The Marine Corps has been looking to take advantage of the often referred to “information” domain, which encompasses cyberspace, the electromagnetic spectrum, social media and everything in between.
One of the measures the Marine Corps has taken in this sphere is the standing up of a deputy commandant for information, a three-star position that will oversee all aspects of information within the service.
This role, established in early 2017, came out of the Marine Corps Information Warfare Task Force in 2015, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.
“Just this last week I saw that Secretary Mattis had put out a memo saying that information is now another domain,” Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said at Modern Day Marine in Quantico, Virginia, held the week of Sept. 18. “I would say good on the Marine Corps, good on the deputy commandant for information for being out in front in leading that effort.”
Following his appearance on a panel, Walsh told reporters that this push in the information space stems from the Marine Corps Operating Concept released last year, which, according to Walsh, “really had us operating in the information domain.”
“When we went into Marine Corp Force 2025 and did all of our wargames, our experiments, our exercises, the major driver was the information warfare area — the information domain,” Walsh said.”
Much like how the Army is examining injecting similar capabilities into their maneuver elements and figuring out how this will change their force structure, Walsh asserted that operations in the information domain will create major force structure changes for the Marines.
Case in point is the new Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group — called the MEF Information Group, or MIG — which officially activated in early July.
“We’ve created new formations; we’ve changed some formation in the [Marine Air Ground Task Force]. How do you bring together cyberspace, electronic warfare, information operations, command and control, and intelligence functions all together to best support the senior operational commanders out there?” Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, commander of Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command, asked April 4 at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium. “We have a path; we have the new Marine Corps structure to get after this. We’re starting to implement that now after a year of designing it.”
Reynolds told C4ISRNET that this effort is similar to what the Army is doing with its new cyber directorate at the Pentagon that fits cyber, electronic warfare, information operations and related areas under one hat.
“That’s exactly what we’re trying to get at ― bring all those elements together, dominate the information environment when we have to,” she said. “I think all the services are trying to tackle this in different ways. The Army has done a lot of work at the brigade and below,” bringing these effects to the tactical edge.
The MIG may not sound like a lot, but it’s really changing how the Marines will operate in that information domain, Walsh added, noting that by standing up the new deputy commandant for information and bringing in anything that’s information domain policy or strategy to be developed under that deputy commandant puts the service right in line with where the department is going.
Walsh also explained how the Marines just published an information operating concept of employment, which really lays out how the MEF Information Group is going to operate, providing them a playbook for given they were just newly stood up.
According to the document, there is an inadequate mechanism for the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) commander to comprehensively understand, plan and execute information environment operations. Furthermore, the MAGTF commander has a limited ability to understand relevant threats and vulnerability in this space and has limited command and control mechanisms to integrate information capabilities across the MAGTF. As such, “the MAGTF must develop a new approach to maneuvering in the IE and conducting Information Environment Operations at the tactical level.”
The MIG’s mission, according to the document, is to “Coordinate, integrate and employ IE Ops capabilities in order to ensure the MAGTF Commander’s ability to facilitate friendly forces maneuver and deny the enemy freedom of action in the information environment. Provide communications, intelligence, supporting arms liaison, and law enforcement capabilities in support of MAGTF operations.”
The MIG will develop an integrated information plan and coordinate these missions and tasks within the larger MEF concept of operations and scheme of maneuver.
The document envisions a 2025 MAGTF that will be able to operate within this information space by integrating four central ideas:
- Planning and executing information operations along functional lines ofeffort to enable planning and employment of capabilities;
- Establishing a dedicated organization within the MAGTF for information – e.g. the MIG;
- Building agile distributed command and control capabilities to enable distributed planning and decentralized execution, and;
- Fusing, analyzing and using disparate intelligence about the informationspace through a near real time estimate that feeds into a commonoperational picture that will provide planning, mission support andmission assessment.
Adjusting to the threat
Peer competitors such as China have doctrinized information operations and the information space within their military organization.
Investments in so-called information capabilities serve a purpose for a more “informatized” military, according to the DoD’s annual report to Congress on China’s military developments. “The [People’s Liberation Army] conducts military exercises simulating these operations and likely views conventional and cyber operations as means of achieving information dominance,” the report says. “PLA writings suggest EW, cyberspace, deception, counterspace, and other operations during wartime could deny an adversary’s use of information.”
Moreover, the DoD recognizes that PLA writings indicate the effectiveness of information warfare and cyber in recent conflicts, advocating the targeting of command-and-control and logistics networks. “As a result,” the DoD report asserts, “the PLA may seek to use its cyberwarfare capabilities to collect data for intelligence and cyberattack purposes; to constrain an adversary’s actions by targeting network-based logistics, communications, and commercial activities; or to serve as a force-multiplier when coupled with kinetic attacks during times of crisis or conflict.”
“For the Chinese, cyberspace is thus only a subset of information space — the landscape for the largest scale communication to the world’s population, which includes human information processing and cognitive space,” asserts a report published last year by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, a Tallinn, Estonia-based think tank.
Marine Corps Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has said that fifth-generation war is about the fight for information. The fifth generation will be cognitive warfare, he said.
Lt. Col. Daniel Wittnam of Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations, speaking at Modern Day Marine, explained how he would characterize fifth-generation infantry within cognitive warfare and the information space. Specifically, he described the ability of small unit leaders to disaggregate or separate to bring combined arms to bear by leveraging existing and emerging technologies such as the joint strike fighter, group 1-5 UASs, being able to do precision fires, bring non-kinetic effects and manned-unmanned teaming to leverage effects in all domains.
Walsh noted that in this vein, to get at fifth-generation capabilities, requirements officers are looking at things like;
- The ability to be able to operate in a more distributed manner;
- The ability to share more information vehicle to vehicle;
- Active protection systems for ground vehicles just like air craft have active protection systems;
- Indirect precision fires from vehicles to vehicles on the move;
- Electronic warfare capabilities to allow for the ability to sense andmake sense of what’s out there — not just visually electro optically butwhat is out there in the electromagnetic spectrum to see how friendlyforces are emitting and what threats might be out there, and;
- The ability to launch unmanned systems either for reconnaissance or loiter munitions.