Air Force keeping information environment strategic plan out of public view

Cyber warfare operators assigned to the 275th Cyber Operations Squadron of the 175th Cyberspace Operations Group of the Maryland Air National Guard configure a threat intelligence feed for daily watch in the Hunter's Den at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Md., Dec. 2, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

The Air Force earlier this year published a strategic plan for how it will operate in the information environment, however, there is no intention to release it publicly yet, according to a spokesperson.

The Operations in the Information Environment Strategic Plan identifies key activities and milestones to transform how the Air Force operates in this space to achieve a vision where information is foundational to all military activities, Department of the Air Force spokesperson Rose Riley told DefenseScoop.

“There have been recent updates as the dynamic nature of the information environment drives regular adaptation and iteration for continued effectiveness,” she said.

The publication of the strategy follows several moves by the Department of Defense recently to elevate information ops, which many outside experts believe has been neglected for some time — to the benefit of sophisticated adversaries.

“The more Airmen recognize that influence operations can, and likely have, affected them, the faster we can recover and rebuild our defense against these attacks. The concept of information warfare is not new, and neither are the core strategies behind it. What is new are the tactics our adversaries are using to conduct these operations at scale. We must empower our Airmen not only to recognize this threat, but also to actively combat it,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass wrote in an article that appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Æther: A Journal of Strategic Airpower & Spacepower.

“We need collaborative solutions, developed and implemented at all levels, that truly seek to understand conflict across the gray zone,” she wrote. “We need our Airmen to understand what Russia understood in the 1950s when Aleksandr Sakharovsky, former head of the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, said, ‘World War III was conceived to be a war without weapons—a war the Soviet bloc would win without firing a single bullet. It was a war of ideas.’”

The concept is nestled under the information joint function, Riley noted. In 2017, the DOD designated information the seventh joint function, along with command and control, intelligence, fires, movement and maneuver, protection and sustainment. These are capabilities grouped together to help integrate, synchronize and direct joint operations.  

Operations in the information environment leverage the inherent information aspects of military activities to affect behavior and meet joint force commanders’ intent, according to Riley.

The Air Force in 2019 created 16th Air Force, the service’s first information warfare organization combining other numbered Air Forces and housing information warfare capabilities and commands such as cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electromagnetic spectrum operations and information ops under a single commander.

The service later created the first initial skills training course for its information operations personnel, 14F.

Under the new plan, the Air Force is setting a direction to prepare airmen to lead military operations with a focus on the information environment to shape perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of adversaries, Riley said. The plan aims to equip them with training, tools and technology necessary to understand and shape that environment.