WASHINGTON — Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to run the Department of Defense, explained that he sees no new authorities needed to conduct operations in the information environment and pledged to review the department’s posture in the domain.
If confirmed, Austin will regularly assess DoD’s authorities for the information environment, as well as the department’s resources and strategic alignment, he said in responses to a questionnaire for his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing.
In defense parlance, the department has begun to adopt a nomenclature for operations in the information environment to encompass the raft of capabilities that occur in the domain, including information operations, intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare, psychological operations, deception and many others.
Austin pointed out that several reviews are ongoing in this sphere to include an update to the 2016 Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment and an information operations posture review as required by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
He also stated that integration of information capabilities in established areas of conflict, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, is “fairly seamless, with roles and mechanisms well-established, acknowledging that DoD is often not the lead in complex situations in other parts of the world.
During his confirmation hearing in 2019, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told senators that in combating Russian actions below the threshold of military conflict, additional information operations capabilities would benefit European Command, adding he would look closely at capabilities if confirmed.
Experts have warned that U.S. is losing an ongoing information war, in large part, because it’s failing to pivot from the counterterrorism fight of the last decade. Nation-state actors are waging a persistent information war against the U.S. and its allies as a means to undermine democratic institutions and sow discord among citizenries.
“I think the United States is being strategically defeated in the information environment. We’re not even holding our own. We’re being defeated. We’re being outmaneuvered, we’re being outflanked, we’re being out persuaded,” Michael Nagata, a retired three-star general who spent most of his career in the special operations community, said during a conference in October. He was director of strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center.
Austin noted in his questionnaire that the DoD has a lot of tools to bring to the larger governmentwide effort to disrupt foreign influence operations, especially those on social media. Those include cyber effects, military information support operations, public outreach and others.
“Using combinations of these capabilities in concert with the interagency, I understand the DoD can combat both foreign technical means and also the foreign narrative carried over those technical means,” he wrote.
More generally, Austin said when these types of capabilities are executed correctly, DoD “can achieve its mission more effectively, more affordably, and with reduced risk to our operating forces.”
Under the Trump administration, the DoD published an amendment to the National Defense Strategy in 2019 that focused on irregular warfare, one of which included that the department must emphasize operations in the information environment. Officials explained that influence operations could no longer be niche capabilities and are necessary to compete against and defeat nation-state powers.