Network Engagement Within the Civil Military Engagement Program

John Wirges and Matt Fausset

Executive Summary

Civil Affairs (CA) lacks doctrine on the role that Civil Reconnaissance (CR) and Civil Engagement (CE) functions and tasks support within civil network engagement, notably in the Civil Military Engagement (CME) environment. CA doctrine clearly articulates the role of CME in providing various stakeholders access to civil society; however, CA doctrine does not adequately address the role of civil network development and engagement. Furthermore, CA doctrine does not codify CA’s ownership of civil networks.

Civil network engagement, guided by the Civil Information Management (CIM) process and executed utilizing the targeting process, supports the CME program’s objectives through the development of human and physical infrastructure, ultimately enhancing the capability and security of partner countries.[i] Furthermore, civil network engagement in a CME environment sets the conditions for U.S. success in Irregular Warfare (IW) or Large-Scale Combat Operation (LSCO) environments. Countering Threat Networks and Civil Military Operations remain core tenants of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy, underscoring the importance of network development and the CME program to not just Special Operations Forces (SOF), but the Joint Force.[ii] One of the methods to deliver effects or maintain conditions for delivery on a node, or target, is the utilization of a Node-Cluster program. CA soldiers can develop Node-Cluster programs to promote our partner’s legitimacy and internal defense and ensure that, should a contingency situation arise, U.S. Forces and our partners can quickly seize the initiative.

This paper intends to define civil networks and advocate for doctrinal updates that capture the value of the civil network engagement process, particularly in reference to the CME program. Civil Affairs is the Joint Force’s only dedicated asset to understand and leverage civil society. CA’s unique capability to develop and engage civil networks provides inherent value to the intelligence, fires, and maneuver war fighting functions; a greater emphasis on civil network development, however, requires deliberate integration and synchronization with targeting and intelligence cycles and directorates.

Proposed Definition: Civil networks are the aggregate of threat, neutral, and friendly networks—notably human, infrastructure, and organizational—generating power within or bearing influence on civil society.[iii]


Civil Affairs forces are responsible for providing support to governance and civil security in areas of national interest around the world.[iv] CA units assigned to the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) contribute to these mission sets through the Civil Military Engagement (CME) program, codified by USSOCOM Directive 525-38 and funded under Major Force Program-11 (MFP-11).[v] The fundamental unit of action for the CME program is the CA Team (CAT). Once deployed on a CME mission, that element is referred to as the Civil Military Support Element (CMSE). According to ATP 3-57.80, “Civil Military Engagement”:

The CMSE supports the GCC [Geographic Combatant Command], the TSOC [Theater Special Operations Command], and the COM [Chief of Mission] pursue five objectives…with the ultimate goal of a secure regional environment favorable to the United States and partner interests. The five objectives are to: 1) strengthen U.S. security posture in the region; 2) advance constructive security initiatives to include building transnational and HN capacity and capabilities in the region; 3) prevent the emergence of specific security threats (transnational and HN) in the region; 4) contribute to U.S. and international initiatives to alleviate the underlying conditions, motivators, and enablers of violent extremism and destabilizing militancy; and 5) enable and improve cooperative security arrangements for improved multinational operating performance…CMSEs are the means by which ambassadors and their supporting defense attachés can enhance U.S. access through CME.”[vi][vii]

One of the ways in which CME ends are met is persistent network development and engagement activities in support of the regional and country-specific preparation of the environment plan.[viii] While there is no list of defined “networks,” Army and Joint doctrine acknowledge that there are a myriad of interconnected threat, neutral, and friendly networks impacting all elements of an operational environment.[ix] Networks may be continuously broken down into subordinate elements, in which defining a “civil network” becomes a subjective task.

CR identifies, based on the Civil Information Collection Plan (CICP) as the first step in the CIM process, nodes in a civil network for targeting.[x] These outputs necessitate continuous integration with the targeting process. The targeting process then governs the development and engagement of the node, or target. Having decided on the target, or node, in the network, deliberate civil reconnaissance and civil engagement must be conducted to detect critical vulnerabilities and sub-systems within the node. These operations are conducted through the processes of network reconnaissance and engagement. Once in the targeting delivery phase, operations are executed to deliver effects on a specified node; CR is continually conducted on the network to determine whether measures of effectiveness (MOEs) are being met, observe delivery of effects on the target, and identify new nodes for targeting.

Linking Civil Reconnaissance to Network Engagement

CR and CE, two of a CAT’s primary doctrinal tasks, are fundamental in collecting information, as part of the overall CIM process, and shaping an operational environment.[xi] These activities are not to be confused with the processes they support. The CA Methodology guides all CA Operations, while the CIM process is inherently conducted for all CA operations. CR and CE missions begin the operation, which is not completed until the dissemination of analyzed reports. CR and CE missions are conducted to identify nodes and access points in civil networks. Properly determining and delivering intended effects on these nodes necessitates utilizing the deliberate targeting process (decide, detect, deliver, assess, or D3A) to conduct refined and deliberate network engagement.[xii]

The node (person, place, or thing) is viewed as a specific target to properly determine the desired outcomes, understand the sub-systems bearing influence on the target, and assess its relevance and intersections to other areas in the network. CR and CE are tactical tasks, but the functions they support in this phase are network reconnaissance and network engagement. As such, the CMSE is now conducting reconnaissance of the network itself and engaging the network for specific effects. It is critical in CA operations to identify nodes in civil networks, and even more so when enabling preparation of the environment (PE) activities in a CME environment. Proper development of human and physical infrastructure requires a thorough understanding of an area’s sources of strength and vulnerabilities.

To conceptualize the role of CR and CE in network reconnaissance and engagement, the inputs and outputs of the CIM and targeting processes must be logically expressed. The collection step of the CIM process begins feeding the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield or Operational Area and refines the Civil Information Collection Plan based on Commander objectives. The process, cyclical and continuous, utilizes new information to define and understand the Operational Environment, and requires consistent integration with Intelligence, Operations, and Targeting sections. CR and CE collection enables analysis to understand the various threat, neutral, and friendly networks impacting civil society, determining first “what” exists, then “how” it operates, and finally “why,” or the motivating factors being the “what.” Information from assessments, CR, and CE missions must then flow through the remainder of the CIM process, whereby the collected information can be collated, analyzed, and reported.

Post mission reporting ultimately produces an aggregate of information requiring analysis by all levels of operation, relying on Team level analytical capability for ground-truth and recommended courses of action. The network engagement plan is refined and developed through the fourth step of the CIM process: Analyze. Conducting thorough and competitive information analysis will transform the area of interest into an identified node in the network worth more deliberate attention. Analysis techniques may include Link, Social Media, and Nodal, CARVER, or Critical Functionality Analysis. Regardless of how the analysis is conducted, this step is the most important link between tactical tasks and civil network engagement.[xiii] The CIM process’s production and dissemination steps will support the development of the Civil Common Operating Picture, or CCOP. While an important product, the CCOP is only as good as its impact on analyzing and identifying critical targets in civil networks. CCOP development and CIM outputs must be integrated in the intelligence and targeting cycles, where CA-centric knowledge is fused with other information and data to help identify access points in neutral and threat networks. The Dissemination step of CIM underscores its value to decision makers: the integration of analyzed civil data into cycles including targeting, intelligence, and information operations. When a node is identified—and the desired effect is to deliver or set the conditions for a scheduled or on call delivery of effects on the node or network—then network engagement operations begin utilizing the targeting process.[xiv]