Navy strategy puts a sharper focus on information warfare

In a newly released document, the Navy stresses the need to focus on information warfare in order to counter the tactics of potential adversaries.

The latest strategic document released by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson reflects not only the growing importance of cyber operations and electronic warfare, but also on another online facet of modern confrontations: information warfare.

The document, titled “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority,” lists the rise of the global information system and the increasing rate of technological creation and adoption as two of the three “major and interrelated global forces that are increasingly used, increasingly stressed, increasingly important, and increasingly contested … energiz[ing] the quickly changing environment in which the Navy must operate, and if required, fight and win.”

The document points to nations such as China and Russia that are, for the first time in 25 years, forcing the United States to face a return to great power competition. China and Russia are focused on exploiting vulnerabilities in information systems as well as continuing to develop information-enabled weapons in the kinetic and non-kinetic realm, the document states. “Both China and Russia are also engaging in coercion and competition below the traditional thresholds of high-end conflict, but nonetheless exploit the weakness of accepted norms in space, cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum,” the strategy says. 

Russia, for example, has effectively employed what NATO called “hybrid warfare” in Ukraine, combining physical operations with cyber operations and an information-warfare campaign intended to sow economic and political uncertainty via a false narrative. As NATO commanders pointed out when discussing Russia’s tactics last year, propaganda as a tool of war is nothing new, but they said Russia was employing it to an unprecedented degree.

Information warfare also was addressed last June in a document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,  which dubbed the practice “netwar,” to distinguish it from cyber war, and said its growing importance was largely going unnoticed.

And Russia and China are not alone in seeking to make use of these tactics in the information age, the Navy’s strategy said. They “are not the only actors seeking to gain advantages in the emerging security environment in ways that threaten U.S. and global interests,” the document states, mentioning North Korea and Iran. “Others are now pursuing advanced technology, including military technologies that were once the exclusive province of great powers – this trend will only continue.”

Additionally, among one of its tactical goals listed under a plan called four “Lines of Effort” that focus on warfighting, learning faster, strengthening the Navy’s team and building partnerships as a means of defining how the force will start to move forward, the Navy will seek to advance and ingrain information warfare. The force seeks to expand the Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare concept in order to encompass all aspects of information warfare such as space and cyberspace. 

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