A conversation with Col. Chip Bircher, Director, Information Operations Proponent Office, US Army. Attend the 6th National Summit on Strategic Communications on May 4-5. In a panel discussion at the conference, Col. Bircher will discuss how persistent engagement based on trust and credibility is the most responsive maneuver element in strategic communications.
UF: You’re participating in a panel titled “Communication & Information: Your Most Responsive Maneuver Element.” Can you share a preview of what attendees can expect to learn from your contribution at your session?
CB: I think this is a great topic, because right now you’re seeing lots of discussion and movement — and it’s not just in the Army and the joint community on the power of information.
The Army is relooking our doctrinal approach to information operations — how commanders conduct combined arms maneuvers in the information environment. Through my experiences with the Army’s experimentation campaigns over the last several years, coming out of our deep future exercises, we are seeing that the Army understands that the information environment is so intertwined with physical domains of the operational environment that commanders can’t think of these things separately anymore.
The Army organizes by function. One of the functions of the Army is mission command. A commander has three critical tasks under mission command: He has the requirement to drive the operations process — to actually lead it, to be able to visualize it, describe, direct and assess actions in the operational environment. The information environment is absolutely a critical part of that.
The second task is to build teams. If you look at our panel composition, it represents the teams with our joint partners as well as our inner-agency and inner-governmental partners, our multinational partners. Finally, a commander must inform and influence audiences internal and external to the organization. So how a commander conducts maneuver in this environment is something I bring to the discussion.
UF: What is your commander’s intent for your part of the presentation?
CB: The intent of the presentation is for me to learn more. One of my roles and responsibilities is to help the Army build the capability, capacity and functions necessary to conduct information operations in support of unified land operations. We do that by developing doctrine, by designing organization structures, by designing and delivering training, through leadership and education and materiel solutions, and through personnel management and facilities. Right now, we are rewriting the doctrine on Information Operations, field manual 3-13. As I learn more from the panel participants and the audience, being able to understand the relationship of information operations and how the President has defined strategic communication as a whole-of-government process — and then how the Secretary of Defense has defined the Department of Defense’s role in strategic communications — will enable me to address that better.
UF: What do you understand “your most responsive maneuver” to be?
CB: If you think about it, persistent engagement is the most responsive maneuver we have. Persistent engagement through trust and the ability to understand how the truth is perceived is absolutely critical to our force’s credibility on the ground. Without truth and credibility, we cannot conduct operations. So, persistent engagement based on trust, based on our credibility, is the most responsive form of maneuver. You see that in how the Army is doing regionally aligned forces now. Just what we’re doing in the Pacific with the Pacific Pathways exercises, what we are doing in Europe with Operation Atlantic Resolve, with what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. All over the world, it’s persistent engagement, it’s understanding that everything you do must be based on truth.
UF: What is unique about strategic communications at the US Army?
CB: In February, the Army published the new Army Operating Concept. In it, the Army describes how warfare is essentially a human endeavor: that ultimately everything we do is about dealing with people. The Army is our nation’s strategic land power — we plan, we man, we train and equip communications and information specialists. We make sure they are skilled; know the cultural nuances of the environment; and that they understand the strategic communication process: plan, coordinate, synchronize, execute and assess specific capabilities the Army is able to bring to the joint world in order for joint commanders to achieve effects in the information environment. Ultimately, achieving effects in the information environment is how commanders can accomplish their mission objectives.
UF: How do you generalize your experience contributing to strategic communications as a discipline?
CB: I may be kind of an outlier at the conference. As an information operations professional, the Army has invested in training and educating me to be an integrator. To understand what the information-related capabilities bring to operations by mission and function: public affairs, military information support operations, computer network operations, cyberspace operations, military deception — all of these capabilities the Army trains information operations professionals to understand. Not to be an expert on each — we have functional experts on that — but to understand how to integrate all of them into operations.
Based on my past experiences working at the combat command level, working at ISAF, working as part of a strategic communications inter-agency planning committee, I think I bring a different view on strategic communications and how the process works and the power of it. I bring the perspective of, how to develop the organizations, how you lead the planning efforts and synchronize capabilities, how you execute what the subject matter experts develop, and how do you assess those effects. We have written a couple of academic, focused cases on the subject. That’s what I bring to the panel and contribute to the discussion.
UF: The National Summit on Strategic Communications is entering its sixth year. Why do you think this Summit is important? What makes you excited to attend?
CB: This is the first one I’ve been able to attend. I think this is a vitally important discussion. I think this Summit is a great opportunity to bring the different professional fields that are part of the strategic communications community, the family or community of practice — those involved in this process — together.
To have a chance to understand that we’re all working to the same goals, that we bring different capabilities to the fight, different subject matter expertise to the fight, and that everything is based on purposeful, effect driven actions. It’s about integrating images, actions and words so that commanders can achieve desired effects.
Whether it is informing, educating, motivating, inspiring, even to try to influence specific audiences — it’s how you do that in a very complex operating environment. This summit is the only forum that I know of that brings these family members, all of the community of practice together and gives them a chance to share information.
UF: Any other comments you would like to make?
CB: I’m looking forward to it. I am looking forward to hear what other folks have to say about the topic, to a lively discussion. I am even looking forward to being challenged on some of my opinions, as well as challenging others on theirs. It should be an exciting event.