AUGUSTA, Ga. — U.S. Army Special Forces have worked to develop top tier information warfare capabilities and want to mix their skills more often with conventional military units.
For example, a Special Operations Joint Task Force participated in July in the Army Defender Pacific exercise — a division-sized war game for joint multidomain operations in support of Indo-Pacific Command — to test its ability to win against a peer adversary, Col. Joshe Raetz, chief of staff 1st Special Forces Command, said in an Aug. 17 talk at TechNet Augusta.
“We integrated with I Corps as the joint force line component command and the Multidomain Task Force to converge capabilities to impose costs and introduce multiple dilemmas for our adversaries,” he said. “In this scenario, it was a war that we hope not to fight and through our approach to information warfare, we deterred our adversaries and not only survived, but thrived in competition short of armed conflict. Information warfare played a vital role in shaping the environment, deterring this adversary and preserving freedom of maneuver in both the operational and information environments. This vital contribution allowed the joint force and Army to seize the initiative and dominate the information environment.”
Army Special Forces are deployed to over 70 countries daily and engaging hostile actors while still being able to effectively message portions of a population, meaning they have been at the tip of the spear when it comes to developing and maturing information warfare capabilities.
The conventional forces are learning the importance of harnessing these capabilities as adversaries are using a variety of techniques to posture forces and undermine the U.S. and its forces. The Army, as a result, is pursuing an emerging idea called information advantage, which seeks harness information-related capabilities to enable commanders to maintain decision advantage over enemies.
Raetz told C4ISRNET following his remarks that Special Forces are looking to partner more frequently with conventional forces, noting that experimenting with regionally aligned Army forces was one success of the exercise.
“I think what we learned was to partner early and planning with the Army forces and other joint forces, and that may catch an adversary off guard. In this case, that’s what happened,” he said.
Additional lessons learned included the importance of low-equity electronic warfare and cyber-capable tools to degrade the adversary’s capabilities aimed at keeping U.S. forces outside its primarily sphere of influence.
In fact, special operations forces have experimented with and used tactical cyber and electronic warfare tools for some time, something the conventional forces are now beginning to develop.
“Our role as the SOF task force integrating information, electronic warfare, intelligence and other special operations activities is the key to achieving the information advantage,” he said. “The critical piece here is the importance of moving data and information at speed, scale while protecting the integrity of our command and control structures.”
Raetz also mentioned the role that the newly established Information Warfare Center at Fort Bragg is playing in special forces’ ability to contest adversaries below the threshold of armed conflict.
Psychological operations forces have been organized to form the core of the Information Warfare Center, focusing on top nation-state threats and collecting personal information of particular actors using open source tools and data aggregators to synthesize trends and identify narratives and key communications.
“We leverage our unique cultural and language expertise, develop content and engage target audiences online daily,” he said. “Our unique capability to impact the cognitive dimension where beliefs, attitudes and behaviors are impacted is integrated with our special warfare capabilities to see, sense and react to events in the information environment.”
“The Information Warfare Center offers a significant advantage of providing forward deployed forces with situational awareness above the tactical level and informed by intelligence capability with a message that we can craft rightly with the content and if necessary, deliver to target audiences nearly anywhere in the world.”
During the Defender Pacific exercise, Raetz said operators learned about the optimal integration of the Information Warfare Center and sensitive activities to present multiple dilemmas to adversaries and enable decision dominance.
In addition, Raetz said Army Special Forces are working with U.S. Cyber Command to deter malign actors in cyberspace.
“Controlling the information environment is so crucial to winning in both competition and high-intensity conflict,” he said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.