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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]

In the CME environment, network reconnaissance and engagement are utilized to shape the operational environment to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. As a result, the delivery of effects on a target may be executed immediately upon approval or developed and maintained as an “on call” delivery in the event that conditions in the environment are met. This requires Civil Affairs representatives to integrate themselves in Targeting Working Groups. One of the methods to deliver effects or maintain conditions for delivery is utilization of a Node-Cluster Program. Much like breaking down a system into its subcomponents, or the indirect approach for attacking a Center of Gravity, the Node-Cluster Program delivers effects on the target and the network through identifying and addressing the links influencing the node.

Node-Cluster Program

Whether a target in the Civil Network has been identified, or a potential node is reconnoitered in a CME environment, the Node-Cluster program may be utilized to deliver effects. Viewed through the lens of the targeting process, the node’s identification and formal boarding as a target nests with the first step—Decide—in the deliberate targeting methodology. Once in the “Detect” phase, the CMSE conducts network reconnaissance (through CR and CE missions) and cogent analysis to determine the target’s relevant sub-systems and requirements. These sub-components or processes are the node’s clusters. The CA force, in concert with a wide range of Unified Action Partners (UAPs) and the Indigenous Populations and Institutions (IPI), can subsequently develop a program for the delivery of effects on the node through its clusters. The nodes’ clusters are individual activities, linked together for specific purposes. By targeting those clusters through specific activities, a CMSE can facilitate indirect effects on that node.

For example, a CMSE may identify a specific road as vital for the movement of troops and economic goods in the event of a conflict. The CMSE and other relevant decision-makers decide that maintaining freedom of maneuver on this road is vital to the national interest and determine that the road is a node in the civil network. The CMSE develops this node through reconnaissance of the civil networks surrounding the road, identifying the gas stations, convenience stores, side streets, and centers of economic power that influence—or are influenced by—the road’s trafficability and access. These sub-systems are then grouped as the road’s clusters; the CMSE can then develop projects and programs to deliver on the intended effect of maintaining and improving friendly forces’ ability to travel and sustain on this road, while perhaps never conducting operations on the road itself.

Figure 1. Graphic depicting a sample cluster program designed to deliver effects on a civil network target.

Implications for Civil Military Engagement

Developing and engaging civil networks through defined targeting of critical civil nodes assists operational and strategic partners during all phases of the competition continuum. Civil Affairs is the only element of the Joint Force solely focused on civil society, which has never been of greater value to strategic-level policy makers. Civil network development and the CME program is of greater value to military decision makers than just civil affairs as well; the support that civil network engagement provides intelligence directorates is invaluable, providing maneuver space for analysts to see in greater detail how civil and traditional threat networks intertwine.[xv] Civil network engagement through CR and CE supports the CME program’s objectives, such as developing human and physical infrastructure and enhancing the capability and security of partner countries. Furthermore, the focus of civil network engagement within competition phase CME environments sets the conditions for U.S. success in an IW scenario.[xvi] A developed CCOP, having identified accessible network access points, helps military and civilian leaders in their decision-making process regarding all avenues of target development.

Civil network engagement’s implications and second-order effects are significant and far reaching. CMSE’s can actively impose costs on our nation’s adversaries by denying or raising the costs of maintaining critical nodes. Node-Cluster programs can be developed to promote our partner’s legitimacy and internal defense, ensuring that U.S. Forces and our partners can quickly seize the initiative, should a contingency situation arise. Finally, targeting civil networks provides context and information for delivering direct and intelligent support to shadow governments and resistance movements in an Unconventional Warfare environment.

Developing the doctrine on the role of network engagement will allow CA soldiers to operate with more surgical effect in missions all over the world. The CME program, an asset to the U.S. strategic interest, is more important in the era of Great Power Competition than ever. Clearly articulating the CME value proposition continues to enable CA operations, providing national decision makers with the power to compete to win. Maintaining the CME value proposition requires the regiment to continually develop its capabilities and being more transparent about the capabilities and goals of the CME program. The CA Regiment should update its doctrine to define and own the civil network engagement process and recognize the importance of integrating CAO with the fires and intelligence warfighting functions, maintain CIM’s vital role in systemizing CA operations, and nest the CME program with SOCOM Directives such as 525-16 (Preparation of the Environment) and 525-38 (Civil Military Engagement). ATP 3-57.80 (Civil Military Engagement) should be further updated to codify the value and importance of civil network development.


Captain John Wirges is an active duty Civil Affairs Team Leader in the 96th Civil Affairs BN (SO) (A). He holds a B.A. in Foreign Affairs from Hampden-Sydney College. He has deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in support of Operation Spartan Shield. Prior to joining Civil Affairs, he served as an Infantry Officer.

Sergeant First Class Matt Fausset is an active duty Civil Affairs Team Sergeant in the 96th Civil Affairs BN (SO) (A). He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantryman, and Syria and Yemen as a Civil Affairs NCO. He is a graduate of the Special Warfare Network Development Course.

The views and opinions in this article do not represent any entity of the US government or Department of Defense.

[i] Department of the Army. ATP 3-57.50 Civil Information Management (Washington, DC: GPO, 2013). [ii] U.S. Department of Defense. Summary of the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy (Washington, DC: GPO, 2020), 2. [iii] This definition was developed utilizing the following doctrinal definitions of networks: “A network is an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system. A human network is a depiction of the relationships of a broad group that enables understanding of that group” -Department of the Army. ATP 5-0.6 “Network Engagement (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017), 1-2. “There are three general types of networks found within an operational area: friendly, neutral, and hostile/threat networks” -U.S. Department of Defense. JP 3-25 Countering Threat Networks (Washington, DC: GPO, 2016), III-6. [iv] U.S. Department of Defense. DoDD 2000.13 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2017), 1. [v] MFP-2 Funding is General Purpose Forces Funding, designed for executing non-SOF, common-service operations. MFP-11 is Special Operations Forces Funding, used to execute SOF-specific requirements. This distinction is important, as Civil Affairs Forces in both Active Duty and Reserve formations that support conventional forces have access only to MFP-2 funding. USSOCOM funding is highly complex, reliant on MFP-2 and MFP-11 funds, as detailed in a 2014 Rand publication (Loredo et. al, Authorities and Options for Funding USSOCOM Operations (Santa Monica: Rand Corporation, 2014). [vi] Ibid, 1-11 [vii] Department of the Army. ATP 3-57.80 Civil Military Engagement (Washington, DC: GPO, 2013), 2-14 [viii] Department of the Army. FM 3-57 Civil Affairs Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, 2019), 2-111 [ix] “CTN [Countering Threat Networks] is one of three pillars of network engagement that includes partnering with friendly networks and engaging with neutral networks in order to attain the commander’s desired military end state within a complex OE.” JP 3-25 Countering Threat Networks, I-2. [x] The CICP is a planning tool every CA element should maintain and update for operations; this tool uses inputs such as Priority Intelligence Requirements (PIRs), higher orders, and mission-specific information requirements. [xi] FM 3-57 “Civil Affairs Operations, 2-10-2-12. [xii] ATP 5-0.6 Network Engagement, 4-11. Dynamic targeting processes F3EAD (find, fix, finish, evaluate, assess, disseminate) and F2T2EA (find, fix, target, target, engage, assess) may also be proper tools. [xiii] Department of the Army. ATP 2-33.4 Intelligence Analysis (Washington, DC: GPO, 2020), 6-23-6-25. [xiv] ATP 5-0.6 Network Engagement, 2-13. [xv] LtCol Fultz, Bradley N. & LtCol Aniema G. Utuk. The Cooperation Continuum (Marine Corps Gazette, 2020). [xvi] “Thus, when properly analyzed, civil information reveals factors and triggers within the civil networks of the unconventional warfare operational environment that provide decision-makers with a focal point for targeted Civil Affairs Operations or surrogate civil-military operations” Schafer, Robert. Civil Affairs in Denied Areas: The Challenges to Developing Networks that Support Shadow Governments (Small Wars Journal, 2016), 17.

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