Ukraine, Irregular-War Changes Are Reshaping Pentagon’s Info-Ops Strategy

Lessons from Ukraine and changes in irregular warfare will be reflected in the upcoming revision of the Pentagon’s information-operations strategy, defense policy leaders said.

“Everyone has a cell phone; that’s what we’re seeing in the Ukraine. Not just soldiers having cell phones and watching the Javelin strike. Civilians are reporting the movement of Russian forces,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Easley, a top information-ops advisor to the assistant defense secretary for special operations.

Among other things, Easley said, this means special operators need to be thinking about public narratives—how they might change and how U.S. forces can shape them—long before fighting erupts. And that means ensuring that troops have the right digital skills, including data analysis and messaging. 

“Our information operators and forces must engage throughout the spectrum of operational planning and execution, and cannot wait until a crisis begins to start setting the theater for messaging,” the general said Friday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium in Washington, D.C. “We must reinforce campaign planning to start with objectives in the cognitive domain. Understand what narratives are needed to reinforce those objectives, and then develop plans for physical action that show commitment to that narrative.”

The new strategy, required by the 2020 defense policy act and slated for publication in March, will update the 2016 version, Easley said. A joint info-ops doctrine was published in 2018. 

It builds on several sweeping tech policy efforts the Pentagon is working through, including cyber, data, and digital modernization strategies. It will have four lines of effort with an emphasis on personnel training needs and force design. That also means doing a better job integrating information operations, he said, noting the U.S. Marine Corps’ Information Groups as an example.

Other lines of effort include building programs that enhance information operations, such as cloud-based infrastructure and data analytics; creating effective policies and governance; and maintaining partnerships. In a 2021 report, the Government…