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TRADOC’s Network Engagement Team (NET):
A brief history and focus on network data and cognitive maneuver training

Military operations are human endeavors, contests of wills characterized by continuous and mutual adaptation among all participants. In operations, Army forces face thinking and adaptive enemies, differing agendas of various actors (organizations and individuals), and changing perceptions of civilians in an operational area.

ADRP 5-0 The Operations Process

Born by a tasking from a U.S. Marine Corps Major General in 2007, TRADOC G-2’s Network Engagement Team (NET) has grown from a temporary two-person team assigned to complete a specific tasking into a close-knit team of five uniquely-qualified individuals.1 During that time, the NET’s scope has grown from developing a methodology to understand, attack and counter IED networks in Iraq and Afghanistan to partnering with the U.S. Army War College to develop a global strategic approach for the Army and the Joint Force to prevail in competition with adversaries such as China and Russia. One constant throughout the NET’s 12-year maturation process has been its steady focus on developing ways to better understand and influence human networks (aka relevant actors) within the human domain.

The NET’s initial Attack the Network training program benefited greatly by innovating a unique military application of the scientific field of social network analysis. This adaptation was originally developed by two professors at West Point. The two (then) Army Majors traveled to Afghanistan during their 2008/09 “Christmas vacation” and proved their new training program, “Advanced Network Analysis and Training” (ANAT), by conducting a pilot course on Bagram Airbase, AFG.2 They then operationalized ANAT in Afghanistan and Iraq, and those units that embraced it were able to conduct a nuanced process of military engagements with human networks.3 This unique engagement process, employed with great success by the 1st Calvary Division and others, became the basis for new Army doctrine. Army Techniques Publication (ATP) 5-0.6, Network Engagement, was published in June 2017 following a four-year effort by NET, in partnership with the Maneuver Center of Excellence and a broader community of interest, under the leadership of the Army’s Combined Arms Center (CAC). The Network Engagement ATP combines elements of attack the network and ANAT and applies them to military engagement with any human network in any operational environment at any level, from tactical to strategic. Although Network Engagement (NE) can be applied by any military organization at any level, the NET recognized the need to better clarify its strategic application.

The opportunity to apply NE at the strategic level came from the U.S. Army War College (AWC) in 2018 when the NET began a partnership with the AWC’s leading expert in human cognition. After only two years, that partnership has blossomed into a new course currently underway at the AWC called “Cognitive Maneuver”. Just as the NET developed the pre-doctrinal concept of attack the network into a broadly applicable doctrinal concept, Network Engagement, the NET is now developing the concept of Cognitive Maneuver (CM), in collaboration with the AWC, into what will likely be a future doctrinal approach to countering U.S. adversaries throughout the competition continuum. The requirement for such a capability is clearly articulated in the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). The NSS states, “Our adversaries will not fight us on our terms. We will raise our competitive game to meet that challenge, to protect American interests, and to advance our values”. The 2018 NDS describes how the DoD and Joint Force will raise their competitive game, “To succeed in the emerging security environment, our Department and the Joint Force will have to out-think, out-maneuver, out-partner, and out-innovate revisionist powers, rogue regimes, terrorists, and other threat actors.” CM is the methodology for achieving what is described above in the excerpt from the NDS. And not surprisingly, NE is an essential component of CM. So, while the NET remains a close-knit team of uniquely qualified individuals, they are now engaging in concept and doctrine development at all levels from tactical to strategic within a complex network of partnerships.

After the two West Point professors who developed the ANAT program handed it off to the NET in 2012, ANAT training was formally integrated into the NET’s Attack the Network (AtN) training program. The formerly separate AtN and ANAT training teams combined, and they continually refine the training while also presenting it to many units, most of which were then deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.

At the same time, the NET was working with the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) to refine the concept of AtN based heavily on written accounts of units that had successfully engaged friendly, neutral, and threat human networks while deployed. Figure 1, below is taken from the 2017 ATP 5-06, Network Engagement. It depicts the expansion of the AtN concept to the broader concept of “Network Engagement (NE), which is defined as the interactions with friendly, neutral, and threat networks, conducted continuously and simultaneously at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, to help achieve the commander’s objectives within an operational area (JP 3-25). Network engagement utilizes the three activities of supporting, influencing, and neutralizing to achieve the commander’s desired end state. Commanders and staffs use network engagement activities to support and influence friendly and neutral human networks and to influence and neutralize threat human networks.”4

Figure 1: Network Engagement Concept

Although ANAT training and trainers were merged with Network Engagement (NE) training and trainers, the two programs retained a degree of separate identity as two options that could be tailored based on the needs of the individual unit. ANAT training is based on the science of Social Network Analysis (SNA) and tends to be most effectively applied when the analyst understands applicable concepts and is open to working with their mission-specific data. Performing SNA in support of specific mission objectives often leads to rapid identification of potential targets that may not have been readily apparent when using more traditional analytic methods. SNA provides understanding of how people or organizations have significance based on how they are connected to the wider network. Intelligence analysts, and others, who are guided only by link analysis tend to identify potential targets based on hierarchical significance and basic relationships drawn from structured data, reporting, link diagrams or other data sources.5 This type of network analysis is often largely subjective. SNA supports objective analysis because it identifies potential targets for further collection or engagement based on relational significance. Ideally, the two analytic approaches should be combined for comprehensive understanding, analysis, course of action development, ISR planning and targeting.

The NET offers pre-exercise NE training and on-site NE mentoring during exercises and events across the Army, joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational (JIIM) communities. There are two core training programs offered by NET. The first is a standard 3-5 day course known as Advanced Network Analysis and Targeting (ANAT), and the second is a 7-10 day Train the Trainer (T3) course. The standard ANAT course is broken into separate blocks of instruction spanning 3-5 days covering topics such as NE, link diagram development, networking terms / principles, structured data management, social network analysis (SNA) methodology, practical application of SNA, SNA software (ORA, UCINET, Gephi, and R training available) instruction, and a team-based capstone practical exercise where students utilize notional or, optimally, their own network data to produce an informative SNA product intended to provide sound recommendations to support planning, information collection and targeting.

Train the trainer (T3) instruction was designed to be a force multiplier with blocks of instruction following the standard Advanced Network Analysis and Targeting (ANAT) instruction, but also providing an opportunity to mentor and enable students to train NE, ANAT, and SNA organically within their organization. The first week of this instruction follows the same cadence as the standard ANAT course, and the second is focused on development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) for network data development, application of SNA to specific missions, and network data SOP (codebook) refinement. All of these T3 efforts enable a unit-specific standardized approach to human network data management, storage, retrieval, analysis and visualization. This approach was designed, primarily, to enable more efficient and effective sharing and fusion of relational data. Through the application of NE and ANAT principles, teams are able to develop a better understanding of what networks are present within their respective areas of operation and the relations between people, places, processes, and activities. The NET also supports teams as they apply these principles during training, education and leader development events.

Accurately identifying the key individuals, organizations and other nodes within networks is challenging. By applying social network analysis (SNA), a team can often better identify relevant actors that potentially hold key positions, information, or serve as channels for resources – including information — throughout the network. This type of analysis can also aid a team in identifying nodes whose removal from the network would induce system-wide fragmentation. This is not intended to replace traditional link analysis, but provides an objective layer to the analytical process. Through augmenting traditional link analysis with SNA, analysts are able to rapidly identify potential targets that may not be readily apparent when using more traditional methods. SNA illuminates nodes that may have significance based on how they are tied into a broader network structure (see Figure 2 below). Analysts guided only by link analysis are vulnerable to biases in their identification of potential targets such as expecting hierarchical leadership where there is none and over-emphasizing the importance of nodes with which they have prior familiarity. This type of analysis is largely subjective based on the analyst’s reading of the link chart or related information and intelligence reporting. SNA supports objective analysis based on a battery of quantitative measures because it identifies potential targets for further collection or engagement based on the node’s significance to the broader network.

Figure 2: Process from text reporting to evaluating targets with social network analysis

Despite the doctrinal expansion of AtN into the broader concept of NE, and the integration of ANAT training within NE training, the NET searched in vain during 2017 for relevant examples of NE being applied effectively at the strategic level. The 2017 NSS and 2018 provided some insight as to why such an example was lacking. The U.S. “was emerging from a period of strategic atrophy”.6 The NET was given an opportunity to help the U.S. emerge from strategic atrophy in 2019 when the U.S. Army War College (AWC) enabled the TRADOC team to develop and conduct a summer seminar titled, “Cognitive Maneuver”. Although the concept of CM was not yet fully developed, it became clear during the July 2019 CM seminar that there were overlapping and common themes among the perspectives of various DoD organizations involved. The NET members involved in the CM Seminar were able to subsequently weave together a strategic approach for CM. Strategic CM is essentially a strategic application of NE that is aligned with the latest concepts and thinking within DoD regarding how to achieve U.S. strategic objectives, often without resorting to armed conflict, in today’s global security environment.7 The CM seminar has now progressed into a course of instruction that is currently underway at the AWC, and both the concept and the strategic approach for CM continue to be refined. What is clear, however, is that applying CM “as the synchronized application of physical power and informational power to influence adversaries’ decision-making behaviors” will help the U.S. more consistently achieve strategic goals.8

The training offered by NET supports the U.S. Army and JIIM communities by teaching and coaching students and teams from tactical through the strategic levels of competition and conflict. This is consequently producing enhanced network engagement plans, operations and strategies. Increasing an organization’s ability to apply network engagement concepts enables them to more efficiently and effectively accomplish their objectives at any level. Network analysis provides important foundational skills to better understand the relevant actors within complex operational environments and within the global security environment. NE applied at any level increases the likelihood that the unit or organization will better understand the human domain, win the clash of wills, and achieve their objectives.

1The initial tasking in 2007 that gave birth to the NET came from a stakeholder in the first of many organizations that evolved into the current Operational Environment Center (OEC). In 2007, Major General Spiese (USMC) commented at a Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) stakeholders’ meeting, “We need a methodology for Attack the Network”. The Attack the Network line of effort is widely viewed as a critical component of the higher level and more broad Joint doctrinal term; Network Engagement.
2LTC (ret.) Ian McCullough and LTC (ret.) Anthony Johnson developed TRADOC’s initial ANAT course as a way to conduct social network analysis on threat networks in Afghanistan and Iraq. This course continues to be offered by the TRADOC Network Engagement team.
3The best example of this “nuanced form of human network engagement” is the 1st Cavalry Division, which clearly described the process and the results they achieved in an article in Military Intelligence in the April – June 2012 edition titled, “Effective Network Targeting”. While heavily focused on the intelligence warfighting function, many of the lessons observed and captured over the past few decades have been applied across all functions, domains, staff sections and levels of classification.
4Army Techniques Publication 5-06, Network Engagement, published in 2017 expands the nested concept of Attack the Network (AtN) to the broader concept of Network Engagement (NE).
5While this course is available to US Army Intelligence teams through the use of Foundry resources (GEN 305 course title) and is often applied to the intelligence WfF, many mission areas from Fires and Effects to Assessment, Civil Affairs and Information Warfare teams have applied these concepts with great success around the globe.
6While the specific term “strategic atrophy” comes from the unclassified summary of the 2018 NDS, it is well supported by the 2017 NSS.
7The CM seminar conducted in July 2019 assembled top DoD SMEs representing OSD, SOCOM, JS J-2, and others who provided a range of perspectives that were subsequently woven together to form an approach for CM.
8This comes from the current working definition of CM, which is being carefully considered by the AWC staff and students currently participating in the initial CM course during April – May 2020.