By Laura Loflin DuBois, Exercise Planner and TV Producer, Media Simulation Section Joint Warfare Centre
Napoleon Bonaparte has been quoted as saying: “Four hostile newspapers are to be more feared than a thousand bayonets.” Although warfare has since evolved, the effect of news media continues to be a critical consideration for military commanders. With the evolution of online and social media, it has become even more relevant for commanders to reach outside their comfort zones and look up from the map into the information space. NATO’s adversaries have embraced media as a weapon system, and NATO understands the importance of leveraging this critical tool in its arsenal.
As with any weapon system, training prior to deployment is essential. With this in mind, the JWC established its own organic Media Simulation capability in August 2006. With an initial focus on simulating television news during Phase IIIB (the execution phase), the section has evolved to deliver a full-scale media and information environment during JWC’s operational-level exercises, beginning in Phase II (the planning phase) and continuing throughout the exercise lifecycle.
The JWC’s exercise media and information environment includes television news, online news and social media simulation. For television news, World News Today (WNT) is the flagship programme, replicating CNN International and BBC World.
For the Centre’s more complex exercises, the team also produces an adversarial product, which provides a hybrid flavour that appears credible but actually delivers state-controlled messages. Online media includes those hostile newspapers about which Napoleon was concerned, as well as content from local, national, regional and international perspectives, all delivered digitally via NewsWeb, JWC’s news aggregate website. Social media effects are delivered via Chatter and Facepage, which are the JWC’s simulated Twitter and Facebook platforms.
"As with any weapon system, training prior to deployment is essential."
These platforms bring the exercise to life, but more importantly they provide the media consequences of operational decision-making. Separately, each of these platforms delivers specific effects, but cumulatively, they provide a realistic replication of the media lifecycle. This provides the Training Audience with an advance warning system in which they can effectively plan and prepare engagements to shape the narrative. It also enables the Training Audiences to conduct staff level processes including analysis and assessment to feed boards and working groups, ultimately stimulating the decision-making process.
When Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, executing a modernised version of hybrid warfare, the security environment in Europe shifted. In an interview at the JWC following the invasion, NATO’s previous SACEUR, General Philip Breedlove, (Ret.), described the importance of media simulation and the information environment. “Battles will be fought on land, in the air and at sea,” he said. “But the next war will be won in the information battlespace.”
While hybrid warfare is not new, the way in which adversaries can leverage social media to achieve operational objectives has changed the battlefield. Modern hybrid warfare requires a modern hybrid approach. Whereas previously information effects were used to support operations on the ground, it appeared the adversary could now use operations on the ground to support information effects. NATO needed to be able to train against an adversary with a sophisticated information warfare capability.
With that in mind, JWC’s Media Simulation Section is continuously improving to meet the evolving information environment. Recent introductions of strategic hashtags, the Opposing Force (OPFOR) social media trolls and “bot” activity have proven effective ways to introduce modern information challenges to our Training Audiences, resulting in a more realistic media and information simulation, and ultimately a better-trained headquarters, ready to win on the ground, in the air, at sea and in the information battlespace.
The JWC’s media simulation capability is unique in NATO. With just six full- time NATO civilian staff members, the team supports all of JWC’s operational-level exercises, as well as NATO HQ’s Crisis Management Exercises in Brussels. In addition to delivering TV, online and social media simulation, the team also provides one-on-one, on-camera media training to NATO commanders and senior staff and was unofficially dubbed “NATO’s Centre of Excellence for Media Simulation and Training” by the previous SACT, General Jean-Paul Paloméros, (Ret.).
Since its inception, the JWC media team has supported more than 60 major exercises, mission rehearsals and other training events from Norway to Afghanistan, and dozens of countries in between.
Originally published in Joint Warfare Centre's 15th Anniversary Book, "Celebrating 15 Years: 2003-2018" produced by the Public Affairs Office