The term “information warfare” might call to mind Russian trolls exploiting social media, but there has always been a lot more to it than disinformation campaigns on Twitter, or for that matter the airborne propaganda leaflets or Tokyo Roses of wars gone by. Information warfare, or IW, is a key element of every military operation. It spans cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, involving communications of all kinds such as Global Positioning System readings and satellite operations, as well as economic transactions, every level of surveillance, and old-school radio and TV.
It’s always been a part of warfare, and the Pentagon is ramping up for the next, digital phase.
The Army, for example, last month conducted its first electronic attack in Europe since the Cold War, during the Saber Strike exercise in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland, using a new tool, developed by the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), which itself became official in August 2016. Earlier this year, RCO delivered new electronic warfare prototypes to Fort Riley, Kan., the first time the tools had been distributed to a brigade based within the country.
The Navy, meanwhile, just gave a $100 million other-transaction award to Advanced Technology International to speed up IW prototyping. Under the deal, awarded by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Atlantic, Advanced Technology will manage a group of contractors working in IW tools, with the goal of getting them operational and deployed as soon as possible. Navy leaders also focused on the importance of information warfare during April’s 2018 Sea-Air-Space (SAS) Exposition at National Harbor, Md.
And the Army and the Joint Information Operations Warfare Center (JIOWC) recently held an industry day looking for new IW technologies. The Army and JIOWC, which is charged with integrating the full spectrum of the Department of Defense’s information operations under one command, are looking for ideas on technologies from industry and academia that could support its IW activities. Among the areas of focus are combining physical and information operations, using information to achieve psychological effects, and using information at the “same level of competency as physical power.”
The efforts are part of the Pentagon’s renewed focus on electronic and information warfare. Military leaders have admitted that they put electronic warfare (EW)–which includes tactics such as jamming communications and disrupting GPS and other directional signals–on the back burner while focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the airwaves were relatively uncluttered. But in recent years, the prospects of working in contested spectrum environments against technologically proficient adversaries–such as in Eastern Europe and the South Pacific have brought electronic warfare and IW to the forefront.
Russia has made extensive use of electronic warfare tools and hybrid warfare tactics in Ukraine and Syria, and last year announced the creation of an IW branch. China also has been conducting electronic warfare tests in the South China Sea, using tools intended to disrupt or disable communications and radar systems. Earlier this year, China also unveiled new electronic warfare aircraft.
The proliferation of EW and IW tools among adversaries is prompting the United States to respond in kind. That could even go for Russian trolls on Twitter, too. The State Department has established the Global Engagement Center as a kind of counter to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, intended to “counter propaganda and disinformation from international terrorist organizations and foreign countries.”