Small Wars Journal

Every Brigade Combat Team Needs an Information Operations Officer

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 7:53am

Every Brigade Combat Team Needs an Information Operations Officer

Kevin Merrill

The world is becoming arguably more complex. Actions are no longer directly relatable to lethal effect if measurable at all. As ground forces conduct operations in a continuously changing operational environment, a commander must strive to understand these linkages to achieve the military objective. Until FY16 MTOE change, a Brigade Combat Team’s staff included a primary staff officer trained in both systems analysis and integrating non-lethal information related capabilities with the execution of military operations at all levels. The S7-Information Operations Officer is the subject matter expert trained in analyzing the information environment’s physical, information, and cognitive components and recommending when, where, and how to positively affect the entire operational environment. This critical staff position must return to the brigade level to ensure the commander fully utilizes every available asset within their formation.

Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) serve a critical role in the Army’s Capstone Concept where inherent experts in the human domain remain organically assigned at the lowest level.[i] Trained to assess, shape, deter, and influence the decisions and behavior of a host nation’s security forces, government, and people, personnel assigned to the Non-Lethal Cell provide the Brigade Commander a means to bridge lethal and non-lethal operations and dominate the information environment. Understanding the capabilities, purpose, and how to integrate their certified training ensures strategic success through tactical operations.[ii]

Identifying and influencing the local population favorably enables time and space to conduct military operations. Specifically, the Non-Lethal cell accomplishes these complex tasks through bridging cultural barriers between local populations and ground forces.  Trained in language, negotiation, and maintaining lines of communication through an integrated engagement strategy, a dedicated cell is a key to securing long-range strategic goals in addition to the local population.[iii]

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, to illustrate the critical necessity of having a dedicated cell staffed properly and managed by a qualified Information Operations Officer. Second, demonstrate how the Non-Lethal cell multiplies the capability of other WFFs in synchronizing tactical operations with strategic objectives. Only working together do the Non-Lethal and Lethal cells enable the commander to more completely close with and destroy the enemy and achieve the military objective.

Tactical Problem

Civilians on the Battlefield present the ground force commander with a critical problem of how to close with and destroying the enemy while minimizing collateral damage. Densely populated cities create defensive strongholds for asymmetric organizations using civilians as a source of protection, information, and sustainment.  Civilians, who are incapable or unwilling to escape, remain in danger of military forces exchanging intermittent, but deadly, fires.

Worse, errant munitions cause unnecessary and unplanned suffering for the populace along with damage to the critical infrastructure required for phase four “stabilization” operations. These conditions are ideal for a manufactured crisis capable of delaying the transition of military phases without significant expenditures of combat power and increased risk to Soldier safety.

During non-lethal operations, ground forces are guests of a local government and expected to serve as an equal partner. This partnership requires establishing procedures for the use of training facilities, ranges, resources, and, most importantly, access to leadership. The relationships created and maintained during “peace” time are critical to the ability of US forces to conduct combined operations in the event of a kinetic operation.

Therefore, today’s ground force commander must be aware of these new security challenges, and cognizant of the tools at their disposal to shape, fight, and win tomorrow’s battles in increasingly complex environments.

Tactical Task

The Non-Lethal cell in a BCT serves the critical role in aligning the ground commander’s intent with the complex task of conducting Unified Land Operations amongst a local population. In a decisive action environment, the Non-Lethal cell focuses the commander’s direct interaction with unified action partners on determining conditions requisite for the return of responsibility to civil authority. In support of wide area security, the Non-Lethal cell serves as the coordinating element with external agents, the local population, operating non-government organizations, host nation security forces, and other directed efforts from the US embassy. Supporting both efforts, the non-lethal cell multiplies the effects of lethal operations through continuous nested messaging to all identified stakeholders.

Managing the Non-Lethal cell, the S7 synchronizes the core competencies of attached/assigned Information Related Capabilities as part of all WFF as required for specific operations.[iv] Within the Non-Lethal, critical enablers both organic and attached for operations develop trust, reassure allies, deny enemy influence, and ensure the ground commander’s efforts are received as intended (see figure 1).

As part of the Non-Lethal cell’s effort in synchronizing with all WFF, parallel planning conducted with the Fires WFF coordinates non-lethal/lethal targeting trough the decide, detect, deliver, access (D3A) process[v]. The outputs of the D3A creates the High-Payoff Target List (HPTL) focusing on personnel or equipment the enemy commander needs to complete his mission throughout the operational environment. Individuals placed on the HPTL, becoming High-Value Individuals (HVI), direct the intelligence WFF to begin the intelligence targeting process in building a collection plan and conducting network analysis of critical nodes. In addition to the kill or capture of enemy HVIs, influencing friendly HVIs operating throughout the area of responsibility becomes a top priority of the ground force commander. As part of the civil reconnaissance mission of Civil Affairs, coordinating with the Fires WFF ensures proper identification and protections of civil/cultural sites along with personnel ideal for Soldier Leader Engagements (SLE).

Tactical Purpose

Routine SLEs with HVIs build trust and confidence, share information, coordinate mutual activities, enables freedom of movement, helps protect the civil populace, and maintain influence throughout the Commander’s Area of Operation. Preparing for the SLE, the Non-Lethal cell develops talking points for the ground force commander to synchronize the message with higher headquarters through reinforcing themes and messages. The Non-Lethal cell then assesses and maintains the SLE as part of the campaign plan’s stated objectives and disseminates its findings to ensure common understanding.

Information gathered during exchanges provide the Intelligence WFF with new sources of human intelligence (HUMINT) assets and can confirm suspected intelligence.[vi] This exchange further helps the S2X in the development of integrated intelligence products such as link diagrams and pattern analysis in addition to answering priority intelligence requirements from the commander.[vii] Most importantly, routine and continuous successful SLEs deny enemy influence through separating and securing the local population, thus serving a significant defeat mechanism to an insurgent organization seeking legitimacy.

Most importantly, through directing the engagement strategy of the Brigade, the Non-Lethal Cell extends the commander’s influence on external audiences, a key commander’s task of Mission Command.[viii] This inherent capability to engage and influence agencies outside the military formation serves as a “strategic bridge” between the political directives of the national command authority and the tactical actions of the ground force commander.

Strategic Purpose

This bridging occurs during Soldier-Leader Engagements (SLE) where constant interaction with local decision makers assists with how receptive the population is to the return of security and essential services to a transitional government body. Providing security creates both time and space for local institutions to re-organize, becoming capable of providing for their needs. While these tasks may seem apparent, the when, where, how, and why can only be determined by the local population to be effective. Furthermore, only through local buy-in and direction will the desired effects remain long enough to instill a desired behavioral change throughout the population.

During non-lethal operations, the BCT serves as the executing agent for the geographic combatant commander’s unified campaign plan (UCP). In the UCP, typically one of the main, if not priority, LOE focus on partnership and host nation capacity building. As such, the partnership, exchanges, and exercises are directed to create a strategic balance throughout the area of responsibility thus creating a strategic purpose for the BCT.  

Strategic Partnership

Due to the United States’ use of strategic assurance through worldwide basing, the importance of the Brigade Combat Team extends beyond kinetic engagements. Units forward deployed serve a strategic purpose of deterrence of regional conflicts through enabling partner nations to develop and maintain internal self-defense capability. Furthermore, creating a more capable host nation ensures the US will stand behind a capable fighting force reducing the requirement of American blood and treasure should a conflict ensue.

A Brigade Combat Team provides sufficient capacity and capability to “partner” with host nation forces. Continuous Phase 0 shaping operations require a focused effort to maximize the use of critical resources (e.g. troops, equipment, funding, and time).  During such operations, the Non-Lethal cell serves as the Partnership Line of Effort (LOE) that directs, schedules, and reports the interactions between US and host-nation forces. The Non-lethal cell uses Measures of Performances (MOP) to assess the advancement of the LOE and focus on four subgroups: Tactical, Exercise, Soldier Level, and Key Leader. The primary differences being the objective of the engagement or the level of decision maker involved and iteration serving as the measurable article. Storyboards for completed engagements allow for common understanding and historical analysis throughout the organization.

However, Measures of Effectiveness (MOE) remain a difficult metric to demonstrate without a definitive end-state to evaluate progress. Answering the question, “What do we gain out of our partnership” often relies on interpreting intangibles of a partner’s “will” in addition to their “means.” For example, a unit’s willingness to participate in comparison to their capability provides the commander an indication of how successful the program is in progressing. An example can include receiving requests for training from the partner nation units when compared to US forces continually offering training. Both support the overall objective, however; one requires interpretation. Additionally, further parsing of binary matters like access to decision makers and facilities is further quantifiably measured by considering prioritization or bureaucratic delays in comparison to access from similar forces. As such, a trained staff looking at such intangibles can better describe the inter-relationships of a commander’s operational environment.

Equally, when an adverse event occurs requires consequence management, the Non-Lethal cell directs the response and can determine the relative effectiveness of the partnership effort through gauging a selected audience’s reaction and subsequent willingness to continue partnering.

Strategic Exchanges

Through exchanging tactics, techniques, and procedures, US forces favorably ingratiate themselves with host nation militaries and governments. Beyond the Commander’s interaction with local leaders, the demonstrated expertise found in the proven capabilities of combat tested individuals are most desirable to partner nations. Subject Matter Expert (SME) Exchanges (or SMEE) transfer knowledge of best practices, techniques, personal experiences, and procedures for a given topic to an eager audience facing similar problems. At face value, the exchange seems little more than a program of instruction. However, properly executed SMEEs reveal critical gaps in the partner nation’s reported capability. Conversely, dedicated infrastructure, funding, professional military education, or newly acquired equipment indicates what the partner nation determines to be their greatest threat. 

As such, SMEEs are often precursors to or coordinated with foreign military sales and requested through the Office of Military Cooperation in the US Embassy. Here, the Non-Lethal Cell serves two functions. First, in serving as the BDE’s identified liaison, regular communication ensures requests are received and staffed timely. Second, and most importantly, the Non-Lethal Cell ensures the exchange is planned, resourced, and executed well through the proper identification and tasking of a maneuver unit or SME from the BCT. The results are analyzed and uploaded through the Combined Information Data Network Exchange (CIDNE) and shared throughout the Intelligence community generating referred intelligence reports.

Most importantly, the lasting impact of a positive exchange is a direct increase in an allied capability promoting increased readiness and improved regional stability. Furthermore, junior leaders in both militaries develop long-term professional relationships which last through their career. Both outcomes are most favorable to US national interest.

Strategic Exercises

Each Geographic Combatant Command annually conducts a series of Joint Exercise Program (JEP) or CJCS-sponsored Chairman's Exercise Program (CEP) named exercises between US and partner nations forces under the Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) plan.[ix] A successful exercise directly improves the capability of the partner nation through measurable training objectives and ensures the continued relationship with the U.S. military.

Exercises are typically combined-nation, company or battalion level, field training exercises focusing on mission command and maneuver training. Through digital simulation (e.g. JCATS, DABL) maneuver and sustainment training can occur at higher simulated echelons. The planning and coordination for such exercises require dedicated staff attention to ensure proper synchronization throughout multiple organizations. The Non-Lethal Cell serves as the key facilitator in planning and preparation through de-conflicting US and Partner Nation operational constraints while allowing the Movement and Maneuver WFF cell ability to focus on execution of the tactical plan.  

Once completed, the Public Affairs Officer, an integrated member of the Non-Lethal cell and an IRC, ensures the event receives proper media attention. Through publishing articles and media to foreign and domestic audiences, the PAO further reinforces the positive nature of the exchange, newfound capability, and continued US presence throughout the region.

Furthermore, through liaising with the diplomatic country team and local government officials, military operations are tied to the desired political end state thus reinforcing the American held value that our military serves the government.   As a direct result, this improved strategic relationship results in continued US basing, overflight, and use of port facilities for military activities. As such, a dedicated cell of experts must manage the Brigade’s partnership effort to ensure the continued strategic relationships between US and partner nations.

Strategic Impact

The Non-Lethal cell synchronizes and executes partner operations at all levels of command. Synchronization results in a relative increase in either a perceived or realized capability of all partner nations or actors in the commander’s area of operation. This impact directly provides essential security to defend against acts of aggression absent full US assistance. Together, all partner nations throughout the region present an integrated deterrence to hostile actors and ultimately reduce the level of military tension. While this may push state actors to seek alternative means through non-state groups, the overall likelihood of a full-scale military conflict subsides.


Any deployed military operation requires coordination with the civilian population and host nation government. The Non-Lethal cell is uniquely capable of identifying, assessing, and countering adversarial messaging in addition to shaping the operational environment positively through multiple lines of effort. Most important, extending the commander’s ability to influence key stakeholders throughout the operational environment ensures US Forces retain the initiative and decreases the likelihood of a tactical, let alone strategic, surprise.

The training a S7 receives at the Information Operations Qualification course, furthered by continued personal and professional development, qualifies their ability apart from their contemporaries to analyze a difficult situation and understand the inherent linkages found in a system of systems residing in the human domain. This understanding transforms a complex problem into a complicated, but manageable, one. As demonstrated, the BCT S7 is a combat, and strategic, multiplier capable of understanding the critical role of the Non-Lethal function through the range of military operations.[x] Returning this dedicated capability to the Brigade Combat Team’s formation as a primary staff officer during mission certification and pre-deployment events is critical to ensuring the seamless integration of ground forces and the local population in which they operate.

Figure 1. Example Non-Lethal Cell Structure, 3-1AD Kuwait from July 2016-March 2017

End Notes

[i] TRADOC PAM 525-3-0 The US Army Capstone Concept dated 19 December 2012

[ii] TRADOC PAM 525-8-5 U.S. Army Functional Concept for Engagement dated 24 February 2014

[iii] TRADOC PAM 525-8-5 Concept for Engagement dated 24 February 2014

[iv] Information Operations, Civil Affairs, Military Information Support Operations, Public Affairs, Cyberspace Operations, Space Operations, Engagement program, and Cyber-Electro Magnetic Spectrum Activities

[v] (Gomez, 2011)

[vi] FM 3-13 Information Operations dated December 2016

[vii] TC 3-55.1 Reconnaissance and Surveillance Brigade Collective Task Publication dated 8 June 2011

[viii] ADP 6-0 Mission Command dated May 17 2012

[ix] CJCSM 3500.03E Joint Training Manual For The Armed Forces Of The United States dated 20 April 2015

[x] JP 3-0 Joint Operations dated 17 January 2017


About the Author(s)

Major Kevin Merrill currently serves as the Information Operations Planner in the 8th Army G5 Plans shop at Camp Humphreys, South Korea. He has a Masters in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, TX and a Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication Management from the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and not reflective of the official position of the Information Operations Branch or U.S. Army.