“Information and its management has always been a key enabler in warfare and with the proliferation of information technology into society it is now a key capability in its own right”
– Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, ‘Royal Australian Navy establishes Information Warfare Force’, 10 August 2017


The Royal Australian Navy has created a new Information Warfare Officer (IWO) personnel category of professionals dedicated to understanding and applying Information Warfare (IW). In addition to this grouping, Electronic Warfare (EW), Communications Information Systems (CIS), and Cryptologic Systems (CT) have been put under the IW category instead of the Intelligence category, demonstrating a change in approach to maritime operations.

While the role of the sailors is the same, the guiding force and the application of the effects are being changed by the introduction of the IWO.[1] The challenge for Navy is the lack of clarity for what IW will look like from a professional capacity (as the qualification mastery is built up) and how IW will differ from business-as-usual. IW effects, in the past, have been achieved as secondary effects from operational planning and coordination. Where the line is drawn in further operations (with specific IW operations such as Information Operations) and BAU. The distinction is ill-defined right now and difficult to define in a substantive manner.[2]

The Navy is focused on preparing IW professionals to deliver effects at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. Instead of providing IW effects as secondary effects, the aim is now (and should be) to generate effects ranging from tactical to strategic, as discrete elements, but also delivered as an integrated synchronised level (horizontally and vertically). Bringing together the disparate functions from individual workgroups to a homogenous whole is an important part of the use of IW within the naval context.[3] The employment of IW in maritime operations, however, is not new – but it is nascent. This paper will look at IW within the context of the Navy, utilising a historical example as a use case for the effective use of a synchronised approach to IW.

IRC Transformation of Traditional Effects-Based Operations

Currently, ADF doctrine recognises eighteen Information-Related Capabilities (IRCs). The focus of ADF IW planning and operations has traditionally been prioritised on kinetic effects (i.e., physical damage and destruction) over non-kinetic effects made possible by new applications of technology and an understanding of influence mechanisms.[4] While destruction is one IRC option, it is generally not considered as an IW effect. It would be a mistake to discount the option of kinetic effects that made possible destruction a necessity of IW. The impact and messaging sent with an act of destruction is why it is included in the IRCs, and why its coordination is important.

IW is planned at all levels, though Navy’s experience of planning specific IW operations is limited. Such planning to include IW effects is typically the result of individual vessels taking into account their presence, or an operational commander taking charge of the CIMIC or Public Affairs Officer role. The use of the IRCs is therefore more coincidental rather than meticulous and planned actions to induce specific IRCs for specific first order effects.

At a tactical level, the Commanding Officer (CO) is aware of how their actions will impact on the wider political environment and is therefore cognisant of the flow-on effects of their actions. At the strategic or theatre level there is IW planning as an Information Operation (IO). While the IW branch of the Navy is in its early days of mastery, the level of integration will not be as effective as it should be – the Navy itself would not necessarily be in control of planning the operation, but rather force elements employed by Joint Operations Command.[5]

What is missing, and desired, is the integration of IW with Whole-of-Government (WoG) in a more seamless manner. To transition to a greater integrated, planned, and meaningful use of IW, it is necessary to combine into WoG activities. To see how this integration would function, utilising public affairs, diplomatic resources, and power projection, I will use the example of the ‘Great White Fleet’ that was around during the time of President Theodore Roosevelt.

A Historical Example of Navy Implementation of IW

A use case of the implementation of IW within the naval context remains difficult in the perspective of sustained and deliberate operations. Instances of ‘gunboat diplomacy’ are occurrences of IW, but not in the context in which we currently seek to implement IW. The use of IW at the operational or tactical level is either BAU, or a by-product of it.

Therefore, given the relative peace we are currently enjoying, what contemporary use case could be used to demonstrate IW within the naval context?[6] One such example is that of the ‘Great White Fleet’. While the Great White Fleet deployed in 1908 and is therefore not as contemporary as preferred, it is an example of a coordinated effort to use information, presence, and other IW effects to reach a desired outcome.

The Great White Fleet was a group of US Navy battleships that were painted white and sent around the world. This exercise was meant as a display of power by President Roosevelt. It also served other related capacities such as Military Public Affairs (MPA) and Presence, Posture, Profile (PPP). The use of the Great White Fleet was an exercise of whole of Government activities, to pursue a narrative of the great American naval power across the pacific and the military reach of the US Navy.

The Great White Fleet is also an example of how physical force is an IW effect. The American fleet was not aiming, at that point, to use kinetic force. But the mere presence and power projection of the Great White Fleet provided aid to an influence activity; it aided and enhanced the WoG effort of American power and diplomacy in the region. What accompanied the voyage was PR and diplomatic effects. With each visit to a port, there was more and more military-to-military engagement and networking. It was a coordinated effect that utilised many of what we now call IRCs, and it did so on a strategic, theatre level, that was integrated into a WoG activity of diplomacy.

Ultimately, the Great White Fleet was a deliberately visible demonstration of US investments into long-range naval capabilities, a willingness to be undeterred in its ability to project this power over long distances by deploying for a long period around the world, and a demonstration of its naval prowess in the distant ports of foreign states. This peacetime ‘gun-boat diplomacy’ operation was designed to illustrate US naval power and have an impactful projection on the minds of other international actors; thereby influencing those actors to behave in ways that were favourable to the US and to deter those actors from acting in a way that might trigger a powerful US naval response.[7]

Impactful Projection

The very nature of having demonstrably capable warfighting platforms (i.e., warships) training to work within operations, be capable of self-defence, or of counter attack has meant Navy has demonstrated it is trained, postured, and prepared to credibly project capabilities. The visible projection of these capabilities can influence an adversary into perceiving that any belligerent action by them poses an unacceptable risk and deterring them from pursuing that course of action.

This notion of ‘keeping others at risk’ with maximal lethality at maximum ranges from Australian sovereign territory is the idea suggested by the new term Impactful Projection adopted by Government in recent updates to Defence strategic thinking.

While the term ‘Impactful Projection’ is new, it will not be unfamiliar to many within the Defence context. How this is achieved is what is under current consideration – is it enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; is it new weaponry; or is it both? How impactful projection will be implemented is not currently known as the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) has yet to be released. All we currently know is a few snippets that reference the term impactful projection and while it may mean to the Deputy PM. (Note from The Cove: The DSR has been released since the time of writing. You can find a summary here).

What does appear to be the case is that impactful projection will be an extension of our power projection, that is, a projection of our ability to generate force far beyond our shores that forces an adversary to re-think (to recalculate) the cost/benefit analysis of a conflict. The use of impactful projection, however, is still very much in the kinetic realm.

The current focus of the government is on the acquisition of long-range kinetic effects to project power. The use of impactful projection will be the paradigm in which this current government will utilise these forces. The use case of the Great White Fleet, however, should be considered. The Great White Fleet was a show of force; but it was not its only objective, nor its only outcome. It was followed by WoG activities and a politically driven plan. It was a show of new technology, and it was a show of reach.

If the impactful projection approach is to be successful, it is not enough that we know our own capabilities and how they are able to hold adversaries at risk, but we need to project this through information operations. Any employment of an impactful projection approach should be followed by exercises, training, and goodwill tours in the region. It should be accompanied by a wider approach than gaining new technology that has an extended reach. The use of – and integration with – IW will provide a synergistic approach.


The Navy is an instrument of IW through deployments over long distances away from Australian shores. As an instrument at the disposal of Government, the Navy implements IW to shape, influence, and respond to state actors. The term ‘impactful projection’ is a new term used to describe the desire of the ADF to equip its forces not just for the tactical effects of providing lethality, but for lethality and power projection from a strategic point of view.

The recent introduction of the term impactful projection into the Defence lexicon for strategic guidance is in step with this idea of IW being used within the Great White Fleet example. Impactful projection has for a long time traditionally focused on projecting a power that is based on the threat of delivering credible kinetic effects over long ranges that can reach out and impact another country. When it is used alongside other WoG activities it would provide a greater use case similar to the Great White Fleet.