Strategic Advantage: Pentagon Seeks to Rapidly Build Up Information-Warfare Force

Foreign Affairs

Washington: In a new revelation of Pentagon strategy, it has been found that the US military lacks the ability to quickly deploy personnel that can fend off malevolent actors trying to shape public opinion and must act now to build up such “information forces.”

Conquering the information ecosystem from social-media chatter to government propaganda is increasingly important as mis- and disinformation proliferate and world powers including China and Russia try to influence foreign affairs from afar.

The Defence Department must “build a process to rapidly deploy teams of information forces, including the reserve force,” and foster a related workforce comprising military and civilian experts, according to the 2023 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment. Improved recruiting, training and career paths are needed for the effort, the strategy said.

The congressionally mandated document was made public November 17, months after internal publication. Information warfare represents a persuasive brew of public outreach, offensive and defensive electronic capabilities, and cyber operations; it combines data awareness and manipulation to gain an advantage before, during and after major events.

“As this strategy makes clear, our ability to gain and sustain information advantages at the times and places of our choosing are critical to successful operations in the information space,” Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in the introduction. “Make no mistake: America’s competitors and enemies are moving quickly in the information environment, hoping to offset our enduring strategic advantages elsewhere.”

Emerging technologies play a critical role in both waging and foiling influence campaigns, according to the strategy. Generative artificial intelligence, capable of imitating human interaction, can fuel spam, phishing attempts and impersonation, while automation can flood Facebook or X, formerly Twitter, with misleading and provoking posts. US officials have repeatedly warned of the former. The latter has been seen in the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars.

Air Force Lt Gen Kevin Kennedy, the commander of the information warfare-focused 16th Air Force, at an event earlier this month said the discipline dominates international competition and shapes the fighting that can follow.

“It’s the essential enabler, as we’re looking to gain information and decision advantage,” Kennedy said at a Mitchell Institute event. “We’re employing forces across domains to make sure that we’re ready to seize the initiative in the information domain, and, through our information warfare capabilities, to prevail in conflict and set the conditions for peace, after the conflict, as we’re moving forward.”