is a failure to take into account the natural limitations — in expertise, confidence, and/or will — of the political “principal” as well as the unique organizational characteristics of the military “agent.”17 Various organizational explanations for military change have arisen to address these shortcomings. Drawing from organization theory and bureaucratic politics, these arguments emphasize both inter- and intra-service dynamics to explain when, why, and under what conditions militaries embrace change, as well as why those changes might succeed or fail. Critical to these perspectives is the role of competition, whether between services or within a service, in driving both how threats are interpreted and how those interpretations are used to gain advantage over bureaucratic adversaries.18
In particular, the cultural and organizational perspectives can help us to understand why a new doctrine might be rejected despite it being ordered by civilian or military leadership, and despite its evident appropriateness for a given strategic context.
Complementing the organizational perspective, a third collection of arguments has focused on the role of culture in driving, preventing, or shaping change processes.19 Culture consists of a set of shared beliefs, values, and assumptions that create persistent patterns of thinking among a group’s members and shape expectations about standards of appropriate behavior. These beliefs, values, and assumptions form the scaffolding of a group’s epistemic infrastructure: They not only influence how to interpret new information or events, but they also drive a shared understanding of what information or events are worth paying attention to. Cultural effects can work at the national, organizational, and sub-organizational level to influence both the fact of military change and the process by which it occurs.20
In addition to improving our understanding of when, why, and how militaries may adopt a new doctrinal concept, the cultural and organizational arguments offer an additional explanation as to why a new doctrinal concept might succeed or fail by highlighting the factors internal to a military organization that may affect the doctrine’s reception. In particular, the cultural and organizational perspectives can help us to understand why a new doctrine might be rejected despite it being ordered by civilian or military leadership, and despite its evident appropriateness for a given strategic context.21
Adopting a Sub-Organizational Perspective
The political, organizational, and cultural arguments outlined above offer different answers to two questions that are fundamental to the process of doctrinal evolution: first, what influences how militaries interpret their strategic environments, and second, what influences how militaries respond to the challenges that are identified as a result of this interpretation. However, with few exceptions, most scholars continue to treat military organizations as monolithic entities that lack significant structural and cultural variation at the sub-organizational level.22 This disregard for intra-organizational diversity risks undervaluing the critical role played by organizational sub-communities in shaping the processes by which doctrine develops.23 Where organizational diversity is acknowledged, it is over-simplified as pure bureaucratic politics, which risks misunderstanding the nature of the actual mechanisms of competition that are at play.24
The history of Army information doctrine simultaneously affirms elements of the existing theoretical explanations of doctrinal reform while offering a new perspective on the critical role of organizational sub-communities as drivers — or inhibitors — of change. Specifically, it shows how the structural reforms that were necessary to modify and elevate the role of information within Army doctrine ultimately came to handicap the Army’s ability to further transform that role when the strategic environment demanded it.25 It did this by creating a cadre of information professionals who not only came to possess a bureaucratic self-interest in the preservation of their career field, but whose upbringing in that career field resulted in a unique and specific conceptual orientation toward the role of information in war. This perspective influenced how the Army’s information professionals interpreted the strategic environment, as well as the range of doctrinal changes that they were willing to accept, in a way that acted independently of their need for bureaucratic self-preservation.
The information career field, in addition to implicitly shaping the conceptual orientations of personnel, eventually came to suffer from a quality problem that would have lasting consequences for future doctrine. Specifically, the mediocre quality of the field’s recruited personnel limited their ability to either demonstrate information’s new relevance on the battlefield or to advocate for a specific doctrinal perspective in a way that was institutionally resonant.26 This struggle suggests that structural reform, in and of itself, is not enough to ensure that doctrinal change will succeed. If the organizations and individuals created to instantiate a new doctrine fail to convincingly demonstrate their worth to the broader institution, whether due to inadequate resourcing or to poor personnel quality, then their ability to advocate for new ways of war will be limited.27 In this sense, both the quality of individuals selected into a new career field and how those individuals are resourced matter as much to the success of doctrinal reform as the creation of the career field itself.
This phenomenon ... suggests that the primary determinant of a doctrine’s success at any given point in history may not necessarily be its level of strategic appropriateness, but the extent to which it fits with the prevailing institutional culture and meets the dominant organizational interests.
The Army’s information doctrine case study therefore offers a number of important conclusions for our understanding of doctrinal change processes. First, it suggests that intra-organizational competition over conceptual frameworks can be decisive to outcomes of doctrinal change. This competition results as much from intrinsic differences in conceptual orientations toward warfare as it does from the bureaucratic need for self-preservation. Differences in conceptual orientation can affect the process of doctrinal reform in two important ways: They can influence how a given strategic or technological context is interpreted, and, based on that interpretation, they can influence how well a new doctrine is received within the force. Both effects can work to produce a doctrine that is sub-optimally matched to the overarching strategic conditions or to the central operational problem that a military might face.
However, a doctrine that is optimally suitable to a given set of strategic conditions may still be rejected by different sub-communities within the institution, and thus may ultimately fail. This phenomenon, evident during the Global War on Terror era of Army information doctrine, suggests that the primary determinant of a doctrine’s success at any given point in history may not necessarily be its level of strategic appropriateness, but the extent to which it fits with the prevailing institutional culture and meets the dominant organizational interests. The implication of this finding is that there are significant differences between what is conceptually possible and what is organizationally acceptable for any given doctrinal framework. Finally, the Army information doctrine case study suggests that the structural reforms that are necessary for an initial doctrinal change to succeed can have second- and third-order effects that may preclude further doctrinal refinement as conditions evolve.
The Historical Context of Army Information Doctrine
1968–1991: Waging War on the Electronic Battlefield
By the late 1960s, advances in technology had led to the proliferation of electronic devices on the battlefield.28 The Army’s experience in Vietnam revealed the potential of these devices and their underlying information technologies, from networked sensors and electronic intelligence to computerized information processing and advancements in radio encryption.29 In 1969, Army Chief of Staff Gen. William Westmoreland referenced the existence of an “electronic battlefield” and argued that future wars would be defined by “data links, computer assisted intelligence evaluation, and automated fire control.”30
Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, the Army saw in this advanced information technology what they had embraced in tactical nuclear weapons two decades prior: a way to offset the Soviet Union’s numerical advantage in a conventional war in Europe.31 However, the integration of these advanced technologies into doctrine required a full reimagining of the Army operating concept. The result was AirLand Battle, which prioritized advanced information technology and automated command-and-control systems as a way to optimize the application of scarce assets against a numerically superior foe.32 AirLand Battle depended upon a constellation of advanced technologies that could locate forces deep in the enemy rear and then electronically pass that information to units that were capable of attacking them.33 The doctrine put a high premium on advanced electronic technology and survivable command-and-control systems that preserved the ability to synchronize combat forces and concentrate combat power at the decisive time and place.34
However, command-and-control systems had to meet two criteria in order to be effective under the AirLand Battle construct. First, they had to function more quickly than enemy systems, and, second, they had to be resilient and survivable in the face of enemy electronic warfare.35 These twin criteria led to an embrace of computer automation as a way to increase the speed with which information could be acquired, processed, and distributed.36 The turn toward computer automation caused a subtle shift in how the Army viewed information itself as well as its relation to other Army functions.37 Whereas historically, information had been seen as a tool to achieve surprise over the enemy and to facilitate the aggregation of combat power, the incorporation of automation into command-and-control platforms and weapons systems solidified a new interpretation of information as the fuel required to feed and maintain the overarching command-and-control system, which itself was the central “essential” requirement of AirLand Battle.38 Accordingly, the term “information” began to take on a technological intonation due to its growing affiliation with computers and automation.
The importance of command and control to the Army’s operating concept, along with the dependence of command and control on computer technology, led to the development of the earliest recognizable precursor to information operations: command, control, and communications countermeasures.39 Formally codified in Army doctrine in 1981, it was designed to protect the critical function of command and control by hardening the technologies it depended upon and to deny adversaries the same ability through “the integrated use of operations security, military deception, jamming, and physical destruction, supported by intelligence.”40 Command, control, and communications countermeasures envisioned a warfighting approach that focused on disrupting the enemy’s ability to command its forces as a way to offset a numerical disadvantage.41
In 1991,42 Operation Desert Storm offered a resounding proof of concept for what had become the central thesis of Army doctrine development: that attacking adversary command-and-control systems would be the key to success in future combat.43 Called a “knowledge war” by the Army chief of staff and an “information war” by policy commentators, Desert Storm featured the unprecedented integration of advanced technologies — ranging from networked intelligence sensors, communications systems, electronic warfare platforms, space-based capabilities, and the mass media — to achieve decisive victory over the larger Iraqi forces.44 These technologies were deliberately leveraged as part of a broader information warfare campaign designed to decapitate the Iraqi army’s command, control, and communications;45 deceive Iraqi forces;46 and ultimately prevent the Iraqi army from massing its numerically superior land forces at the point of the main attack.47
The impact of advanced information technology on the outcome of Desert Storm led to a period of intense theorizing about the extent to which the information age had changed the character of warfare.
The impact of advanced information technology on the outcome of Desert Storm led to a period of intense theorizing about the extent to which the information age had changed the character of warfare.48 While scholars disagreed on terminology — with references to “information-age warfare,” “information warfare,” “cyber war,” “sixth-generation warfare,” “third-wave war,” and a “revolution in military affairs” presented with equal abandon in scholarly discourse — they generally agreed that technological improvements had accelerated the importance of information to war in at least four ways.49
First, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology extended the range of the battlefield by expanding the distance from which adversaries could be observed and targeted. Second, computation and communications technology accelerated the tempo and synchronization of operations by increasing the rate at which information reached commanders.50 Third, the integration of advanced technology into weapons systems increased the precision of their delivery and their effective lethality. Success in an information-age war would therefore go to the side that could acquire, process, distribute, and act upon information faster than its opponent. Finally, Desert Storm also demonstrated the operational relevance of the global mass media through a public relations campaign that was heralded as the “greatest hands-on application of media relations ever.”51
The combined effect of these conclusions ushered in a new theory of technological warfare in which knowledge and information were as important to success as weapons and tactics. Information became not simply something that would offer one side an advantage over the other, but a critical commodity that was necessary for the entire system of war to function.52 As such, its maintenance would require the same level of command attention as traditional combat resources.53 Just as the industrial age required a new focus on degrading the enemy’s war-making capacity, so the information age required a new focus on disrupting the adversary’s ability to receive, process, and disseminate information.54 Army information doctrine arose in response to these challenges and opportunities.
1991–2001: Warfare in the Information Age
The Army’s efforts to craft an information doctrine began in earnest in 1991. Two major events transpired that year that would come to have a significant effect on this process. First, the overwhelming coalition success in the Gulf War affirmed the effectiveness of command, control, and communications countermeasures. In so doing, it cemented the status of information and information technology as the critical enablers of future war. Second, the collapse of the Soviet Union reshaped the global order into an American-led unipolar system, which deprived the Army of its primary peer competitor and led to an immediate reduction in defense spending.55 As a result, the Army had to reimagine its operating concept for a world in which it would not know when or where the next fight would take place or against whom it would be fought, and it had to do so with fewer resources. The ability to use its forces efficiently became vital.
“Information warfare” emerged in the early 1990s as a central component of the Army’s vision for how it would fight in this new strategic context.56 Information warfare concerned the provision of timely and accurate information to friendly forces while corrupting or denying adversary information systems.57 It required a force that was capable of leveraging information to economize the application of combat power; operate at a higher tempo than the enemy; and achieve victory quickly, decisively, and at minimal cost.58 Gaining and maintaining access to information would thus become the main imperative for future operations.59
Initially driven by Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who began his tenure as the future-focused Army chief of staff in 1991, the Army spent the 1990s pursuing this vision of information-age warfare through a series of doctrinal, organizational, and personnel changes that would come to define the service’s approach to information for the next three decades. In 1993, the Army identified “winning the information war” as one of its top modernization priorities.60 In 1994, an initiative called “Force XXI” pursued this priority through a force digitization initiative that brought digital communication networks and new “internetted” systems to lower tactical levels.61 Force XXI envisioned a smaller, lighter, faster force that could use information technology to substitute the efficient application of precise firepower for the industrial-era practice of massing forces.62 However, it also produced new dependencies on information technology, introduced new vulnerabilities as a result of those dependencies, and reinforced the technological orientation of the service’s nascent information doctrine.
In 1996, the Army produced its first information warfare field manual, Field Manual 100-6, Information Operations.63 In a noteworthy departure from the joint force, the manual abandoned the term “information warfare,” which it saw as too narrowly focused on the impact of information during conflict and therefore insufficient for the multiple roles and missions that were expected of the post-Cold War Army. Instead, the Army adopted the term “information operations,” which it defined as those activities that “enable, enhance, and protect, the friendly force’s ability to collect, process, and act on information to achieve an advantage across the full range of military operations.”64 Functionally, information operations encompassed the five elements that had previously comprised command, control, and communications countermeasures — operations security, military deception, electronic warfare, psychological operations, and physical destruction — along with civil affairs and public affairs.65
Field Manual 100-6 built upon several years of conceptual work that sought to integrate lessons learned from Desert Storm with the service’s growing vision for information-age warfare.66 It advanced the Army’s thinking on information in several important ways. First, it presented information operations not as a new capability, but as a new approach to military operations that focused on controlling and exploiting information to gain an operational advantage. This approach would synchronize several information-based military functions that had been previously stove-piped and independent from one another.67 The integrating role of information operations spoke to one of the primary lessons learned from Desert Storm, which was the need for a mechanism to coordinate competing methods of information dissemination and avoid information fratricide.68
Meanwhile, the purpose of information operations as something that would create an operational advantage affirmed information as an essential enabler of combat power, rather than as something that could be leveraged independently of military operations.69 Both organizationally and conceptually, information operations would be integrated with the Army’s targeting process as a way to affect the enemy via non-lethal means.70 In this, the Army resolved several of the key debates that had defined the initial drafting phase: whether information operations should be a separate or an integrated concept,71 its relation to more traditional elements of combat power such as maneuver and fires,72 and the extent to which information operations should focus at the strategic versus the tactical or operational levels of war.73
In addition, Field Manual 100-6 established information operations as, fundamentally, operations. This was an important, if nuanced, distinction that spoke to concerns about the intelligence community having been designated as the stewards of information operations.74 When the vice chief of staff first tasked U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command with developing a concept for information warfare in November of 1993, it in turn gave this job to Fort Huachuca and the Army’s intelligence community. This decision was due to the latter’s combination of technical and targeting skills, its history with electronic warfare, and its preexisting organizational structures and relationships within the joint command-and-control warfare world.75
The Army’s new information operations doctrine and organizations were put to the test in Bosnia, where the Army provided support to NATO in enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords.
However, the technical skills derived from the intelligence community’s role in signals intelligence and electronic warfare reinforced the development of an information warfare doctrine that favored technology and technological solutions over cognitive or psychological ones. The practical challenges of non-combat operations in the Balkans in the late 1990s would continue to encourage this technological favoritism: Even while the supported units valued information operations as a tool to shape perceptions and win popular influence, the information operations field support teams tended to focus on technical solutions to the challenges of information management, network connectivity, and the ability to access state-side intelligence assets from forward-deployed positions.76
The intelligence community’s ownership of information warfare also resulted in the creation of organizational relationships that reinforced these preexisting technological instincts and excluded outside perspectives. On May 8, 1995, the Army created the Land Information Warfare Activity, a new organization that would serve as a focal point for land-based information operations.77 Administratively subordinate to the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command,78 the Land Information Warfare Activity was comprised primarily of intelligence and communications personnel who received extensive technical training both in government and industry.79 They were organized into a combination of field support teams that provided intelligence operations planning support to deployed units and vulnerability assessment teams that secured information networks and systems.80
Over time, the Land Information Warfare Activity — which in 2002 became 1st Information Operations Command — would come to favor the pursuit of network security, network effects, and technical solutions to achieve information dominance over the more cognitive aspects of information warfare, such as psychological operations and deception. This preference would become so pronounced that, in 2002, the information operations community struggled to convince the Army that its scope went beyond computer network operations.81 These intelligence community relationships and their technical consequences would continue after the transfer of information operations ownership from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to the Combined Arms Center in 1996, a move that effectively shifted responsibility for doctrine development from the intelligence community to the maneuver community.82 Given the historic relationship between information operations and intelligence, Field Manual 100-6’s assertion of information operations as operations, rather than something that supported operations, was intended to reinforce the notion of information operations as both conceptually and operationally different from intelligence.
The Army’s new information operations doctrine and organizations were put to the test in Bosnia, where the Army provided support to NATO in enforcing the Dayton Peace Accords. Subsequent experimentation with the application of information operations to non-combat operations introduced a subtle, yet pivotal, shift in the information operations concept.83 On the one hand, the experience of Task Force Eagle legitimized information operations as an essential component of military operations and the main effort of stability operations.84 The information campaign in Bosnia, waged jointly by psychological operations and public affairs “24 hours a day,” was considered the main effort of division operations and the most effective method of non-lethal influence available.85
On the other hand, however, the very importance of information operations to peacekeeping activities caused the army to expand its sense of how information ought to be used and applied in future conflict. The success of Task Force Eagle depended less on military force than on convincing participants to accept the legitimacy of a political settlement. Information transitioned from a critical enabler of combat operations and a potential method of disrupting enemy command and control to a mechanism for the non-lethal engagement of populations and key decision-makers. The Army’s experience in the Balkans thus had the twofold effect of reinforcing the necessity of information operations while modifying the breadth of the doctrine’s application.
The total effect of information operations in Bosnia led to an increased appetite for information operations across the force. In 1997, the Army created the FA30 information operations career field to meet the new demand.86 However, the creation of this career field had several consequences that would come to affect intra-organizational competition over the next decade. First, because the career field was a functional area, rather than a traditional branch, it lacked general officer representation, which made it increasingly difficult for the community to advocate for itself amid competing doctrinal perspectives.87 Second, by the early 2000s, the career field had developed a tendency to attract mediocre officers who lacked the professional attributes required to integrate into maneuver staffs or to sell the concept of information operations to a maneuver audience.88 Third, the creation of this career field resulted in the eventual replacement of the community’s previous training model — which was informal, unstructured, and requirements-driven — with a single, standardized 12-week training program that emphasized staff processes at the expense of technical expertise or creative thinking.89 The information operations officers who emerged from this program were more beholden to the staff processes in which they had been trained than to the type of independent critical thinking, intellectual ingenuity, and technical expertise that had marked information operations as a field in the late 1990s. The result was a career field that lacked institutional credibility and struggled to sell its vision.
Competing Conceptual Frameworks
2001–2016: An Era of Persistent Conflict
The period from 2001 to 2016 was one of the most operationally intense periods in U.S. Army history. It began with the successive toppling of authoritarian governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. The campaigns that resulted in these victories — defined by the use of smaller, agile forces empowered by information technology and precision firepower — were seen by senior defense officials as a resounding vindication of the information-age warfare ideas that had defined the Defense Department’s transformation over the previous decade.90
By 2004, however, the limitations of this military transformation had become evident as the situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan deteriorated into messy sectarian conflict and violent insurgency.91 The Army responded to this challenge by launching an ambitious overhaul of its force design that, it was hoped, would enable the service to more efficiently maximize its limited combat power across multiple theaters of war.92 Called “modularity,” this reorganization replaced divisions as the Army’s central unit of action with modular brigade combat teams, whose comparatively reduced size and fighting power were augmented by advanced information technology and digitization.93 Information technology would enhance the combat power of modular brigade combat teams by creating improved situational awareness that expanded the combat effectiveness of smaller, networked formations.94
However, while the Army doubled down on information technology in its force design, its information operations doctrine began to evolve in the opposite direction. In 2001, the Quadrennial Defense Review listed information operations as one of six operational goals for the Defense Department’s 21st-century transformation and required the services to treat information operations as a core competency of future forces.95 In 2002, the Army initiated a wholesale reexamination of its information operations doctrine in response to this requirement.96 By that point, early in the Global War on Terror, Army information operations had developed a reputation that was indistinguishable from the technology that it relied upon. This reputation created three interrelated challenges that the Army would have to address if it was going to successfully meet Defense Department guidance to develop information operations as a core capability.97
First, the Army would have to alter the prevailing service mindset that viewed information operations as synonymous with technology.98 Doing so would entail meeting a second challenge: untangling the complicated relationship between information operations, computer network operations, and space. The complexity of this relationship was as much organizational as it was conceptual. 1st Information Operations Command, the organizational successor to Land Information Warfare Activity, had to answer to U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, U.S. Army Network Command, and U.S. Army Space Command in a series of support relationships that not only reinforced the notion of information operations as a technological discipline, but that also made it increasingly difficult for the information operations community to fulfill its purpose of integrating different capabilities.99 Finally, the Army would have to address the first two challenges while simultaneously building out its capability across the five information operations components that the Defense Department’s 2003 Information Operations Roadmap had identified as authoritative.100 This meant not only improving its information operations organizations, career force, and training, but also doing the same for information operations’ subordinate capabilities — most notably electronic warfare and computer network operations, which had gained favor in the still-persistent vision of network-centric warfare.
This confusion over the proper definition and function of information operations resulted from a number of structural, organizational, and doctrinal factors.
To further complicate matters, the Army had to fulfill joint guidance on information operations without fully agreeing on the joint information operations concept that motivated that guidance. While the Army information operations community generally accepted the five-capability structure and the paradigm of core, supporting, and related capabilities espoused in joint doctrine, they perceived the joint concept as too stove-piped in its approach to integration: Capabilities were discretely employed by information operations planners rather than fully integrated into planning and operations.101 In addition, the joint definition of information operations did not allow for the possibility of influencing non-adversary audiences, which the Army assessed as a critical requirement for fighting among local populations on land.102
Despite this disagreement, the Army’s 2003 update to Field Manual 100-6 — now called Field Manual 3-13, Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures — did not substantially deviate from the joint definition of information operations. Rather, the manual updated the Army’s definition to fall in line with the joint characterization of information operations as comprising five core capabilities:
Information operations is the 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, to affect or defend information and information systems, and to influence decision-making.103
Whereas Field Manual 100-6 had focused largely on theory, this manual focused heavily on the practical implementation of information operations based on lessons learned in Bosnia and Kosovo.
However, the deterioration of Iraq into sectarian violence and insurgency in 2004 caused the practical application of information operations to take on two different, and contradictory, meanings. Doctrinally, it remained an activity of staff integration whose purpose was to affect enemy decision-making in accordance with the 2003 edition of Field Manual 3-13. Tactically, however, the unique demands of counter-insurgency operations had caused information operations to become conflated with psychological operations, strategic communication, and public affairs.104
This confusion over the proper definition and function of information operations resulted from a number of structural, organizational, and doctrinal factors. From the standpoint of doctrine, neither Field Manual 3-13 nor Field Manual 3-0 contained sufficient guidance on how to integrate information operations into staff operations writ large or into counter-insurgency operations specifically.105 Commanders either developed their own unique methods of integrating information operations or ignored it entirely in favor of the more lethal elements of counter-insurgency, which were easier to understand and easier to measure.106
A shortage of qualified information operations personnel exacerbated these doctrinal deficiencies. Beginning in 2004, the twin engines of modularity and ongoing combat operations caused a jump in FA30 manpower requirements that far exceeded the field’s original growth model.107 Faced with limited resources and high operational demand, 1st Information Operations Command prioritized lending its support to the special operations and strategic communities, while the conventional Army received poorly trained and inexperienced teams of national guard and reserve personnel.108 Inadequacies in the FA30 training model combined with the generally poor quality of officers presented additional challenges to effectively integrating or implementing information operations.109
The growth of the field of cyber and electromagnetic activities further tested the traditional information operations construct.110 Though originally one of the five subcomponents of information operations, in the mid-2000s both cyberspace operations and electronic warfare experienced rapid growth that complicated the organizational dynamics and conceptual models of information operations.111 The role that digital information played in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency — that of enabling an unprecedented level of precision intelligence and targeting — encouraged the growth of cyberspace as the medium through which to achieve the economy of force that the Department of Defense’s 21st-century transformation had originally pursued on the physical battlefield.112 By the late 2000s, cyberspace operations had attracted much of the information revolution-style attention that would have formerly gone to command-and-control warfare or to an earlier construct of information operations, while information operations had devolved into a spin-off of psychological warfare.
The field of information operations thus faced a paradox. On the one hand, there was unanimous consensus that information and the information environment were vital to the successful conduct of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.113 On the other hand, there was widespread confusion as to what information operations was or how it ought to be leveraged.114 In the midst of this confusion, a few influential maneuver commanders began to develop their own understanding of what information operations was and how it should apply to a counter-insurgency. This began a process of top-down, directed change that threatened to disrupt existing organizational structures and ran counter to the preferences of the FA30 community.
A New Information Paradigm for Stability Operations
When then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus took over command of the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in October 2005, one of his priorities was to fix the Army’s information operations construct.115 To enact the desired changes, he had to overcome entrenched resistance from the information operations community itself, most of which did not want to change the five-capability model or break from its origins in the technical world of command-and-control warfare.
In 2006, Petraeus asked intellectual heavyweight Brig. Gen. (ret.) Huba Wass de Czege to serve as his special assistant for information operations. From October 2006 to September 2007, Wass de Czege conducted a comprehensive review of information operations to inform the development of new doctrine.116 He argued that both the Army and joint information operations paradigms were ill suited to the complexities of 21st-century warfare. Developed in the 1990s to solve the central problem of how to rapidly defeat a modern, information-age military, information operations doctrine adopted an overly simplified causal logic that was heavily biased toward physical effects; pursued a purpose — information superiority — that was ultimately unattainable; and tended to overlook the psychological or moral dimensions of conflict.117 In order to be effective in modern conflict, Wass de Czege argued, information operations doctrine would have to be redesigned according to a new logic, in pursuit of a new purpose, and using different methods.
To replace the current information operations paradigm, Wass de Czege identified three dimensions common to all 21st-century military problems.118 The first was the psychological contest of wills, in which adversaries leverage words, actions, and images to influence decisions in the moral domain. The second was the realm of military public relations, which concerned gaining and keeping the trust of relevant populations both at home and abroad. The third and final dimension was the contest between different applications of information technology, which Wass de Czege called “netwar.” The purpose of information operations was not to attain information superiority, but to achieve an advantage in each of these three areas.
Several organizational consequences followed from Wass de Czege’s new paradigm. First, the differences between the dimensions were such that it was untenable to group them under the purview of a single staff officer. Wass de Czege instead recommended reorganizing information operations capabilities into staff groupings that shared a common functional purpose — moving deception into plans, for example, operations security into protection, and electronic warfare into fires.119 Second, the need for coherence between words and actions meant that information operations capabilities were necessary but not sufficient for achieving success across the three dimensions.120 Information operations would have to be combined with capabilities outside of the information operations umbrella to be effective. This meant that information operations could not be treated as a separate line of effort, but had to be fully integrated with the multiple lines of operation that were present in a combined arms campaign — a fact that further supported the distribution of information operations responsibilities across the staff.121 Third, having eliminated the need for a central staff integrator, the role of the FA30 shifted to that of a “strategic communicator,” who was primarily responsible for managing the second dimension: public communications. The end result was the disaggregation of information operations as a distinct staff function and its wholesale elimination as a term.122
Wass de Czege’s recommendations were nearly unanimously rejected by the FA30 community due to their disruptive effect on existing structures and paradigms. However, they heavily influenced Petraeus, his successor at the Combined Arms Center, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, and Gen. William Wallace, who commanded U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command from October 2005 to December 2008. Each of these men viewed Wass de Czege’s concept as more in line with their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan than the current model. Wallace used the 2008 edition of Field Manual 3-0 to implement the first major doctrinal changes to the Army’s information operations construct.
As the first revision of the Army’s capstone manual since 9/11, this manual replaced the term “information operations” with five information tasks: command-and-control warfare, information protection, operations security, military deception, and information engagement.123 Information engagement consisted of
the integrated employment of public affairs to inform U.S. and friendly audiences; psychological operations, combat camera, U.S. Government strategic communication and defense support to public diplomacy, and other means necessary to influence foreign audiences; and, leader and Soldier engagements to support both efforts.124
In other words, information engagement was seen as the way to develop a unit’s public affairs officer into a true subject-matter expert in the one area that did not have a name in the joint information operations construct: coordinating to get messages out and ensuring that those messages are consistent with a unit’s actions.125
The stated reasons for these changes were twofold. The first was a need to rectify a critical deficiency in joint doctrine to make information operations more applicable to land forces.126 As stated, the joint definition of information operations was narrowly focused on adversaries and did not make allowances for the need to influence friendly or neutral audiences — a complaint the army had harbored about joint doctrine since the introduction of Field Manual 100-6 in 1996.127 The second, and far more important reason, was the feedback that came from commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan about the difficulties they faced in implementing information operations under current Army doctrine.128 These challenges were multifaceted and built upon the manpower problems already mentioned.
The 2009 draft Field Manual 3-13 reorganized the five information tasks from 2008 into Wass de Czege’s three dimensions of information conflict, thereby expanding the ways in which commanders could use information to influence the operational environment.
Conceptually, the information operations construct was too broad for Army commanders and staffs to either understand or apply.129 Information operations consisted of a collection of loosely related capabilities that ranged from the technically specific realm of electronic warfare and computer network operations to the more cerebral activities of psychological operations and public affairs. This range was more than any single staff officer could handle, yet the lack of subject-matter expertise within staffs made it difficult to distribute responsibility for the capabilities more widely.130 The transition to modular brigade combat teams created further confusion with respect to staff responsibilities, since existing information operations doctrine had been developed for use at division and corps levels.131 Moreover, there was an evident need for greater specialization within the technical capabilities, particularly that of electronic warfare, as the Army began to place stronger emphasis on these capabilities at the expense of a unified information operations construct.132 Practically, despite the breadth of the information operations construct, it did not address the critical task of how to communicate with wide audiences or to engage with different populations.133
Despite widespread recognition of the underlying need for change, the replacement of information operations with five information tasks was widely considered a controversial move.134 Equally as controversial was the subsequent effort to revise Field Manual 3-13 based on the information task model. Called simply, Information, the new draft was meant to further specify the logic of the Army’s new information construct, to refine its integration into Army planning and operations, and to resolve outstanding issues with Field Manual 3-0.135 However, the manual never made it past draft form due to entrenched disagreement over both its underlying conceptual framework and its organizational implications.
The draft revision of Field Manual 3-13 began from Wass de Czege’s premise that the historic core of the Army information operations model — command-and-control warfare136 — was no longer adequate for the complex and unstructured nature of the Army’s 21st-century operational demands, nor did it capture the implications of a globally interconnected and information saturated operating environment.137 Its doctrinal emphasis on the pursuit of information superiority, which the manual called an “inconclusive operational objective and an elusive goal,” had caused the Army to neglect the importance of influencing the emotions, attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of the various populations involved in a conflict.138 The ability to win this contest of influence would “determine the outcome of military missions in the 21st century.”139
The 2009 draft Field Manual 3-13 reorganized the five information tasks from 2008 into Wass de Czege’s three dimensions of information conflict, thereby expanding the ways in which commanders could use information to influence the operational environment.140 However, the practical implementation of the draft’s framework would have led to the same significant reorganization of staff responsibilities for information tasks that Wass de Czege’s original recommendations did in 2007. Under the old construct, the FA30 retained responsibility for integrating all five components of information operations into the planning process. The new construct distributed the information tasks across the staff and relied on the operations process to synchronize and integrate them.141 The FA30, acting as the staff G7, would be solely responsible for the task of information engagement, rather than for information operations integration.
Differing Organizational Perspectives
Responses to the draft Field Manual 3-13 were highly contentious and varied along three different organizational perspectives. Each of these perspectives differed in how it defined the fundamental relationship between information and operations, which, in turn, affected how information ought to be treated and where on the staff it belonged.142
The first of these perspectives was that of the maneuver community, represented not only by commanders in the field but by the leadership at the Combined Arms Center. Broadly speaking, this community argued that “information” was inherent to all operations. “Influence” over enemy decision-making was the cumulative result of all of a unit’s interactions with the operational environment, such that the physical actions of a unit created more consequential messaging than did words or images.143 Planning this type of influence was a fundamental aspect of campaign design that could not be delegated to a secondary staff integrator. Instead, decisions about who to influence, why, and how were the responsibility of the commander and G3, while assessment of influence success was the responsibility of the G2.144 This community argued that the skillful use of words and images for operational purposes served as an adjunct tool of influence, but it nevertheless needed to rise to the level of a warfighting function in order to develop real competence, capacity, and capability across the Army.145
The second perspective was that of the fires community, for whom information was a quantifiable, non-lethal munition that commanders could fire at targets to achieve specific and predictable effects.146 Information, thus conceived, was fundamentally a part of the targeting process, which meant that decisions about whom to influence and how were the responsibility of the fires support coordinator working in conjunction with the commander.147 Information and its various sub-tasks logically fell underneath the fires warfighting function.148
The third perspective came from the FA30 community. This community argued that “information” comprised a special category of operations used by the commander to affect adversary decision-making while protecting the commander’s own decision-making. Decisions about how to use this category of operations belonged under the purview of a dedicated G3 information operations officer, whose primary focus was on the process of integrating different information capabilities to achieve a specific effect on a target population.149 Assessing the impact of those capabilities required intelligence specialists who were trained in applying intelligence to information operations.150 The broad majority advocated for information operations as a warfighting function, though some senior FA30s disagreed.151
These differences in perspective shaped each community’s reaction to the Field Manual 3-13 draft, with the FA30 community reacting with the most hostility. Conceptually, this community argued that the entire premise of Field Manual 3-13 was false because the existing construct was not inadequate.152 Instead, it was under-manned and under-resourced.153 Any perceived deficiencies in the construct stemmed from these challenges, combined with the lack of a central U.S. plan for strategic communications. While this community largely acknowledged a need for better information engagement, they argued that it should fall to public affairs and psychological operations rather than serve as the central task of the FA30.154 Moreover, they argued that the draft Field Manual 3-13 model was too focused on the unique conditions of the Global War on Terror and would have limited applicability to large-scale conventional conflicts.155
Practically, the FA30 community objected to the decentralization of staff responsibility for information tasks. They argued that, although information tasks may possess certain functional similarities to other warfighting functions, they would lose visibility if assigned outside of the purview of a central integrator.156 This much was evident in Desert Storm, when the lack of a central integrator resulted in information fratricide and the inefficient use of information capabilities.157 In addition, the manual broke from joint doctrine without acknowledging the fact that information operations was still a viable term in the joint community.
Finally, the new paradigm created unpalatable bureaucratic and financial consequences for the FA30 community. In addition to threatening the existence of the FA30 career field itself, the new paradigm would jeopardize the existence of the programs and capabilities that were tied to the old construct.158 In total, the release of draft Field Manual 3-13 for review in late 2009 revealed a significant difference of opinion within the Army about how information operations should be organized, who on staff should be responsible for it, and what its relation is to the growing fields of cyber and electronic warfare.159 In late 2009, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey killed the draft Field Manual 3-13 project due to the intractability of these differences.160
The Arrival of “Inform and Influence”
In February 2011, a change to Field Manual 3-0 offered a new way forward for information operations when it replaced the five information tasks with two task categories: inform and influence activities and cyber and electromagnetic activities. Inform and influence activities took over the short-lived role of information engagement, with a definition of “integrating activities within the mission command warfighting function which ensure themes and messages … are synchronized with actions to support full spectrum operations.”161 The stated reason for the change was to rectify a deficiency in the joint construct, which lacked reference to activities related to synchronized messaging.162 Change 1 also eliminated the chapter on information superiority and instead moved information activities into a chapter on staff processes entitled “The Science of Control.”
The transformation of information operations doctrine reached its zenith in January 2013, with the release of a new version of Field Manual 3-13.163 Now called Inform and Influence Activities, this manual formally eliminated information operations as an Army term and replaced it with “inform and influence activities.” The manual also removed cyber and electromagnetic activities from underneath the purview of what used to be called information operations and treated it instead as its own unique function — albeit one that the Army would use in conjunction with inform and influence activities to support the joint construct of information operations.164
The 2013 edition of Field Manual 3-13 was highly controversial. While the majority of the Army organizations that were involved with the drafting process concurred with the radical changes, members of the information operations community had several significant criticisms...
Field Manual 3-13 defined “inform and influence activities” as “the integration of designated information-related capabilities in order to synchronize themes, messages, and actions with operations to inform United States and global audiences, influence foreign audiences, and affect adversary and enemy decision-making.”165 Information-related capabilities, in turn, included the traditional information operations components of psychological operations — now called “military information support operations” — military deception, and operations security, along with public affairs, combat camera, civil affairs, and “soldier and leader engagement.”166 The overall purpose of inform and influence activities was to inform domestic and global audiences, influence foreign audiences, and affect enemy decision-making. It retained the strong focus on synchronizing messages and actions that was present in the 2008 Field Manual 3-0.
The 2013 edition of Field Manual 3-13 was highly controversial. While the majority of the Army organizations that were involved with the drafting process concurred with the radical changes, members of the information operations community had several significant criticisms, many of which echoed their critiques of both the 2008 edition of Field Manual 3-0 and the 2009 Army Doctrinal Publication 3-13 draft.167 The first of these criticisms was the unclear relationship between inform and influence activities and the joint information operations construct. Although inform and influence activities served as a substitute for information operations within the Army context, it was unclear whether it was intended to be a subset of joint information operations or a replacement for it.168 As a result of this unclear relationship, Army FA30s were asked to perform double duty, serving in a staff public affairs role for inform and influence activities integration while fulfilling joint and Defense Department requirements to serve as information officers.169
A second, and related, issue concerned staff synchronization and organization. Whereas information operations integrated all information-related capabilities, inform and influence activities did not present a single synchronization process, but distributed responsibility for various information-related activities across the staff. The gaps within the concept placed an unrealistic burden on the G3 to ensure consistency in integration.170 Moreover, the exclusive centralization of certain inform and influence activities tasks within the G7/S7 construct did not adequately address units that lacked that critical staff position.171 If the function was as critical as the manual said it was, then it ought to be allocated to a position that existed within all units at all echelons. It was also unclear how units were to evaluate the effectiveness of their inform and influence activities, given the difficulty of measuring things like “influence” or the impacts of messaging on target audience psychology.
The 2013 edition of Field Manual 3-13 also presented unclear roles and responsibilities with respect to the Army’s major information operations organizations, specifically 1st Information Operations Command and the National Guard’s four Theater Information Operations Groups.172 These organizations were organized, staffed, equipped, and trained to support the joint information operations standards. The radical changes to the Army’s doctrinal concept that Field Manual 3-13 contained would inevitably risk personnel, funding, and mission support for these organizations.
Finally, the construct also focused on low-intensity conflict at the expense of future full-spectrum operations, did not sufficiently address levels above the battalion, and did not articulate how to integrate inform and influence activities with cyber and electromagnetic activities in support of mission command.173 There was also the nagging sense that if information operations was simply about influence, then it would be a redundant — and ultimately unnecessary — form of psychological operations.174
In addition to these organizational and cultural frictions, feedback from the field between 2009 and 2013 suggested that the inform and influence activities concept was no more effective than its predecessors in solving the Army’s operational challenges.175 Army leaders remained dissatisfied with the results of information-related capabilities on the battlefield despite the creation of an ostensibly more suitable information doctrine.176 While the 2013 edition of Field Manual 3-13 presented the strongest doctrinal version of Wass de Czege’s 2007 information logic, its poor reception suggested that this logic was fundamentally incompatible with the Army’s organizational and cultural realities.
On Dec. 4, 2013, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, who had disagreed with Change 1 to Field Manual 3-0 in 2011, issued a directive to disaggregate inform and influence activities.177 In December 2016, the Army responded to this directive with the release of Field Manual 3-13, Information Operations. The stated purpose of this field manual was by now a familiar refrain: to better align Army doctrine with joint doctrine while recognizing the unique requirements of information operations in support of land forces. The manual rescinded the term “inform and influence activities” and returned to “information operations” under the joint definition: “the integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities 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.”178 In addition, the FA30 returned to being the central staff focal point for the synchronization and integration of information operations.179
The idea of information superiority, which had historically motivated both the Army and joint information operations constructs, was absent from the manual. Instead, the 2016 version of Field Manual 3-13 described a twofold purpose for information operations that attempted to reconcile the joint understanding of information operations with lessons learned from 15 years of persistent conflict. The first purpose, recalling the traditional information operations paradigm, held that Army units employ information operations to create effects in and through the information environment. These effects provide commanders with a decisive advantage over “adversaries, threats, and enemies” in order to defeat the opponent’s will to fight.180
The second purpose recalled the Army’s decade-long attempt to bend information operations toward a better accommodation of the human dimension of conflict. It argued that Army units engage with and influence other relevant foreign audiences to gain their support for friendly objectives.181 While the manual maintained that the central focus of information operations was to affect adversary decision-making, the balance of emphasis throughout was on this second purpose of influence. This was a product of the recognition — which emerged from the Global War on Terror — that commanders and staffs must do more than alter the enemy’s decision-making processes if they are to accomplish their mission: They must know how to conduct information operations “left of bang” on the spectrum of conflict.182 The manual featured robust discussion of the importance of narrative alignment, audience engagement, and the protection of friendly messaging as components of successful information operations.183 This emphasis aside, from both a definitional and a doctrinal standpoint, the 2016 edition of Field Manual 3-13 marked a clear return to the classical understanding of information: as a collection of capabilities that create effects to alter adversary decision-making.
Emerging Doctrine: Information Advantage
In November of 2021, the Army released a draft of its new manual on information operations, Army Doctrinal Publication 3-13. Called simply Information, this publication is organized around the central concept of “information advantage,” or the condition when a force holds the initiative in terms of the use, protection, denial, or manipulation of information. Information advantage goes to the side that possesses better information and uses that information more effectively.184 The publication adopts a broad definition of information that encompasses its different technical and psychological meanings: Information is “data in context to which a receiver assigns meaning.”185 Data — whose collection and processing can have specific technological requirements — is ultimately meaningless without human interpretation. This definition admits that information can mean different things in different contexts, and that information doctrine must be capable of accommodating this full range of meanings.
According to this manual, the purpose of information is to contribute to decision dominance, or a state in which commanders can act more quickly and effectively than their adversary. One achieves decision dominance by engaging in information advantage activities along five lines of effort: enabling decision-making, protecting friendly information, informing domestic and international audiences, influencing foreign audiences, and conducting information warfare.186 While all military activities can contribute to information advantage, the core information capabilities of cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, military information support operations, and public affairs have information advantage as their principal purpose.187
In total, draft Army Doctrinal Publication 3-13 has attempted to adapt elements of the previous seven information operations frameworks to the unique strategic and technological conditions of the present age. Its description of information in terms of relative advantage has a coherence that was lacking in previous publications, while its treatment of the five information advantage lines of effort imperfectly reflects the three dimensions of conflict that served as the central organizing principle for the 2009 draft version of Field Manual 3-13. It remains to be seen, however, whether this new information framework will resonate with the broader force or, more importantly, whether it will resolve the organizational and cultural differences that doomed its 2009 and 2013 predecessors.
Why has the Army struggled to create an enduring doctrinal framework to describe the role of information in conflict? More broadly, why do militaries choose one doctrinal concept over other viable alternatives, and what determines whether a new doctrine will succeed or fail? This section will offer several possible answers to these questions that are informed by the history described above.
The Organizational Determinants of Doctrine Development
The history of Army information operations offers an opportunity to assess the prevailing schools of thought on military innovation and doctrinal change, while suggesting a new argument for the process by which intra-organizational competition can affect doctrinal change outcomes. First, the salience of the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review and the 2003 Information Operations Roadmap to the Army’s internal process of doctrinal change would appear to support the argument that military change can be directed by civilian leadership outside the military. However, at least within the Army, this direction was less the originating impulse of reform than it was the validation of a pre-existing service-wide push toward information warfare that had been underway for over a decade. Moreover, while the Information Operations Roadmap clarified the Defense Department’s vision for information operations, it did not preclude the Army from redefining information operations to its own liking in the late 2000s. The civilian-directed innovation argument is thus insufficient to fully explain the evolution of Army information doctrine.188
The counter-argument — that innovation can be directed by prescient leadership from within a military service — also serves as only a partial explanation of how the information doctrine story unfolded. Beginning with Westmoreland’s observations in 1969 and continuing through four consecutive chiefs of staff from 1991 to 2003, senior Army leadership repeatedly demonstrated the ability to recognize changes in the character of war and the willingness to radically transform the service in pursuit of a new theory of victory.189 However, while the Army readily embraced the premise of information-age warfare — that a technologically enabled force could leverage more and better information to substitute precision for volume in the application of combat power — the support of Army three- and four-star leadership proved incapable of successfully extending information operations into the realm of inform and influence roughly a decade later. The military-directed innovation argument is thus also insufficient to fully explain the history of Army doctrine presented above.
[It] is not enough to argue that organizations are motivated by mere bureaucratic self-interest. Instead, they possess unique conceptual orientations that fundamentally define both how they conceive of a new problem and how they perceive their own usefulness in solving it.
Similarly, inter-service dynamics fail to offer an adequate explanation for the information doctrine case study. Inter-service dynamics were evident in the Army’s embrace of information warfare throughout the 1990s. Specifically, the inter-service fiscal competition of the post-Cold War environment provided a compelling incentive for the Army to adopt information operations and information technology as a way to maximize the combat power and deployability of a smaller force, counter the growing claims that land power had become obsolete,190 and maintain its share of a defense budget that was heavily skewed toward the Air Force and Navy.191 However, inter-service competition failed to explain why the Army’s reform efforts failed in the late 2000s — a time when the Army had bureaucratic primacy among the services and a strong operational need to adopt a more psychologically focused information doctrine.
A partial explanation for the information doctrine outcome may be found in arguments about structural reform, with specific reference to the role of new career fields and new organizations in either encouraging or stifling change.192 The information doctrine case study affirms that structural reform is necessary to make an innovation enduring. For example, while the Army had been experimenting with information doctrine since at least 1981, it was not until after the creation of the Land Information Warfare Activity in 1995, followed soon thereafter by an information-focused career path, that information operations emerged as an institutionally viable doctrine.
However, the creation of the structural mechanisms that were necessary for information operations’ initial viability had second- and third-order consequences for how the doctrine would evolve in the future. The FA30 career field, largely insulated within information operations organizations — which were themselves informed by the broader intelligence culture in which they were embedded — developed its own unique perspective on what information operations was and how it ought to be leveraged in and out of conflict. This perspective diverged from that of the service’s culturally dominant maneuver community, whose attempts to redefine information operations in the late 2000s ultimately failed due to intractable intra-service disagreements.
The history described in this paper thus offers a unique contribution to our understanding of doctrinal change processes by demonstrating how intra-organizational competition can act independently of the strategic environment to affect change outcomes. In so doing, it depicts both the consequences and the limitations of military structural reform. Structural reform creates specific professional pathways and operational experiences that shape the conceptual orientations of those who participate in them. These conceptual orientations result in organizationally unique and specific interpretations of the operating environment that bear on broader questions of strategy and technology — and that determine the limit of what is considered a doctrinally appropriate response to those questions. In other words, it is not enough to argue that organizations are motivated by mere bureaucratic self-interest. Instead, they possess unique conceptual orientations that fundamentally define both how they conceive of a new problem and how they perceive their own usefulness in solving it. These perspectives will affect how the organization interprets the strategic environment, how it frames solutions to that environment, and how it interacts with other relevant actors to affect which solution is ultimately chosen.
The implications of this argument extend beyond the field of information operations. If an organization is created to solve a specific problem, born from a specific strategic and technological context, then it may be difficult to redefine, reorient, or even eliminate that organization or its motivating capability when the source problem is no longer relevant, or when it is discovered that the source problem can be tackled in a different way. This difficulty is only partially explained by the prevailing organizational explanations of sunk costs and bureaucratic interests. A more complete explanation should take into account the organization’s metaphysical perspective — a perspective in which the organization legitimately cannot conceive of a world in which its function is not important, could be performed in any other fashion, or could be performed by anyone else.193 In the grand scheme of military change, it is relatively easy to create new structural appendages and to equate the existence of those appendages as its own measure of effectiveness. However, it is far more difficult to determine when they have outlasted their relevance, and more difficult still to change or eliminate them.194
Implications for Information Doctrine
In addition to clarifying our understanding of the process of doctrinal reform, the history described in this paper offers additional insights into why information, as a concept, has proven uniquely difficult to tame doctrinally. The word “information” possesses irreconcilable conceptual tensions that complicate efforts to unify it into a single operational framework. As a result of these tensions, Army information doctrine vacillated between technical and psychological interpretations in mutually exclusive fashion over the course of its four-decade history. The extent to which information doctrine was institutionally accepted — and therefore the extent to which it had the capacity to endure — varied not according to its level of strategic appropriateness, but according to its conceptual proximity to the Army’s core sense of purpose as well as its resonance with the Army’s dominant culture.
Information operations gained its strongest institutional acceptance when it presented itself as a set of technological capabilities designed to affect an adversary in a discrete conventional conflict. This understanding was in accordance with an American way of war that favors technological solutions over human ones and that favors conventional over unconventional conflicts.195 It suffered its weakest institutional acceptance when it presented itself as an integrating strategy designed to ensure coherence between a unit’s messaging and its actions for the purpose of winning the psychological contest of wills. The former was tangible, measurable, and intellectually simple, while the latter was intangible, immeasurable, and intellectually complex. This pattern suggests that the primary determinant of an information doctrine’s success at any given point in history was internal organizational dynamics rather than external strategic coherence. In other words, whether a doctrine succeeded or failed had less to do with the extent to which it was appropriate for a given strategic context, and more to do with the perceptions of internal organizational actors about that appropriateness.
The history of Army information doctrine contains three additional insights that are worth discussing further. The first is that information itself is an extraordinarily complex concept whose application to war possesses infinite versatility and variation. The versatility of its application means that there can be different types of informational challenges, and thus different interpretations of the applicability of information to war. It is likely impossible to create a single information framework that can satisfactorily encompass all these disparate meanings, and to do so in a way that is operationally useful. As a result, information doctrine should be understood within the context of the strategic environment that created it in order to ascertain what specific problems it is intended to solve. Moreover, information doctrine should take great pains to explain that strategic context and to articulate how it has influenced particular doctrinal choices.
A second insight concerns the tension between technical and psychological interpretations of information. This tension has been at the heart of Army information operations doctrine for the past 40 years and is one of the reasons why creating a single, unified doctrine has been so difficult. The tension between psychological and technical interpretations of information was most evident in the doctrinal changes that took place during the Global War on Terror. This phase featured a decisive shift away from the language of “effects” and toward the language of “influence,” with a focus on shaping perceptions rather than targeting information systems. “Information operations” as a term was replaced with “inform and influence,” while the technical component of information operations was codified in separate doctrine on cyberspace and electromagnetic activities.
However, while the overt information doctrine changed, the Army never changed the definition of “information” upon which the new cognitive framework rested — nor did it change the organizational infrastructure that had been built to service this technical interpretation of information operations. The resulting doctrine employed information as a tool for affecting perceptions, but held an implicit understanding of information — and an information organizational infrastructure — that was based upon information as data. Moreover, the new inform and influence activities concept was poorly aligned to both the prevailing institutional culture and the micro-organizational culture of the information operations community, which favored discrete, measurable, and technological solutions to information problems. The result was a doctrine that was widely misunderstood, poorly executed, and short-lived, despite its overall appropriateness for the strategic environment in which the Army found itself.
While this tension between technical and psychological applications of information is endemic to the Army’s doctrinal history, the controversy over this tension is not inevitable. Reconciling it demands a more compelling articulation of the relevance of the psychological dimension to the central activities of war — one that reflects the manner in which this dimension is enabled by the technological realities of the information age. It also requires breaking down both the policy and structural impediments to closer collaboration between the psychological and technical communities. At present, responsibility for considering the psychological dimension is relegated to a small sub-component of Army special operations. This component remains largely distinct from both the conventional force and from the cyber force, which has default responsibility for the technological component of information operations.196 Importantly, the Army should also figure out how to measure the effectiveness of activities in the cognitive space, the failure of which contributed substantially to the difficulties of inform and influence doctrine during the Global War on Terror.
The very lack of doctrinal consistency over time created a perpetual confusion as to what, exactly, information operations was supposed to offer to the force.
Despite this measurement problem, the present age of digital connectivity and diffuse information sources has made evident that information and influence can affect war outcomes.197 In China, war over Taiwan might be avoided by influencing the Chinese Communist Party’s perception of its ability to successfully seize the island, or its perception of the long-term costs of war.198 In Russia, war with Ukraine might slow to an end through the manipulation of relevant senses of national identity or the erosion of internal Russian popular support.199 While exerting this level of national strategic influence may extend outside the Army’s purview, there is little reason why the Army’s conception of the information dimension of conflict ought to preclude or minimize it.
However, effective information doctrine should also address the opposite problem, in which a bias for the technological aspect of information results in overly narrow measures of effectiveness that do not communicate an operation’s real impact. The ease of creating cyber personas or posting online content, for example, should not allow mere posting volume to substitute for an analysis of the posts’ effectiveness.200 Likewise, simply tossing content into the digital ether to “counter” a near-peer adversary, absent the specific ability to determine that content’s impact, should not be misconstrued as a viable influence campaign.
A final insight is perhaps the most obvious one: that Army information doctrine has experienced consistent, frequent, and often radically vacillating change since its inception. With the exception of the period from 1981 to 1991, when the doctrine was at its most primitive, the Army has never had an opportunity to build meaningful capacity around a single doctrinal construct. From the time of its formal recognition with the 1996 Field Manual 100-6, Army information operations was always under resourced and over extended, and thus was incapable of making a reality the vision that its written doctrine had laid out. This lends credence to the argument put forth by the FA30 community in 2009: that information operations’ operational struggles were less the result of a failed concept than an under-resourced one.
When taken together with the inherent complexity of information as a concept, the frequent changes to information doctrine offer an additional answer to this paper’s motivating inquiry: Why has the Army struggled to create an enduring doctrinal framework for information? The very lack of doctrinal consistency over time created a perpetual confusion as to what, exactly, information operations was supposed to offer to the force. This confusion then contributed to the field’s inability to gain widespread, enduring institutional acceptance. Current doctrine, while clearly written in the spirit of its predecessors, fails to offer any clarity on this fundamental question of what information operations is. It instead argues that Army units “employ information operations to create effects in and through the information environment” — a rigorously tautological take that fails to explain how information operations creates effects, what those effects could or should be, or how the success of those effects ought to be measured, all while creating an artificial sense of distinction between the “information environment” and the rest of a unit’s operating space that fails to capture the pervasive reality of the information age.201
The lack of doctrinal consistency or clarity is especially salient when one considers that information operations, as a low-density career field without a significant champion among senior leadership, has never enjoyed a position of relative advantage with respect to the Army’s central culture or organizational priorities. If information operations — whatever that might be — is as vital to the conduct of future warfare as 40 years’ worth of commentary suggests it is, then it must possess a level of institutional prestige that is commensurate with the Army’s favored functions of fire and maneuver. This is a cultural problem as much as it is a doctrinal one. The prestige of information operations, in turn, will depend on a clear demonstration of how the function can assist the Army with the accomplishment of its core missions, along with a clear emphasis on the relevance of informational and cognitive effects to combined arms operations. The reality is that all of a unit’s capabilities can achieve cognitive effects — not just those that are clearly information related. However, until the Army decides upon an enduring information construct, it will be impossible to demonstrate its effectiveness or for it to gain long-term institutional acceptance.
The complexity of information as a concept offers an additional lesson on the distinction between creating a doctrine that is institutionally viable and creating one that is efficacious.202 Structural reform is necessary to create viable doctrine, one that will outlast leadership changes and survive the residual frictions produced by any large-scale change. However, just because a doctrine is viable — in other words, just because a doctrine is accepted by the institution — does not mean that it is either strategically correct or operationally effective. The challenge of information doctrine thus presents two separate but related problems. On the one hand, the Army must create an information doctrine that resonates with the broader institution and its core sense of purpose. On the other hand, however, the Army must create a new way of war that conceptually unifies the disparate threads of the information age — one that, for example, speaks to the unique technological vulnerabilities of modern military systems,203 while acknowledging the historically unparalleled potency of influence in the digital age.204 Perhaps, then, the historic struggle of information doctrine is less an indictment of the doctrine itself than it is of the underlying theory of victory upon which the doctrine must be built.
Sarah P. “Sally” White is an Army cyberspace operations officer and former assistant professor of international affairs in the West Point Department of Social Sciences. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University and has operational experience in both joint and Army cyber organizations as well as in the special operations community.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Army.
|1981||TRADOC Pam 525-7||Command, Control, and Communications Countermeasures||C3CM||The integrated use of operations security, military deception, jamming, and physical destruction, supported by intelligence, to deny information to influence, degrade, or destroy adversary command, control, and communications (C3) capabilities and to protect friendly C3 against such actions.|
|May 1991||FM 90-24|
|July 1992||AR 525-20||Command Control Countermeasures||C2CM||The integrated use of lethal and non-lethal means, operations security (OPSEC), and military deception against the enemy’s command and control (C2) capabilities.|
|Aug. 1996||FM 100-6||Command and Control Warfare||C2W||The integrated use of OPSEC, military deception (MILDEC), psychological operations (PSYOP), electronic warfare (EW), and physical destruction, mutually supported by intelligence, to deny information to, influence, degrade, or destroy adversary C2 capabilities, while protecting friendly C2 capabilities.|
|Aug. 1996||FM 100-6||Information Warfare||IW||Actions taken to achieve information superiority by affecting adversary information, information-based processes, information systems, and computer-based networks while defending one’s own.|
|Aug. 1996||FM 100-6||Information Operations||IO||Continuous military operations within the military information environment that enable, enhance, and protect the friendly force’s ability to collect, process, and act on information to achieve an advantage across the full range of military operations.|
|Nov. 2003||FM 3-13||Information Operations||IO||The employment of the core capabilities of EW, CNO, PSYOP, MILDEC, and OPSEC, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to affect or defend information and information systems, and to influence decision-making.|
|Feb. 2008||FM 3-0||Information Tasks||N/A||Five tasks to shape the operational environment: information engagement, command and control warfare, information protection, operations security, and military deception.|
|Feb. 2011||FM 3-0 C1||Inform and Influence Activities||IIA||The integrating activities within the mission command warfighting function which ensures themes and messages designed to inform domestic audiences and influence foreign friendly, neutral, adversary, and enemy populations are synchronized with actions to support full-spectrum operations.|
|Jan. 2013||FM 3-13||Inform and Influence Activities||IIA||The integration of designated information-related capabilities in order to synchronize themes, messages, and actions with operations to inform U.S. and global audiences, influence foreign audiences, and affect adversary and enemy decision-making.|
|Dec. 2016||FM 3-13||Information Operations||IO||The integrated employment, during military operations, of information-related capabilities 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.|
|Nov. 2021||ADP 3-13 (draft)||Information Advantage||IA||Information advantage is a condition where a force holds the initiative in terms of relevant actor behavior, situational understanding, and decision-making through the use of information.|