Information operations cells are certainly an integral component of military operations at the tactical level. An almost-hopelessly broad category of activities are involved with the protection of friendly or indigenous forms of communication, including defense against hostile efforts at disrupting those communications or injecting into information flows false or misleading information, and offensive measures including cyber attacks against hostile networks and the dissemination of information intended to influence foreign audiences (military and civilian). Information Operations has become extremely important to the conduct of all levels of military and civilian intelligence activities. Tactical-level cells play their role at the small-unit level of operation and should remain service-specific at that level.
At the combatant command or service level, the need to blur or eliminate service-specific distinctions is vital. That is why the relatively-newly-established United States Cyber Command was stood-up as a combatant command and collocated at Fort Meade, Maryland, alongside the Department of Defense-level National Security Agency. Even tactical-level activities require a certain degree of jointness, such as with the provision by the Air Force or Navy of close air support for Army units operating in the field. That is why Congress required in the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act the integration into military training and promotion activities the requirement for jointness between the services. Interservice rivalry had been self-defeating to the point of contributing to American deaths, and change was needed. In the age of cyberspace and almost-total dependence upon the national security apparatus of computer networks and satellite constellations vulnerable to hostile operations, unified command structures were properly viewed as a sine qua non of current and future military planning and operations.
CENTCOM and SOCOM are, obviously, unified commands, both created out of the need to compel the individual services to work together in a more fluid manner and environment. CENTCOM in particular is integrally involved in the conduct of military planning and operations. SOCOM, in contrast, is more of a unified organization designed to ensure the readiness of special operations force across the services. SOCOM ensures commands like CENTCOM have the special operations capabilities they require when needed. Information operations, however, is a function of both. “Information Operations,” after all, is specifically listed in SOCOM documents as one of nine core activities of the command, alongside “unconventional warfare,” “civil affairs,” and “combating terrorism.” CENTCOM, similarly, emphasizes the importance of “Information Operations” in its principal documentation, noting that such capabilities “deter aggression, counter destabilizing behavior, and decrease potential for direct action operations requirements.”
Influencing the thought-processes of foreign audiences, including governments and military commands, remains as important to success as it has throughout history, whether this involves the dissemination of accurate information to counter hostile-nation propaganda, or the dissemination of false or misleading information intended to divert hostile forces from friendly objectives and operations. It is a hopelessly-vast and complicated enterprise. Information operations will continue to be integral to military planning for the foreseeable future.