Small Wars Journal

What is the role of Information Operations in supporting training missions? Or, when is a tweet more than just a tweet?

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 10:45am

What is the role of Information Operations in supporting training missions?
Or, when is a tweet more than just a tweet?

Major Scott Fisher


A partner force soldier tweets about a recently completed mission on his unit’s social media account.

Does this mean anything – was anything achieved?

Traditionally, IO (Information Operations) doctrine would hold that a such a tweet is a measure of performance (MOP): criteria used to assess friendly actions that are tied to measuring task accomplishment (FM 3-13, pg. 8-4) – in other words, something we did, not an effect we created. Other common examples of MOPs include: the number of leaflets or handbills disseminated, number of broadcasts, the number of photos or videos taken or disseminated – all observable and measurable activities, but none that reflect a change in behavior by the target or target audience. Basically, we did something, but we’re not sure if it mattered.

Tweets, or any of the other activities above, are not normally considered measures of effectiveness (MOE): criteria used to assess changes in system behavior, capability, or operational environment that are tied to measuring the attainment of an end state, achievement of an objective, or creation of an effect (JP 3-13, pg. IV-9). A successful MOE means creating a desired change in the behavior of a target: for example, increased support for a host nation government (or decreased support for a terrorist group), increased defections from a terrorist group, increased useful calls to a tip line – a change in behavior that produced a desired effect. Not only did we conduct an activity (or several activities), we actually achieved something useful for the commander.

Based on these definitions of MOPs and MOEs, a tweet by a partner force soldier is clearly just an MOP. Someone did something, but we don’t know if any effects were created or desired end state achieved. All that occurred was an observable and measurable activity. Typically, the lack of a desired effect is considered a negative – the taxpayers don’t pay for us to go somewhere to simply do something, they pay for us to achieve something

And therein lies a problem with information operations and IO doctrine. Despite decades of deployments in support of training (advise and assist, subject matter expert exchange, etc.) missions, IO doctrine remains largely silent on the role of information officers on missions where the task for U.S. forces is primarily training.

Army Field Manual 3-13 (Information Operations) says plenty about training – but only of U.S. forces. There is nothing about how IO personnel can advise and assist (or train) partner forces in the development of their own IO or messaging capabilities.

Joint Publication 3-13 (Information Operations), under Authorities (pg. III-1), explicitly refers to Title 10 (Department of Defense) as the legal basis for employing information-related capabilities. However, JP 3-13 makes no mention of Title 22 (Department of State) or other environments where IO activities can occur. This despite the current numbers and recent history of both active-duty and Reserve/Guard IO personnel assigned to AFRICOM, SOCAF, and other commands where they often operate in a Title 22 environment.

In its section on Multinational Information Operations (pgs. V-1 to V-5), JP 3-13 touches on working with international defense forces, but primarily in terms of operating in a Title 10 environment (e.g., Afghanistan and Iraq), rather than a Title 22 environment (pretty much everywhere else). On pages V-3 to V-4, the publication gives its only related guidance, that “every effort should be made to provide basic-level IO training to multinational partners serving on the MNF [multinational force] IO staff. In cases where this is not possible, it may be necessary for the MNF headquarters staff to assist the subordinate MNFCs [multinational force commanders] in planning and conducting IO.” However, no details or guidance are provided on how this assistance is to be planned, operationalized, or assessed.

The Special Forces Guide to Information Operations (TC 18-06) does not discuss authorities or the legal basis for conducting IO, though it does include the helpful guidance (pg. 1-2) that, “Thinking about IO in terms of […] doctrinal construct may do injustice to IO’s true capabilities.” Indeed!

The SF IO guide does at least offer, on pages 3-1 and 3-2, a useful vignette that highlights an IO plan that involved related training for host nation forces in a successful effort to bolster local support. However, the Guide provides no information beyond the vignette about how to develop or assess similar training efforts.

This doctrinal gap creates several problems: current IO training and exercises can lack relevance for missions occurring outside of warzones, especially when desired effects are tied solely to operational outcomes rather than including training outcomes. Commanders familiar with IO activities from deployments in Title 10 environments like Iraq and Afghanistan are often unaware of the constraints and lack of authorities imposed on IO outside of these areas. This combination of misplaced expectations from commanders, and IO officers operating partly outside of doctrine or training, is an excellent recipe for frustration.


Our Take

            Pending an update to doctrine (and follow-on updates to training and exercises), what is an IO officer assigned to a training-focused mission to do? “In the absence of a doctrinal process, IO planners must develop their own methodology to guide assessment.” (Special Forces Guide to IO, pg. 4-2).

The quote above guided our efforts. Our first step was to split the mission: the traditional, doctrinal IO constructs from the schoolhouse were put on hold. Instead, we focused on the training (AKA ‘advise and assist’) aspects of our mission. In this, we maintained IO’s role of synchronizing the work of others: Psychological Operations, Combat Camera, Public Affairs, and other personnel. Essentially, the mission switched from solely trying to achieve effects ourselves – where we were constrained by limited authorities and capabilities – to broadening our mission to include assisting partners in developing their capabilities so they could achieve effects.

These assistance missions became our measures of performance. How many sessions conducted, how many hours spent exchanging expertise, how much advice and assistance, what topics were covered (radio broadcast operations, script writing, handbill design, etc.) and for how long – all of these were tabulated to track our performance.

Our measures of (in)effectiveness were then based on partner force performance. If we trained partners on something – how to use a camera or write a loudspeaker script – and they started incorporating that into their operations, then we counted that as a success. If we trained a partner on something and they did not bring it into operations, we re-evaluated the training and either tried again with a different approach or a different target audience, or stopped that portion of our efforts (and counted that work as ineffective).

For example, the partner force appropriately documenting a mission with photos and video, then editing the resultant files for inclusion in post-operation social media posts all became measures of training effectiveness. Over time, the partners gradually developed their own expertise. When this expertise was coupled with their superior understanding of the local language and populace, it often led to messaging that clearly resonated with the target audience, for example, as measured through the number of likes on social media posts and re-postings (or outright stories) in local and regional media. Finally, once a partner demonstrated capability in a task, U.S. personnel could be redeployed to the next partner and re-start the process.

As partner messaging capabilities came on stream, IO personnel returned to the more doctrinal aspects of our job – coordinating, synchronizing and assessing information activities. Only now that coordination could include not only U.S. forces, but also our newly capable partners. As one IO planner put it, “If I create an effect, I get a nice bullet on a [report]. If my partners can create effects, I get a ticket home.”  



The J39 (IO) team identified shortcomings in IO doctrine for missions occurring in locations outside of Title 10, specifically in Africa. To overcome these shortcomings, we developed and implemented several field-expedient methods, as outlined above. It is unlikely that these methods represent the ‘best’ or most effective way forward, though we hope others find them useful. Instead, this paper is meant to signal that further work needs to be done to update doctrine and training to better reflect the challenges facing IO planners across the full spectrum of deployed environments.

An update to doctrine does not have to be complicated or lengthy. During deployments or activities where the primary focus is training, advising and assisting, or exchanging expertise with partners, measures of performance may need to be based on the number, type and length of engagements. Measures of effectiveness may need to be based on whether partner forces successfully implement the trained-to activities or capabilities. This simple acknowledgement and basic guidance would have been quite useful during our most recent deployment.

About the Author(s)

Major Scott Fisher is a Security Studies professor at New Jersey City University and a Reserve Army IO Officer in New York City.