Road maps that lead to information, then to warfighting

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It’s been six years since DoD published its first ever roadmap to build the information environment into its warfighting strategies. In the meantime, Congress has been pushing the department to add more details to what operations in the information environment (OIE) really means. Still, the concept has had a real impact on DoD’s spending behavior. Robert Beuerlein...


Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

It’s been six years since DoD published its first ever roadmap to build the information environment into its warfighting strategies. In the meantime, Congress has been pushing the department to add more details to what operations in the information environment (OIE) really means. Still, the concept has had a real impact on DoD’s spending behavior. Robert Beuerlein is a recently retired Army information warfare officer, now a principal consultant at Frost and Sullivan. He spoke with Jared Serbu on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin, about the trends he’s seen in his research.

Interview transcript:

Jared Serbu: Bob, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Appreciate it. And before we dig into some of the findings that you came away with in this report, I think we should define our terms. It seemed like there was at least a little bit of ambiguity around what DoD meant by “operations in the information environment” when their strategy first came out a few years ago. Maybe that’s gelled a little more up to this point. But most importantly, for purposes of your report, how do you map your findings on to the way the department’s thinking about OIE and what what do you mean when you see OIE?

Robert Beuerlein: So what I think about when we talk about OIE, this is just my perspective, but those are actions and activities that are going to provide you with information or decision advantage in the information environment itself. And so our previous doctrine had referred to it as information related capabilities and didn’t really spell them out. And before that, there was core supported and related capabilities, which really kind of lended itself to a kind of like a stovepipe approach. And so with OIE, I think the goal here is to do away with a stovepipe approach and try and get a more integrated and holistic strategy and actions and activities that support that.

Jared Serbu: And what kind of actual real-world requirements do you see feeding into this bucket that you’ve binned as OIE?

Robert Beuerlein: I think there’s probably two factors that are kind of driving requirements that I’ve seen. The first one is, of course, the changing of the operational environment itself and the changing characteristic of conflict. The senior leadership within the Department of Defense’s has spoken out several times on that. There was a “36-star memo” that went out to the intelligence community that asked them to declassify information so that it could be used to achieve goals and objectives that were important to our national security. Gen. [Richard] Clark recently came out, he’s a commander of Special Operations Command, he says that they need to invest in capabilities to stay competitive in the information space in the Marine Corps. Took a three star billet out of hide, and that’s no small pill to swallow for such a small force. But the position is going to oversee OIE and the information maneuver career field that’s associated with that. The Air Force took their intelligence headquarters, and they took their information warfare headquarters and combined the two to make an information warfare organization.

But the other thing that’s been interesting, has been the legislative approach to this too. And I think we often see Congress get involved in things and its fiduciary responsibility with oversight. But section 1631, of the 2020, National Defense Authorization Act really kind of put the heat on the Office of the Secretary of Defense to identify a primary information operations adviser. And this PIOA and the deputy PIOA, it was just recently named, they are going to conduct a posture review for OIE, they’re going to take a look at the strategy where that’s at and take a look at some of the broader undertakings within the Department of Defense and try and basically make an assessment of where we’re at and make some recommendations probably and where we need to go.

Jared Serbu: And so as you see those pushes both from the military leadership and from the Hill, are we at a point yet where we can see programs and actual spending and DoD taking shape in response to those pushes?

Robert Beuerlein: I mean, we already see that. But in the study, we point out a few things that are already happening. And the most interesting, you kind of break this down into like two different groups. I mean, you have capabilities that are under development right now. And some of them are already in place. And then you have a professional workforce or professional services requirements to go along with that. And that’s kind of the thing that I find most interesting is it’s, that’s real hard to put to put a figure on, wrap your arms around, because there are so many things related to information and OIE that it’s hard to pin them all the same. But some of the things that jump out to me are some of the stuff that’s working with DARPA, for example, with semantic forensics. There’s research testing and development going on and algorithmic warfare and cross functional teams. There’s a influence campaign awareness and sensemaking. There’s adversary influence. There’s another one where DARPA for adversary influence operations, detection, modeling and simulations. So there is a lot coming on and it’s really kind of a developing marketplace, if you will, that some of these technologies will bring to bear.

Jared Serbu: Is it possible to assign or estimate dollar figures that are attached to these new opportunities that you see emerging?

Robert Beuerlein: All we can do is take a look at right now what’s already been spent. And just an adversary influence operations detection and modeling alone. I think that was $661 million that was put forward on that. And that’s just one initiative that’s going on research, testing and development. I think it was $250.1 million for algorithm warfare. Semantic forensics, which is detecting malign influence in media sources and disingenuous activity, actually pretty much smaller, that’s only $23.4 million, and these are developmental. So what comes out of this could actually become larger, or it could stay the same. So again, it’s kind of a developing market.

Jared Serbu: And so as we see the department kind of trying to restructure itself around this OIE construct, what do the companies that have been working with for years need to do to get themselves best positioned to take advantage of some of the opportunities that you just been talking about?

Robert Beuerlein: So think about this kind of long, three rounds. And the first one that jumps out at me is professional OIE services. The market participants are going to have to build a reservoir of professional subject matter experts, and then identify where those opportunities are, and then how to satisfy them contractually. What really drives some of this work is OIE expertise is somewhat of a military, is a boutique capability. And you’re going to have to go out and participate in the marketplace to see where those opportunities are at. But that’s really not different than anything else that you do. But large operational headquarters probably drive most of the demand and this type of work. And those areas are obviously, the National Capital Region, Tampa, Florida; Stuttgart, Germany; and then Fayetteville, and then Hawaii, of course, right where the COCOMs are. And so, those are the areas locations where those opportunities geographically lie. So, and they’re just gonna have to basically network and identify where those opportunities are, and then build a portfolio that they can go out and meet that demand.

The second thing, I think, that was important that jumped out at me was this kind of artificial intelligence, what I call artificial intelligence or sensing and understanding for decision making. This kind of gets back to, you have a professional services side, but then you have a capability that the military would be able to leverage to do this, right? So research and development of publicly available information and data feeds and standardization and open formats that the DoD or the military could use to do this. Some predictive analytics that would answer questions, and then diagnostic and prognostic questions that they will be able to answer and get insight on. The challenge there is going to be, I think, with the delivery of innovation solutions that will adhere to privacy protection norms within our country and other countries, and how do you classify and maintain privacy and personal information that’s associated with that? Some of the stuff is publicly available, but we’re a country of rules and laws, and we have to follow those rules and laws. And we have to make sure that we do it the right way. That’s something that they’re going to have to figure out going forward. And it’s not an easy nut to crack.

The last piece of that, I think, is probably cyber-enabled OIE, which I think successful participants are going to have relationships with some of their customers or clients within the Department of Defense, Cyber Command, and then the combatant commands as well. And they’ll have to collaborate across the intelligence community and private industry to identify how they’re going to carry this out. Businesses that are doing this will offer a portfolio of products and expertise that fuse open source intelligence with traditional military intelligence sources, at a speed for decision making that will be most successful, especially in the cyber environment, where things happen in the blink of an eye. And that’s really, I think, where this one’s at.

Jared Serbu: Interesting. I want to wrap up on the skills piece that you mentioned toward the beginning of that answer, Bob. Can you tell us any more about sort of the discrete skill sets that you think this stuff is going to need? And since it is, as you said, boutique, are you really only going to find that stuff with people who are veterans who’ve recently left one of the military services?

Robert Beuerlein: So yeah. I mean, speaking of first-hand experience, I mean, your operational skills and expertise atrophy the longer you are away from a service or from an active role. I think the other piece of this when we talk about AI, enhanced sensing and decision making and cyber enabled Hawaii, there’s a big requirement for data analysis, and being comfortable with data and processing it and analyzing it and using data to tell a story that will help somebody make a decision. And so that is something that I don’t necessarily know, from my own personal experience. It’s not something that I had to deal with a lot while I was on active duty.

Within the Army, there’s a specialty functional area, operation systems research, that fulfills that role. But the private industry, in terms of identifying like collective behavior and group behavior of purchasing and buying behaviors, they’ve been able to monetize data in order to deliver a product suggestion to a person at a right particular time. So that the answer to that, so if you think about about Amazon, and Amazon tracks all kinds of things that you buy and different parameters, where you live, how old you are, what you bought in the past, and then they know what you want to buy, arguably before you know you want to buy it right? And so it’s that kind of analysis to be able to read the tea leaves of the data in order to make a prediction about behavior.

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