By Louis L. Cook

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of OTH’s Human Domain series.  As the military experts in the Human Domain, Information Operations professionals must be able to plan, execute, and integrate various Information Related Capabilities. In this article, we take a closer look at the OPSEC IRC.

As the Human Domain subject matter experts, Information Operations (IO) officers serve to affect enemy decision-making while simultaneously promoting friendly decision-making freedom of maneuver. Among other things, IO officers support Warfighting Functions and contribute to mission success, including survivability of forces and equipment, by slowing or impairing enemy decision making. While this is the goal of IO, the substance of what IO provides to commanders and staffs remains elusive. Often this is due to a lack of understanding of the skillsets required to execute effective IO, and the cross-coordination required. These shortfalls can be illustrated through examination of Operations Security (OPSEC) and how it is insufficiently utilized in training and consequently, real world operations.

The U.S. military aims to train how we fight, and evaluate how we train. Unfortunately, IO is currently evaluated at exercises based on IO-related story lines and Master Scenario Event List injects, assessing how well IO operators execute a process of integrating and synchronizing IRCs at a specific time. These exercises attempt to replicate the information environment depicted by story lines and supported by injects to exercise the IO staff. The theme is that the human domain is addressed separately, and the coordinated effects are not seen across the other domains, which is unrealistic. This is an incoherent and incomplete approach to generating persistent, coordinated effects in and through the information environment. While these practices are based on doctrine and consistent with current thinking and practice, they largely amount to indeterminable support to a multi-domain battlefield.

One of the planning factors that is most often lost is that tactical actions have strategic effects in the multi-domain and information environments. In exercises, IO responses to story lines and injects do not nest well, if at all, with the purpose of the division to close with and destroy enemy ground forces. This problem is exemplified by the utilization of OPSEC officers. Using an OPSEC Officer in a tactical fight is a different matter than how most soldiers consider his or her use. Often, OPSEC is thought of as a requirement of protection, but it is also a means of signature control not unlike military deception; it is an offensive and defensive tool for IO in Phase III operations. The OPSEC process is to identify critical information and indictors of operations, plans and activities that can be exposed, and develop methods to eliminate, reduce, or conceal those indictors. OPSEC is unique because to achieve signature control, practitioners implement counter-analysis, which is designed to create an enemy vulnerability by misleading or confusing enemy intelligence capabilities at critical locations and times. Tactical OPSEC actions can have strategic effects across domains. Unfortunately, these effects can only be accomplished if the training meets the requirements.

For example, counter analysis at the tactical level often utilizes decoys, and in a peer fight, high fidelity decoys. During warfighter exercises the opposing force has decoys, with the exception of counter battery radars. The fabrication of decoys requires significant and frequent research by the OPSEC officer to ensure that the most convincing decoys are employed on the battlefield. Most items can be procured; some, such as corner reflectors must be designed and fabricated to meet the demands of the modern battlefield. The OPSEC officer must consider the impact of fabrication and employment of decoys and the ability to execute sustainment and counter mobility missions. Additionally, he must have a basic understanding of how radar works based on the density and shape of different materials, and how the enemy will use intelligence capabilities to detect and cross cue positions and equipment. The job of the OPSEC officer, though, includes more than just the planning and coordinating for decoy fabrication and employment. It includes the use of decoys to support the intelligence and fires Warfighting Functions (WfFs). This means that the OPSEC officer must coordinate with collection management, the intelligence-targeting officer, the joint air-ground integration cell (JAGIC) intelligence officer, subordinate units that employ and secure the decoys, as well as the space officer to use decoys as lures to attract and target enemy collection assets. There is no training or doctrine that outlines the roles, responsibilities, and requirements for this activity, so the OPSEC officer must learn on the job to plan everything to include decoy tactical control and operational control relationships. Exercising solely within an IO team construct is definitely not the solution.

At the core of the knowledge and skills required to execute decoy operations, OPSEC is an IRC that IO officers can coordinate, integrate and synchronize across multiple domains and mission sets. However, unlike every other coordinating staff and special staff section, IO must coordinate first for authorities and capabilities that are not organic. Only once these authorities and capabilities are secured, can IO begin to plan and coordinate with other staff sections and IRCs in order to integrate and synchronize effects, and execute operations to slow and impair enemy decision making to help enable mission success and force survivability, potentially achieving strategic effects. The complexity of the operational environment that includes the information environment is one which IO must grapple with and overcome. But first, current doctrine, training, and exercises, must mirror real-world, multi-domain operations.

Louis L. Cook is a doctoral candidate at Northcentral University, studying International Education. He currently serves as an Information Operations officer in the United States Army.

Interested in contributing to the Human Domain series? Send your ideas or articles to Julie Janson at

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the US government.

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