WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force conducted its first information warfare-focused exercises to test the concept at a new range in the New Mexico desert.
To date, Air Combat Command led 10 “proof of concept” exercises, Jeffrey Phillips, commander of the 67th Cyberspace Wing, said May 18 during an AFCEA Alamo Chapter online event.
These information warfare flags followed the theme of “convergence,” a key concept championed by Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander of 16th Air Force, the service’s first information warfare numbered force that integrates global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber, electronic warfare, and information operations under a single commander.
Since its minting in the fall of 2019, the organization has had to chart how to consolidate and operationalize all the capabilities to provide Air Force and joint commanders integrated information warfare packages.
“How do we organize ourselves around problems that also [don’t] constrain us by the geography? Because in many cases, that information that’s available to us will not necessarily be collocated with the adversary we’re targeting,” Haugh said last year regarding the imperative and importance of convergence. “It’s taking advantage of our global access, our global access to the data and unique authorities, whether that’s intelligence authorities or the role that we play as a cyber component or the capabilities that we now stood up from an information warfare and an [information operations] perspective. How those come together and integrate are the outcomes that we are producing and will produce with our partners.”
A top official last fall announced the intent to hold the service’s first information warfare exercise at the newly created training facility in Playas, New Mexico, that would involve “live fire and live fly.”
The facility will help the Air Force refine information warfare tactics, such as honing cyber electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum capabilities.
“There’s like 250 abandoned houses on there. We created electromagnetic footprint. We’re able to exercise our cyber airmen, our intelligence airmen, our electronic warfare airmen and bring them all together to conduct information warfare exercises,” Phillips said.
He added that under Haugh’s convergence direction, they have begun to fold in other disciplines, such as electronic warfare and intelligence, one example being greater collaboration with the 363rd Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing that specializes in targeting, which Phillips said his organization has never worked with in the past.
“They are experts in targeting. In the cyber domain, we need targets,” he said.
The Air Force also held is first information warfare weapons and tactics conference in November 2020, emulating the Combat Air Force Weapons and Tactics Conference.
An Air Combat Command spokesperson told C4SIRNET that the two-day conference helped improve training against peer threats and included over 300 attendees from several units, services and organizations, including 16th Air Force, Air Combat Command staff, United States Air Forces in Europe — Air Forces Africa, Pacific Air Forces, the Army’s 1st Information Operations Command, Army Cyber Command, RAND and Air University.
Building a new cadre of information warriors
As adversaries are looking to more actively exploit gray zone operations, or operations below the threshold of armed conflict, they’ve sought a higher profile in the information domain with influence and information operations.
The U.S. military has made competing in kind a high priority.
Within the past year, the Air Force created the first initial skills training course for its information operations personnel, 14F. This follows the 2018 move to create a technical school for the discipline.
Previously, there was a lack of initial training for this career field, Phillips said, leading to the creation of a pilot-type curriculum at the 39th Information Operations Squadron, which has proven successful thus far, with nine graduates in December. They are in the second course currently.
Eventually, this course will likely be passed to Air Education and Training Command to run across the entire service.
While the number of 14Fs is small — about 130 — Phillips said the service hopes to grow that figure to around 500 in the future.
After they complete their training, they’ll go to air operations centers to support squadrons, Phillips said, adding they are already having impact. The airmen are trained as behavioral scientists and are experts in military information support operations, military deception operations, psychological operations.
“We see to get them the right formal training so they can bring all those functions together and take them out to the field to influence operations,” Phillips said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.