THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE is to expand on some key ideas raised, but not fully developed, in my November/December 2008 Military Review article entitled "Re-Thinking IO: Complex Operations in the Information Age." That piece makes the argument that the core competencies of information operations (IO) are far less integrated and effectively employed than they should be. Psychological operations (PSYOP) and military deception (MILDEC) are two vitally important elements that are especially ineffective today because of the way we organize ourselves to use them.
Logic and experience suggest it will be more important to pursue three ever-present, but practical, mission needs than to pursue the grander, doctrinal, but over-ambitious task of achieving "information superiority" to "influence, disrupt, corrupt," and so on. These needs are:
* Win the psychological contest with current and potential adversaries.
* Keep the trust and confidence of home and allied populations while gaining the confidence and support of the local one.
* Win the operational and strategic, cognitive and technical "information-age applications" contest with current or potential adversaries.
It will be necessary to integrate core capabilities for meeting these needs into a combined arms pursuit of multiple objectives (rather than, as aforementioned, pursuing one separate IO LLO). As my earlier article notes:
Effective application already also requires expertise in very different disciplines. It will become even more important to reorganize IO capabilities into groupings for staff oversight that share common functional purposes, causal logic, and art- and science-based competencies. Leaving the collection of IO tools under the oversight of one staff officer has become an untenable option, and proper preparation and education will be increasingly difficult to achieve. (1)
Here I am concerned only with the difficult challenge of winning the very complex psychological contest with current and potential adversaries. If this is one of the things we want to do, our doctrine should provide the general causal logic and principles for getting it done. But neither the current Army and Joint IO doctrine nor the new Field Manual (FM) 3.0, Operations, provides useful guidance on this subject. (The coordinating draft of the new FM 3-13, Information, devotes an entire chapter to this need specifically; ideally the next FM 3.0 will expand on this subject as well.)
The psychological aspects of full spectrum operations ought to be as second nature to every commander and operations officer as psychology in general is to a sports team coach. Several decades ago the Army banished its psychological operators to the Special Forces. More recently, in the 1990s, the Army bundled PSYOP and MILDEC in an awkward conceptual construct called IO. The recent FM 3.0 returned MILDEC to the operations staff's responsibility, but re-bundled PSYOP into another awkward construct called "information engagement" that bridges the first two of the needs identified in the earlier article. The U.S. Army, as an institution, still does not appreciate the normality and utter necessity of the close relationship evinced by the fact that these specialists are today far more deeply engaged in public relations work than in leveraging the psychological impact of physical capabilities and actions. I argue the case for re-thinking this vital relationship by reviewing the logic for a natural blending of the physical and the psychological dimensions of war and by suggesting remedies on the road ahead.
Military Power and Perceptions
Excellence in the use of firepower, armor, speed, precision, and armed physical presence to "create new facts on the ground" is less than half of the whole without excellence in intimidating, demoralizing, mystifying, misleading, and surprising at the same time (as well as leveraging that reputation for excellence to influence the decisions of real or potential adversaries not yet subject to physical force). The great captains of history naturally employed these two facets of military power as one combined instrument. The holistic approach of a Caesar, for example, not only remains valid, but also has become essential to success in the information age. The less we can bring brute force to bear, the more we need to get the most psychological impact possible from any action or display of potential action. The more our application of force becomes precise and discriminating, and the more rapidly our capabilities advance (and thus may not be appreciated by others), the more artful we need to be in linking deeds, images, and words to leverage the psychological impact.
Deterrence. The chief purpose of military force is to achieve political and economic ends: sometimes through deterrence, other times through offense or defense, and occasionally through pacification. Deterrence is wholly psychological. What matters is the image, not what is real. As difficult as it might be to fully project psychologically deterring images, under the right circumstances they can exert power to influence events as usefully as any physical force. A properly constructed deterrent is the most economical use of military capability. The projection of deterring images plays an important complementary role in all other uses of military force (at all levels from grand strategy of nation-states down to single combat of armed individuals). A country could more easily pursue any other of its purposes merely by positioning a detachment of force …