Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 is taking place in Norway, the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea until 23 November. Involving all 29 Allies, NATO’s largest exercise in the post-Cold War era aims to demonstrate the collective capabilities of the Alliance in a high-visibility exercise built around a collective defence (Article 5) scenario. It will test NATO’s ability to plan and conduct a major operation from the ability to deploy and receive reinforcements, through troop training at the tactical level, to command over large forces. During the exercise, Allied Command Transformation is also working with partners on over 20 experiments. One of these aims to build up NATO’s ability to analyse the information environment.
Through Trident Juncture, NATO is reassuring the world that it is operationally prepared, able and ready to defend Allied territory against any attack. The exercise is a measurable demonstration – bolstered by strategic messaging about deterrence and defence – of NATO unity. The exercise scenario is not real. But, the lessons the Alliance will learn are very real. So are the benefits for NATO’s resilience.
Adapting to new threats and technologies
Things have changed since NATO’s major joint exercises began and, pointedly, since Trident Juncture 15. At the NATO Summit in Brussels in July 2018, Allied leaders declared their determination to bolster situational awareness and understanding to support NATO’s accelerated decision making and action. They also agreed to foster innovation to keep pace with technological advances, including by further developing partnerships with industry and academia from all NATO member states.
Additionally, technological advances in hybrid warfare, disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence have created an increasingly complex international security environment. The Allies must harness, understand and act on more information than ever before.
The information age compels NATO to continue adapting to take advantage of the ever-increasing amount of data that is being generated through the ‘Internet of Things’. In a fluid security environment, decision making needs to be on target and on time in both the physical and virtual informational spaces. NATO needs to evolve in response to this combination of events and factors, operating and adapting at the same time.
Together with numerous NATO, national and industry partners, Allied Command Transformation is working on a range of experiments during Trident Juncture 18.
These experiments include testing future capabilities of autonomous systems within military logistics; 3D printing (also known as in-field additive manufacturing); a new land command and control system; NATO’s responsiveness to biological outbreaks; and sharing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in a joint environment. Also included is a new medical modular approach to address a mass-casualty event as well as a civilian-military medical interface concept to better share the operational picture. In large part, the experiments harness technological advances in the private sector within a military context. The results of these experiments can be used to inform capability development and, ultimately, advance NATO’s warfare development.
One of the experiments involves developing an “Information Environment Assessment” capability. The aim is to further boost NATO’s ability to analyse the information environment, so as to be able to provide senior political leaders and military commanders with analysis and recommendations on how NATO communications are received by a diverse range of audiences. This is not just about analysing the performance of NATO’s own communications during Trident Juncture – it is also about understanding what any potential adversary is saying about NATO and what ‘everyone else’ is saying as well during this exercise.
Assessing the information environment
So, what is the information environment? It is the virtual and physical space in which information is received, processed and conveyed. It consists of actors, networks, data, information and information systems. And it is the environment of opinion building and decision making. NATO’s desired audiences are found in a noisy environment, filled with competing messages and alternative voices.
New technologies and social media channels mean that all organisations must constantly communicate to their desired audiences, or risk their communications being drowned out by noise or counter-narratives.
These technologies have also shifted behaviours in decision-making processes, community organisation and social structures. Now, like never before, individual influencers can be a major factor in affecting societal change. An individual can now attract millions of supporters from around the world to any particular cause, irrespective of their location or standing as a state or non-state actor. Groups of individuals can coalesce around social causes that shift both behavioural and social structures. Think of #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #bostonstrong or #prayformanchester.
State and non-state actors increasingly direct their communications at a wide diversity of audiences. Any hostile communications activities, by state or non-state actors, are a concern for the Allies, as is the manner in which those communications may attempt to shape perceptions, and to disseminate propaganda and disinformation to polarise opinions. NATO’s communications continue to be based on a solid assessment and understanding of the information environment within which it is operating.
This assessment is bigger than publishing a tweet, tracking the potential reach of a message, monitoring digital channels or reading publicly available information. All those are important – as is in-depth media monitoring and analysis. At the same time, NATO and its partners must observe, decide and act upon information which goes beyond media, within the context of NATO’s goals and communication objectives. This is about competing effectively within the information environment.
During Trident Juncture, this experiment aimed to validate an initial Information Environment Assessment concept using real data in real time. This concept outlines a methodology, assigns roles and responsibilities, and promotes the use of data analytics and collaborative technologies across the NATO family and with our partners.
Communicators throughout the NATO command structure, within Allied nations and supporting entities work daily to understand the information environment by incorporating many aspects, including data science in their approach. The analysts are using various techniques to monitor communications about the exercise and to gain insights about reactions to what NATO is saying (‘own’ communications), about what any adversary may be saying (‘hostile’ communications), as well as what everyone else is saying (‘earned’ communications). These insights are measured against NATO’s communications objectives.
Joint Force Command Naples created an Information Fusion Cell in Oslo, Norway, for the duration of the live exercise from 25 October to 7 November. Staff from NATO Headquarters, Joint Force Commands Naples and Brunssum, Allied Command Transformation, contributing nations, private sector companies and the host nation all worked together in the Cell to implement this Information Environment Assessment experiment.
The Cell drew insights from a distributed network of monitoring analysts using multiple channels of information and data via a variety of technologies. A group of strategic analysts then harmonised these insights within the context of the information conditions and NATO’s communications objectives to produce a report for the Cell director and higher level command groups. The validation of this Information Environment Assessment concept was an operational experiment – and careful consideration will be given to the effectiveness of this experiment, its value added, and lessons learnt from it.
As shifts within the information environment continue to make an impact on people’s perceptions of world events, the Alliance continues to analyse the information environment on a continual basis. Communicators across the Alliance set communications objectives and establish narratives to tell NATO’s story, while assessing their effectiveness on an ongoing basis. At Trident Juncture, we tested a new methodology of using a collaborative platform to assess the information environment. The harmonisation of information insights, with a holistic understanding of effects and potential future developments, will better inform Allied decision makers and enable NATO to communicate more effectively about its activities and values.