Decision-Making and OIE

by LtCol James McNeive (Ret)

The Commandant asks, “How do we win in the information battle?”  It starts by having a superior decision-making process.  Discussions on Operations in the Information Environment (OIE) need to spend more time addressing the cognitive process of decision-making.  How to better support it for Marine commanders, and how to influence it for friendly, neutral, adversary, and enemy actors, those commanders will deal with.  Victory will go to those who can make quick, accurate, and timely decisions that influence the way others think and act.  Meaning the one with the superior decision-making process wins.

 It can be argued that the topic of decision-making is in fact one, IF NOT THE, most important topic for OIE.  That almost everything done in the information environment (IE) is done to affect decision-making, a point of view that sometimes gets lost in the greater OIE discussion.  Being able to influence decisions of those target audiences who can either support or hinder a commander achieving the end state, while at the same time preserving his or her own process, is an extraordinary important element of the IE fight.  This fight centers on the ability to out think and out maneuver (both virtually and physically) the adversary.  It requires having an uncorrupted decision-making process while at the same executing efforts to corrupt the adversary’s process.  Ultimately, success is measured by actions in the physical environment that provide support to the commander’s end state.

When it comes to the role of decision-making in the IE, it is always good to start with some history.

  • In August 1979 DoD established Command, Control, Communications Countermeasures (C3CM) and defined it as “the integrated use of operations security, military deception, jamming, and physical destruction, supported by intelligence to deny information, to influence, degrade, or destroy adversary C3 capabilities and to protect friendly C3 against such actions.”  Of interest, this was DoD introducing an American version of a similar Soviet concept.
  • In March 1993, the Joint Chief of Staff instituted a change going from C3CM to Command and Control Warfare (C2W).  The new definition kept OPSEC, MILDEC, and physical destruction.  It morphed jamming into electronic warfare and added psychological operations as one of the five principle “military activities” supporting C2W.  Supporting doctrine in 1996 (JP 3-13.1) kept these activities and said they were integrated to deny information to, influence, degrade, or destroy adversary command and control capabilities, while protecting friendly command and control capabilities against such actions. 
  • The actual first approved doctrine on information operations (IO) was put out by the U.S. Army in 1996 when they published FM 100-6 Information Operations.  That publication defined IO as “continuous military operations within the military information environment that enable, enhance, and protect the friendly force’s ability to collect, process, and act on information to achieve an advantage across the full range of military operations; information operations include interacting with the global information environment and exploiting or denying an adversary’s information and decision capabilities.
  • In 1998, the first joint doctrine on IO (JP 3-13) stated that C2W was a subset of IO.  It also divided IO into Offensive and Defensive IO, and provided a definition for each.  The one for offensive stated “the integrated use of assigned and supporting capabilities and activities, mutually supported by intelligence, to affect adversary decision makers to achieve or promote specific objectives.” 
  • February 2006, new joint doctrine on IO (JP 3-13) eliminated the term C2W, dropped the idea of offensive and defensive IO, and announced IO had five core capabilities (EW, PSYOP, MILDE, OPSEC, and CNO).  It stated IO was the integrated employment of these core capabilities “to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making while protecting our own.”
  • In May 2013, a DoD directive, later followed by doctrine, noted there was too much attention being applied to only a few capabilities and that DoD needed to expand its aperture.  The term information related capabilities (IRC) was introduced as something that could include, but was not “limited to, a variety of technical and non-technical activities that intersect the traditional areas” of EW, cyberspace operations, MISO, MILDEC, influence activities, OPSEC, and intelligence.  The current doctrine on IO includes the use of IRCs to “disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting our own.”
  • The joint definitions for IO have often referenced adversary and potential adversaries.  To the Marine Corps that was too restrictive so in 2013 when the Marine Corps Warfighting Publication on MAGTF IO was republished (first version was in 2003) the Marine Corps presented its own definition for IO.  That definition was seen as amplifying the joint one.  In that definition the Marine Corps purposely went with the term target audience verses adversary.  The belief was that this opened up the aperture to influence audiences throughout the range of military operations, looking at more than just an adversary.  The Marine Corps stated IO was “the integration, coordination, and synchronization of all actions taken in the information environment to affect a target audience’s behavior in order to create an operational advantage for the commander.”

As you can see from this history, it starts out with a need to affect an adversary’s command and control, and over time went on to focus more on behaviors and decision-making.  For the purpose of the discussion, a decision can be seen as a short term/short duration action while a behavior is a long term/long duration action.  The ability to build a plan, then execute it using multiple capabilities to get the desired effect, in a coordinated and synchronized way, is inherent to the discussion.   Thought on this topic has evolved over the years, and should continue to evolve as IO is phased out and OIE becomes the focus. 

Consider this.  A commander, whether in a competition or conflict situation must play a game of mental chess with other actors in the environment.  Seen or unseen, there will be a combination of friendly, neutral, adversary, or enemy actors to deal with, each seeking to influence the decisions of the Marine commander and others in the environment for their own end state.  A key ingredient to any game of mental chess is for one side to have a greater decision-making process than the other side.  A process that allows one side to influence how the other thinks, then acts or reacts.

This process requires the ability to generate effects, in either the IE or physical environment, with the purpose of having a cognitive impact on the target audience.  The results of this impact is the target audience is motivated to act.  Just thinking about it, but not acting does nothing for the commander.  The goal is the target audiences make a decision, which causes an action in time and space that is favorable to the other side. 

 Discussions on decision-making are not new, for example Boyd’s cycle of observe-orient-decide-act (OODA loop) is well known.  From an IE point of view, each side / each opponent needs to be able to have the following to assist in the decision-making:    

  • An expert understanding of the battlespace to include the IE, which is an inherent part of it.
  • At a minimum, a great appreciation of the opponent, as well as neutral and friendly actors within the battlespace.
  • Ability to receive precise, actionable information.
  • Based on a combination of the first three, ability to make quick, accurate, and timely decisions.
  • Ability to securely transmit those decisions to those who can execute them.
  • Ability to assess and make decisions to either exploit or adjust.

All this is done while concurrently trying to prevent the opponent from doing the same.

As mentioned, success is measured by actions in the physical environment, but what does that look like?  For Marine commanders it could take on many forms based on the end state.  For example, it could lead to those foreign actors Marines deal with deciding to allow access or continual access to host nation areas or infrastructures, or deciding to support to an operation, or deciding not to support the opponent.  For those adversaries Marines may face, it could be the adversary commander deciding to position forces where maximum Marine firepower can be brought to bear against them, or deciding to remain static giving the Marine commander time to prepare, or deciding not to continue a fight (or resist) and to become less belligerent (will).

Bottom line, failure to understand how OIE and decision-making interrelated, or allowing other discussions on the OIE to overshadow the importance of decision-making, is a mistake.  Having the ability to make decisions is one of the most important aspects of the IE.  If a Marine commander does not have a superior decision-making ability, then that commander risks being the victim of the opponent, and recorded in the history books as the loser. 

James McNeive is a government civilian, currently serving as the Deputy Operations Officer for the Marine Corps Information Operations Center.

  1. Jim – appreciate the continued engagement on this. I think for a long time our attempts to influence adversary decision making has been to target the tools he uses to make those decisions (C2W like you reference) – make it harder to make decisions. Do you think we’ve moved the ball in terms of driving behavior that is favorable to our objectives? Huge implications for intelligence focus (people/behavior vs systems/indicators) but my sense is the IE gives us a lot more insight on the latter than ever before. Curious your thoughts on that.

    1. Sir, – To be brutally honest I do not think we have. Why do I say that, simply put I do not think enough attention is being put to influencing the behaviors of target audiences. I think that is getting lost in the greater Marine Corps OIE discussion, as I mentioned in my posting. We are spending a huge amount of time on buying and building varies capabilities that can be used to impact behaviors, which is all good. But, do we ask ourselves why we need those capabilities? What will we use them for? The answers given seldom seem to have any linkage to an end state of actually influencing the decisions or behaviors of a target audience.
      When it comes to “driving behavior that is favorable to our objectives,” if we really want to move the ball we need to get commanders to routinely make that part of their guidance and intent. We have seen authors write on the need for cognitive objective. This would be a great topic to explore. I highly recommend the JFQ 89, 2nd Quarter 2018 article by Scott K. Thomson and Christopher E. Paul titled “Paradigm Change Operational Art and the Information Joint Function,” which addresses this.
      I know Intel is working to get better at looking at the IE. I have seen enough examples where the Intel brief fails to even include any reference to the IE, but I do think that is slowly getting better. I believe the change in how joint doctrine describes the IE sets us back a little. Over the years, those working IOII have developed techniques to analyze and describe the IE, which we are getting the larger Intel community to use. With the change in how the IE is described in joint concept and doctrine (as seen in the JCOIE and JP 3-0) we may need to relook at those techniques.
      Over the last several months, I have had a great on-going discussion with the Director of SAW on how to get planners (OPT leaders for example) to visualize the IE. Which I think is a key component that needs improvement. Along with improving how planners visualizing the IE, we must get better at incorporating the need to affect target audience behaviors (while protecting our own) into MCPP. When building a plan this concept needs to be embedded into the base plan, not left to an appendix that no one, except the staff guy/gal who wrote it, will read. We here at MCIOC have been looking at the MCPP challenge over the years and have some new ideas we are playing with. More to follow.
      I am sure some may disagree with these viewpoints, but that is OK. All great for the discussion.