Adding Information-Related Capabilities

By LtCol Michael L Fitts

MCDP 1, Warfighting defines maneuver warfare as a “warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the adversary’s cohesion through a series of rapid, violent, and unexpected actions to create a turbulent and deteriorating situation with which the adversary cannot cope.”1 To accomplish this task:

Commanders employ complementary capabilities [known as the maneuver warfare tactic of combined arms] such that, to counter one, the adversary becomes more vulnerable and is placed in a no-win situation.2

This overwhelming complement of maneuver and fires is defined and applied through the MAGTF. Most, if not all, fully embrace this warfighting ethos; however, it is argued that far too often planners underutilize the full complement of resources available to them, particularly in information-related capabilities (IRC). Capable of both lethal and non-lethal effects, the employment of IRCs integrated with surface and aviation fires coupled with maneuver offers commanders additive ways to shatter the adversary’s cohesion and rapid deterioration in the belief of a no-win situation.

The MAGTF commander applies the critical tenets of maneuver warfare that view the adversary as a system of mental, moral, and physical forces; recognizes and leverages the chaotic uncertainty of conflict through decentralized operations; and that warfare is a competition in time relative to the decision-making process.3 Specifically, the commander applies maneuver coupled with the integration of lethal and non-lethal fires to obtain an operational advantage. The commander focuses the MAGTF’s capacities against the adversary to induce cognitive dissonance, thereby eroding the adversary’s timely decision making and thus allowing the MAGTF commander to seize initiative and tempo and exploit asymmetric gaps to obliterate the adversary’s source of moral and physical strength.

This concept reverberates that conflict is not attrition-based but cognitive in nature demonstrated by the measurable display of behavior; that an operation’s design should not be directed at the mere attrition of an adversary’s combat power but at his will with the expressed intent to inflict cognitive change resulting in the capitulation of his will, manifested by his behavior, leading to the obtainment of the desired commander’s objectives. The application of integrated lethal and non-lethal fires in maneuver warfare:

  • Makes the adversary more predictable by physically destroying his capabilities and limiting his options.
  • Surprises the adversary, causing him to pause or withdraw to reassess the situation.
  • Creates a loss of will or physical ability for the adversary to continue.
  • Ensures some portion of the MAGTF can always be in the offense, denying the adversary the initiative.
  • Influences adversary actions and populace behavior through non-lethal means.
  • Counters the adversary’s ability to use the information environment to attack the MAGTF’s decision making.4

To ignore the overwhelming thematic that integrated fires’ express purpose is to induce cognitive effects is ill-advised and negates the true intention of maneuver warfare and the application of combined arms. This is not to infer the effects of lethal fires have no merit; on the contrary. The application of lethal fires creates disproportional results through psychological effects.

However, an often-overlooked application of integrated fires is the employment of IRCs to generate lethal and non-lethal effects that complement both maneuver and traditional means of lethal fires. Traditional IRCs include military deception, operational security, electronic warfare, military information support operations, and cyberspace operations. Other capabilities that doctrinally are considered IRCs that impact the informational environment or share common interfaces in the effect of the same include information assurance, physical attack, combat camera, counterintelligence, public affairs, civil-military operations, and defense support to public diplomacy or key leader engagement. These IRCs are the tools, techniques, or activities that affect any of the three dimensions of the information environment.

The information environment is the aggregate of individuals, organizations, and systems that collect, process, disseminate, or act on information. This environment consists of three inter related dimensions, which continuously interact with individuals, organizations, and systems. These dimensions are known as physical, informational, and cognitive. The physical dimension is composed of command and control systems, key decision makers, and supporting infrastructure that enable individuals and organizations to create effects. The informational dimension specifies where and how information is collected, processed, stored, disseminated, and protected. The cognitive dimension encompasses the minds of those who transmit, receive, and respond to or act on information.6

The MAGTF (means) employs IRCs (ways) to affect the physical and informational dimensions of the information environment to affect decision making or the cognitive dimension.7

Planning for the employment of IRCs is known as information operations (IO). IO is defined as:

… the integration, coordination, and synchronization of all actions taken in the informational environment to affect a relevant decision maker in order to create an operational advantage for the commander.8

IO is not a discrete, standalone capability, but is [planning for] the integrated, coordinated, and synchronized operational application of all IRCs, both organic and non-organic, to affect decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries; thereby, creating an operational advantage.9

IO should not be referred to as a capability. This infers ownership of IRCs or IO as a capability enabled to produce effects, and this is simply not true. IO is a deliberate planning effort that horizontally and vertically deconflicts, synchronizes, and orchestrates the consistent application of discrete, standalone IRC capabilities to deliver an operational advantage for the commander.

Responsible for orchestrating the unified effort and economic delivery of lethal and non-lethal fires through the employment of the MAGTF’s IRCs, the IO center or cell (dependent on the level of the MAGTF) rightfully falls within the G-3 (operations), force fires coordination cell or fires and effects coordination cell (FECC).10 The IO cell’s placement is deliberate in order to facilitate the common forum for the integration of surface- and aviation-based lethal fires and the lethal and non-lethal fires from IRCs. Further, the IO cell’s inherent placement within the G-3 FECC facilitates collaborative deliberate planning and active participation in targeting boards and working groups which ensures the necessary integration during detailed execution planning and enables unit command and control centers to pursue integration during execution. The IO cell’s members, both officer and enlisted IO planners, must be an integral part of the entire planning process to provide the MAGTF commander with expanded means and methods.11

It is critical that at all levels of the MAGTF that IO is recognized as a:

… natural extension and evolution of the Marine Corps’ combined arms mind-set and maneuverist tradition of taking the initiative in both the physical and cognitive dimensions.12

It is argued that today, IO and the employment of IRCs are still grossly misunderstood and underutilized. Despite strong doctrinal advocacy, IO is often lumped in as a discrete capability expected to “control the narrative” or “win hearts and minds.” IO, the deliberate planning for the integrated employment of IRCs, is a critical combat multiplier that, when fully incorporated into an expanded operational planning mindset, supports the MAGTF commander’s operational requirements.

IO, whether applied in shaping the operational environment to deter conflict or in enabling decisive maneuver, must be recognized as an essential enabling activity that facilitates development of an operational advantage for the Commander.13

Expeditionary Warfare Training Group–Atlantic (EWTGLANT) offers the USMC’s only formal instruction on IO. For more information regarding either of the FMOS-producing courses offered at EWGTLANT, please visit its public website located at


1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP 1, War fighting, (Washington, DC: 1997), 73.

2. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCWP 3-43.3, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Fires, (Washington, DC: 2011), 1.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-13 (JP 3-13), Information Operations, (Washington, DC: 2012), ix.

7. Ibid.

8. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCWP 3-40.4, Marine Air-Ground Task Force Information Operations, (Washington, DC: 2013), 1.

9. Deputy Commandant for Combat Development and Integration (DC, CD&I), Marine Corps Operating Concept for Information Operations, (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Combat Development Command, 2013), 1.

10. MCWP 3-43.3.

11. Ibid.

12. DC, CD&I.

13. Ibid., 4.