The Marine Corps wants all troops to treat information as a core function of waging war. And the Russia-Ukraine conflict is providing a heavy underline to its efforts.
On Thursday, the service released its eighth Marine Corps doctrinal publication, this one focused on information.
And while the Marine Corps has been developing the document for years and realigning units and job specialties to support the information fight since 2017, MCDP-8, as it’s called, can at times seem ripped from the headlines.
Those who had a hand in the document believe the current information-dominant fight in Europe will serve to focus warfighters’ attention on the topic and provide concrete examples of how to use information effectively in battle.
Three vignettes in the 126-page document address the Russia-Ukraine fight. The first, describing Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, spotlights the concept of “reflexive control” of information, seen in Russia’s deployment of unidentified “little green men,” whose existence it denied, rather than a conventional invading force.
“Marines should understand reflexive control as an information-centric theory rooted in manipulating perceptions and the actions taken to create confusion and paralysis or to influence competitor or adversary behaviors,” the publication states.
Lt. Gen. Matthew Glavy, deputy commandant for information, told reporters Wednesday ahead of the document’s rollout that vignettes like this one were the result of direct input from Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, who instructed planners to include current examples even late in MCDP-8′s development process.
“We engaged with [Berger] often as we wrote this document and as everything unfolded in Ukraine, and really how the information fight played out,” Glavy said. “So those were near real-time updates, as we were going into final editing on the document ― editing, adding and updating, because we thought those lessons were critical. The vignettes mean a lot to our Marines.”
The second Ukraine-focused vignette describes the way the U.S. and allied nations waged “a deliberate information campaign” ahead of Russia’s late February invasion to inform the world about the country’s intentions and how it had amassed military strength.
This effort included senior U.S. officials taking the rare step of going public with information about Russia’s irregular warfare “playbook” and what they believed President Vladimir Putin’s military would do next.
“For example, U.S. officials disclosed intelligence about an expected ‘false flag’ operation and a graphic film that Russia would use to fabricate a justification for invasion,” the document states. “As a result, the information campaign laid the foundation for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to act quickly and with a unified voice against Russia.”
For Marines, the core takeaway is that it is crucial to own the “prevailing narrative,” and the way to do that is to communicate credibly, consistently and intentionally.
“Commanders must train their Marines to conduct themselves in ways that promote a credible narrative about their command and mission, making it as difficult as possible for their adversaries to distort the picture and gain the initiative,” MCDP-8 states. “Commanders must also prioritize the use of official command information through various media to support operations and the larger Marine Corps and higher command narratives.”
The final Ukraine-focused vignette in the document is the one closest to the heart of what Marine Corps leaders want rank-and-file troops to understand about the information space. It’s the concept of resiliency, a word that appears 38 times in the document.
An resilient force, planners say, is one that doesn’t present vulnerabilities for enemies to exploit with disinformation or technical disruptions ― and that is savvy enough to project messages that thwart or confuse the enemy, but reassure friends and allies.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demonstrated that resiliency, MCDP-8 coauthor Eric Schaner, a Marine Corps senior information strategy and policy analyst, told reporters.
After sidestepping Russia’s efforts to deny Ukraine communication with the aid of Elon Musk’s Starlink terminals, Zelenskyy has emerged as a charismatic leader who has amassed support from the international community and fierce resolve from his own people.
His masterful use of digital media and inspirational messaging (a form of information projection) not only rallied people and leaders worldwide, but, most importantly, the will of the Ukrainian people to stand and fight.
“We can leverage that vignette as an illustration to Marines, to help them interpret the environment and see how to tangibly apply the ideas that are communicated within the document,” Schaner said.
Marine units risk becoming less resilient, officials said, when they “treat information as an afterthought” in mission planning and execution.
“When we are complacent with understanding the power of information, we will lose, we will lose,” Glavy said. “We see it time and time again: those who are slow on the uptake of messaging, and how important their narrative is … will have problems.”
What this intentional focus on information will look like in training and war-gaming is still being developed; planners emphasized that MCDP-8 is a living document that will change and grow as the information space does.
“We have already been down to all the Marine Corps schools, having this discussion, from Sergeant Glavy to General Glavy, and with others,” Glavy said, “Kind of getting a feel for” Marines’ understanding of information and how they interact with the information and digital media space, across ranks and generations.
“Because, if we miss this from a generational aspect, shame on us.”