Introduction to OPSEC

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Brian Copello
  • 509th Operations Support Squadron commander
When employing aircraft in any type of hostile situation, most people instantly think of the physical characteristics that make it survivable.

Throughout the history of air power tactics and counter tactics, aircraft have used speed and maneuverability, electronic countermeasures, the ability to fly very low or very high and most recently - stealthy characteristics to aid in their survival.

However, a tactical aircraft's ability to hold targets at risk anywhere in the world anytime, is as much dependent upon protecting information as it is on the physical characteristics that aid in the survival of the aircraft.

As a matter of fact, one could argue that the information signature of an aircraft is the most important aspect of its employment.

This is not a new concept, and it certainly applies to all warfare, not just aerial warfare.

The earliest of strategists identified protecting information as crucial to operations. In the 6th century B.C., Sun Tzu identified surprise and secrecy as essential aspects of military operations in his book titled, "The Art of War."

In one translation he states, "O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands."

While observing the campaigns of Napoleon, a Swiss military theorist named Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini believed he had found a scientific basis for establishing the conduct of war called the principles of war. In them he identified secrecy and surprise as vital aspects to military operations. Jomini's principles of war stand firmly as the foundation to much of our doctrine today.

Secrecy and surprise are interwoven. The basic building blocks of both is information. And protecting information is the key to maintaining secrecy and guaranteeing surprise.

It is because of these principles that the information signature of an aircraft is vitally important to its survival. The chances of avoiding engagement with the enemy, and surviving when avoidance is impossible, increase exponentially with the use of surprise.

Yet surprise depends as much on protecting the information signature of the aircraft as it does its physical design, and the information signature of any weapons system is squarely reliant upon good Operations Security.

OPSEC has nothing to do with the aircraft's size, shape or materials, but has everything to do with the people responsible for its employment.

Yes, that means you. You are vitally important to the success of all the aircraft on Whiteman in two very distinct ways.

First, the success of your wing's weapons systems depends on you performing your duty as a mechanic, a radar technician, a structures expert, an information manager, personnelist or any other Air Force specialty code or military occupational specialty to the best of your ability.

We all know it takes the whole team to put effects on target on time, and each of us should understand our part in doing so and should strive to contribute to the best of our ability.

Secondly, and with as much importance, mission success depends on practicing solid OPSEC. OPSEC is the process of denying adversaries information about friendly intention and capabilities by identifying, controlling and protecting indicators associated with planning and conducting military operations.

In short, OPSEC protects critical information in order to deny an adversary any advantage.

OPSEC is cultural, by that I mean it must be ingrained as habitual within our community to be effective. In the big sense, OPSEC is the art of making even the most unusual of circumstances appear usual.

It is a fact that although we are prepared to do so, we don't put fire and steel on the enemy every day. However, when we are called to do so, either from a deployed location or from our deployed in garrison location (Whiteman Air Force Base), it is imperative that we operate in a manner that leads no one to suspect anything other than what occurs here every day.

We can guarantee this by practicing good OPSEC every day. If we protect the critical information about our everyday operation with great care, then we will by default protect the critical information about our not so everyday activities as well.

Two situations come to mind when discussing the protection of information. First, is when you are aware of the nature of the operation in question.

This is the easiest information to protect. Simply protect the information just as you should every day by practicing good OPSEC. Only those who need to know should.

The corollary to this is that just because someone has a certain level of clearance doesn't mean they have a need to know. The fewer people in the know, the less likely the information will be compromised.

Similarly, just because some information is not categorized as classified, does not mean we don't protect it. The sum of many pieces of unclassified information may very well provide indicators to the adversary.

The second situation is when you don't have detailed knowledge of the operation, but you can tell from your observations that, "something is going on." When this occurs you may or may not be correct, but that doesn't change your obligation to protect the information.

In these instances practice good OPSEC by refusing to highlight your observations to others, and most of all - don't speculate.

Regardless of which weapons system, which wing or which AFSC or MOS you are committed to, practicing good OPSEC is a skill as important as qualifying with a weapon, being able to put on your chem gear properly, or putting eighty 500-pounders on target on time.

OPSEC takes education and practice. Take the time to listen to your unit OPSEC manager, learn your critical information list and put your OPSEC skills into practice every day.

Our missions depend upon it! Ready to Fight!