Information Enhancement on Today’s Battlefield

by Maj Robert S. Walsh

The information available on today’s battlefield is driving decisionmakers to new approaches to tactical decisionmaking. Battlefield decisions rely on the quality and speed of the information received, and today’s information explosion permits rapid and accurate decisions never before dreamed of. Information enhancement, which includes such activities as surveillance, reconnaissance, and data fusion, seeks to provide timely and accurate, pertinent information to commanders. Its purpose is to get the right information to the right person at the right time-to provide the information needed to know when, where, and how to act. Commanders must be able to detect changes on the battlefield, determine whether those changes represent a threat or target of opportunity, and effectively direct friendly forces to alleviate the threat or take advantage of the target of opportunity in near real-time.

Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Adm David E. Jeremiah, USN, stated in the June 1994, Armed Forces Journal, that “. . . [information] drives doctrine and tactics, and to a major degree drives strategy.” Martin C. Libicki and Cdr James A. Hazlett, USN. in the Autumn 1993, Joint Forces Quarterly, went even further to show the value of information by stating:

… the traditional relationship between information and force will be turned on its head. Information no longer serves units of force-rather units of force are fire support for information systems.

The ground commander with the most information will have the most tactical options. Information dominance will give him the capability to decide, act, and stay ahead of his enemy before his enemy can react. The goal is to exploit information dominance and create a decisionmaking sequence in which decisions are made quickly and decisively before the enemy can react. This action denies the enemy access to information and degrades his ability to make timely and accurate decisions. Units become isolated, and command and control degenerate. The isolation results in lower morale and the desire to quit fighting. Many regard it as a major factor in the performance of Iraqi soldiers in February 1991. Fleet Marine Forces Manual (FMFM) 1, Warfighting, clearly states the advantage of information to the ground commander:

Whoever can make and implement his decisions consistently faster gains a tremendous, often decisive advantage. . . . We should spare no effort to accelerate our decision-making ability.

Although information has been applied in war throughout history, sometimes to decisive effect, modern information technology offers an opportunity to achieve a degree of information dominance in war that can enhance the combat power of smaller forces in a consistently decisive way on today’s maneuver battlefield. Today’s information technologies go hand and hand with the maneuver warfare doctrine of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The Army in Field Manual (FM) 100-5, Operations, and the Marine Corps in FMFM 1, Warfighting, each state their commitment to maneuver warfare. The Army defines maneuver as:

. . . the employment of forces through offensive or defensive operations to achieve relative positional advantage over an enemy force to achieve tactical, operational, or strategic objectives.

The Marine Corps defines it as:

… a warfighting philosophy that seeks to shatter the enemy’s cohesion through a series of rapid, violent, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which he cannot cope.

Using maneuver warfare, U.S. ground forces will strike rapidly with overwhelming force and combined arms at decisive points. The objective is rapid movement and the destruction of enemy forces versus holding terrain.

Information has transformed the essence of how we view combat power. In the past, combat power has equated to firepower plus maneuver. Information dominance now requires information power to be included in the combat power equation. With information power, the ground commander will act quicker, at decisive points, and with overwhelming force. The advantage of adding information power to the equation is evident in FMFM 1 Warfighting, in the following statement:

Force enhancement through information allows the commander to concentrate forces in superiority at the decisive time and place, with the speed necessary to seize the initiative, and to achieve surprise striking in a manner for which (the enemy] is unprepared.

Focused generation of information from data should result in enhanced awareness with minimized overhead to ensure the decisionmaking cycle is as short as possible, enabling control of operational tempo. The ground commander must be given the necessary information to dominate the enemy and thus decisively win each engagement and battle.


Though information technologies exist to exploit information dominance, we are still out of cadence with providing this force enhancement capability to the ground commander and his warfighters. A significant change in reconnaissance and surveillance emphasis is necessary in order for information warfare to realize the critical battlefield impact that is possible. Air Force reconnaissance and surveillance systems tend to be more strategically rather than tactically dedicated. Their tendency is to use a limited number of platforms that generally are not designed to work well with the systems of other Services. This strategic emphasis has resulted in support for the strategic or operational levels of war but not the tactical level. Support to the tactical warfighter on the ground has been the result of trickle-down vice dedicated support. The problem will continue in the future since most U.S. reconnaissance systems were not designed to support the tactical ground commander.

This strategic emphasis is critical because the ground commander does not have organic systems capable of seeing “deep.” As a result, he must rely on Air Force and national systems for information relative to the enemy’s second echelon. This has become even more significant with the introduction of weapons having a “deep” capability by the Army. The Army, with its Army Tactical Missile (ATACM), now has the capability to affect the deep battlefield but is unable to see its targets. The Marine Corps’ ability to target deep with organic fixed-wing assets is hampered in the same way. This situation exists because most Army and Marine Corps collection systems support the close-in battle and do not have the range to see enemy second echelon forces. Gaining access to information from Air Force and national assets will be a concern for the ground commander since control of these assets is normally held at the theater or national level. A further problem exists in that the ground forces would like to deploy larger numbers of relatively low-cost, smaller systems down to the battalion level. The Air Force tends to develop large, centrally based, fixed sites that are not advantageous to rapid maneuver operations. All of this has resulted in scarce reconnaissance support to the ground commander.

The end-state has been a centralized control of reconnaissance and surveillance information that fails to support the tactical ground commander adequately. The centralized system in DESERT STORM was often able to see battlefield targets but was unable or late in getting the information to the ground units requiring the targeting data. As Maj James P. Marshall, USAF, explains in his recent book:

We provide centralized reconnaissance that tends to emphasize support to the air component at the expense of the ground forces. This emphasis led to the perception among the other services that the Air Force does not adequately support the ground commander’s intelligence requirements … the result is that the senior leadership of the Army has lost confidence in the Air Force’s resolve and ability to provide timely intelligence support to the tactical ground commander.


The first requirement in solving the above problems will be to achieve a “congruent view” of the battlefield by all friendly forces. This requires a coordinated effort by all components to provide an accurate picture, using near-real-time information, on all enemy and friendly locations. A system that effects this congruent view of the battlefield must share common data bases, compatible collection and reporting systems, and standardized displays between all ground and air forces. All users must be able to push information into the information system where it can be processed, fused, and integrated as part of the congruent view. Of critical interest to a standard picture is our ability to reduce and prevent incidents of fratricide. By sharing a common view of who is friend and foe such incidents can significandy be reduced.

The next step after achieving a congruent view of the battlefield will be to speed this information to the decisionmakers and shooters. Past problems have resulted from many layers of command existing between the sensors and shooters. Information processing and fusion must be centralized; however, the ability to access the system and receive timely accurate information has to be decentralized. The required picture must be capable of being “pulleddown” by any desiring ground unit. The end-state should be the dissemination of continuous, time-sensitive information in near real-time, under all-weather, all-terrain, and day-night conditions.

The final step for the ground commander will be to attack targets both inside and outside the fire support coordination line. Maneuver warfare doctrine results in fluid situations in which the close and deep battles shift rapidly, requiring the ground commander to see and attack enemy forces far to his front and rear. What once was the deep battle requiring air interdiction may soon be the close battle requiring close air support. The current intelligence cycle is far too slow to support the rapid and deep thrusts into the enemy’s rear that are essendal to maneuver warfare.

It is essential for the ground commander in maneuver warfare to locate, target, and destroy enemy forces using air interdiction and close air support. His ability to destroy enemy forces in the deep and close battles or to disrupt or delay enemy forces from being committed to the battle is crucial to his success. Therefore, air interdiction and close air support are critical to maneuver warfare and must be responsive to the ground commander’s needs. As stated by LtCol Price T. Bingham, USAF, formerly of the Airpower Research Institute, “Air interdiction must be planned and controlled to be responsive to the dynamics of ground maneuver.” All efforts on the battlefield by the ground and air components must ensure maximum synergism and economy of force for the battle and the campaign to be a success. This synergy has proven successfully in all conflicts since World War II using the synchronization of combined arms to attain maximum combat power.


The combat information system of the future must support the ground commander and his warfighters. To this end, there should be commonality with all Services in order to provide the timely fire support vital to the execution of the ground scheme in future maneuver warfare execution. The system must provide constant surveillance of the battlefield and accurate and timely targeting information to everyone. This continuous surveillance and reporting will allow the ground commander to see, decide, and act quicker than the enemy by providing critical near real-time targeting information.

As stated earlier, the system of tomorrow must support the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. Maneuver warfare requires sensors linked with battlefield decisionmakers and shooters that create the ability to operate inside the enemy’s decision cycles. For maneuver warfare to be successful, the ground commander must be able to view the deep battlefield accurately since it may only be moments before the same terrain and enemy forces become his close battlefield. The ability to see and attack follow-on forces must be decentralized, and we must provide relatively small, low-cost systems for this purpose down to the battalion level. All echelons need a common view of the battlefield and the ability to coordinate the targeting of threats with the appropriate weapons system. This common view should be electronically displayed on a horizontal situation display that allows the ground commander to and display desired information from an integrated sensor tasking and fusion system.

Creating a joint combat information system that allows warfighters at all echelons to share a common view of the battlefield will enhance our ability to dominate information and use it in a way that creates information gaps for our enemies and allows us to wage short, violent wars with less death, destruction, and collateral damage.

Among the sources used in preparing this article were three works published by the Air University Press at Maxwell AFB in Alabama: Robert F. Futrell’s Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine, Vol 2, 1961-1984; LtCol Price T. Bingham’s Ground Maneuver and Air Interdiction in the Operational Art; and Maj James P. Marshall’s Near-Real Intelligence on the Battlefield.