Cover: Organizing for Information Warfare at the Geographic Combatant Commands

Organizing for Information Warfare at the Geographic Combatant Commands

Lessons from the United States Central Command Joint Effects Process

Published May 15, 2024

by Christopher Paul, Michael Schwille, Stephen Webber, Alyssa Demus, Erik Van Hegewald

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Research Questions

  1. How effective was USCENTCOM in integrating information through the adoption of the JEP from 2020 to 2023?
  2. What challenges must be met to fully integrate information at USCENTCOM?

Information power is increasingly recognized as a critical source of national power and a key component of military operations. Between 2020 and 2023, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) made changes to better integrate information and information warfare issues into its battle rhythm. These activities rely on cross-functional staff integration groups, referred to as boards, bureaus, centers, cells, and working groups (B2C2WG) and operational planning teams. The meetings and processes generated by the B2C2WG are part of a command's routine cycle of command and staff activities that synchronize current and future operations.

These changes have resulted in several USCENTCOM operations notably integrating information and information power into planning and execution, which offers opportunities for assessment and learning. Thus far, the extent to which these operations succeeded in integrating information as a joint function has not been well documented, nor have the effects been fully captured.

This report documents the processes and information activities of these operations and assesses their effectiveness. In addition, the report includes lessons for distribution to relevant elements within the joint force and presents a framework for drawing further lessons from the commander's decisionmaking cycle and for the execution of future operations. Research methods included a comprehensive review of relevant documentation and literature, both internal and external to the command; more than 35 interviews with subject-matter experts drawn from current and previous USCENTCOM and CENTCOM service component command personnel; and case studies of three instances of operations planned under the USCENTCOM joint effects process (JEP).

Key Findings

USCENTCOM has made substantial progress in integrating information through the adoption of the JEP

  • The processes adopted between 2020 and 2023 engage senior leaders; centralize and elevate planning where appropriate at the geographic combatant command level; align operations, activities, and investments (OAI) to strategic objectives; layer OAI and effects to achieve objectives; promote information sharing across the command; bridge planning between current and future operations; and integrate special activities, among other things.
  • The JEP helped USCENTCOM achieve a proactive posture in the information environment: In 2020, information was largely an add-on to operations. In 2023, it is a central consideration.
  • An effective JEP must centralize and elevate information power and related effects; align activity and strategy; integrate, synchronize, synergize, and layer informational and physical power; and provide feedback and promote iterative improvement.

The joint effects process is a work in progress, and areas for improvement remain to fully integrate information at USCENTCOM

  • USCENTCOM faces three general challenge areas for effects-based operations in the information environment: assessment, intelligence, and personnel.
  • After two decades of in-theater conflict, USCENTCOM's use of intelligence must shift its primary focus from kinetic strikes to understanding target audiences' behaviors and helping planners define effects and how to measure them.
  • The USCENTCOM JEP requires nontraditional skill sets and modes of thinking, and USCENTCOM will need to work hard to make sure that assigned personnel acquire and maintain the necessary expertise.

Recommendations

  • USCENTCOM should sustain the JEP while continuing to refine and improve processes.
  • USCENTCOM should continue to review and challenge habitual activities while continuing to work to connect OAI to the theater campaign order and intermediate military objectives (IMOs).
  • USCENTCOM should develop and implement a method for articulating risk of action versus risk of inaction.
  • USCENTCOM should increase process discipline by adopting an effects template.
  • USCENTCOM should improve assessment by continuing to improve the assessability of IMOs.
  • USCENTCOM should improve assessment by better defining supporting intelligence collection requirements.
  • USCENTCOM should improve assessment by considering objectives and related assessment requirements across short-, medium-, and long-term time horizons.
  • USCENTCOM should sustain and expand the use of command and control in the information environment software for event tracking and reporting.
  • USCENTCOM should integrate key leader engagement as one of the capabilities that is tracked, coordinated, and deconflicted through the JEP.
  • USCENTCOM should employ the 19 criteria from the framework for the evaluation and comparison of battle rhythm events developed in this report to continue to improve the JEP and to help ensure that future evolutions of B2C2WG processes do not move away from desirable characteristics achieved during the study time frame.

This research was sponsored by U.S. Central Command and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Program of the RAND National Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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