By Chris Worret
“Military operations are human endeavors—a contest of wills characterized by violence and continuous adaptation among all participants. Fundamentally, all war is about changing human behavior. During operations, Army forces face thinking and adaptive enemies, differing agendas of various actors, and changing perceptions of civilians in an operational area.” – ADP 5-0 The Operations Process
Born by a tasking from a U.S. Marine Corps major general in 2007, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s Network Engagement Team (NET) has grown from a temporary two-person team assigned to complete a specific task into a close-knit team of seven uniquely qualified individuals. During that time, the NET’s scope has grown from developing a methodology to understand, attack, and counter improvised explosive device (IED) networks in Iraq and Afghanistan, to partnering with the U.S. Army War College (AWC) 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 14-year maturation process has been its steady focus on developing ways to better understand and influence human networks—also known as relevant actors—within the human domain.
The NET’s initial Attack the Network (AtN) training program benefitted greatly from creating a distinctive military application based on the scientific field of social network analysis (SNA). This adaptation was originally developed by two professors at West Point. The two (then) Army majors travelled to Afghanistan during their 2008–2009 “Christmas vacation” and proved their new training program, “Advanced Network Analysis and Training” (ANAT), by conducting a pilot course on Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. 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. 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 the 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. This ATP combines elements of AtN 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 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 network engagement (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 OE [operational environment”) at the strategic level came from the AWC in 2018, when the NET began a partnership with the AWC’s leading expert in human cognition. After less than two years, that partnership blossomed into a new course called “Cognitive Maneuver”. The second iteration of the Cognitive Maneuver course is currently underway at the AWC. Just as the NET developed the pre-doctrinal concept of AtN into a broadly applicable doctrinal concept, network engagement, the NET is now developing the concept of cognitive maneuver, in collaboration with the AWC, into what will likely be a future doctrinal approach to countering U.S. adversaries throughout the competition continuum. Cognitive maneuver is essentially a strategic application of network engagement 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.[ 6] The requirement for such a capability is clearly articulated in the 2021 Interim National Security Strategy Guidance (INSSG) and the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). Cognitive maneuver is clearly aligned with the intent of the INSSG. The statement that most clearly aligns with the Cognitive maneuver course is, “we will develop capabilities to better compete and deter gray zone actions.” Our adversaries will not fight us on our terms. Instead they have been attempting to erode our strategic superiority in the gray zone without resorting to armed conflict. 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 Department of Defense (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.”[ 8] In March of 2021 the NET revised the definition of Cognitive Maneuver and the framework of the course, based in part on recommendations from last year’s AWC class, to fully align with the NDS. “Cognitive maneuver is a methodology that enables the Department of Defense and the joint force to out-think, out-maneuver, out-partner, and out-innovate revisionist powers.” Not surprisingly, network engagement is an essential component of cognitive maneuver. So, the NET is now engaging in concept and doctrine development at all levels 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 AtN training program. The formerly separate AtN and ANAT training teams combined, and they continually refined 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 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 is taken from ATP 5-06. It depicts the expansion of the AtN concept to the broader concept of network engagement. Per ATP 5-0.6, “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.”
Figure 1: Network Engagement Concept
Although ANAT training and trainers were merged with NET 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 SNA and tends to be most effectively applied when the analyst understands applicable concepts and is open to working with 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. 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; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance planning; and targeting.
The NET offers pre-exercise network engagement training and on-site mentoring during exercises and events across the Army, joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational communities. There are two core training programs offered by NET. The first is a standard ANAT course lasting 3-5 days, and the second is a “train-the-trainer” course lasting 7-10 days. The standard ANAT course is broken into separate blocks of instruction covering topics such as network engagement, link diagram development, networking terms and principles, structured data management, SNA methodology, practical application of SNA, and SNA software instruction (ORA, UCINET, Gephi, and R). It also includes a team-based capstone practical exercise during which students use network data to produce an informative SNA product intended to provide sound recommendations to support planning, information collection, and targeting.
Train-the-trainer instruction was designed to be a force multiplier given the NET’s relatively small size. Blocks of instruction follow the standard ANAT course but also provide an opportunity to mentor and enable students to train network engagement, ANAT, and SNA within their organization. The first week of instruction follows the same cadence as the standard ANAT course, and the second is focused on development of a standard operating procedure for network data development, application of SNA to specific missions, and network data procedure (codebook) refinement. All of these efforts enable a unit-specific standardized approach to human network data management, storage, retrieval, analysis, and visualization. This approach was primarily designed to enable more efficient and effective sharing and fusion of relational data. Through the application of network engagement 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 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, as illustrated in figure 2. 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 overemphasizing 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 in 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 network engagement and the integration of ANAT training within network engagement training, the NET searched in vain during 2017 for relevant examples of network analysis being applied effectively at the strategic level. The 2018 NDS and the March 2021 INSSG provide some insight as to why such an example was lacking: the United States was “emerging from a period of strategic atrophy.” The NET was given an opportunity to support this emergence in 2019, when the AWC enabled the TRADOC team to develop and conduct a summer seminar titled, “Cognitive Maneuver.” Although this concept was not yet fully developed, it became clear during the July 2019 seminar that there were overlapping and common themes among the perspectives of various DoD organizations involved. The NET members involved in the seminar were able to subsequently weave together a strategic approach for cognitive maneuver. The cognitive maneuver seminar has now progressed into a course of instruction that is currently underway at the AWC, and both the concept and the strategic approach continue to be refined. What is clear, however, is that applying cognitive maneuver “as the synchronized application of physical power and informational power to influence adversaries' decision-making behaviors” will help the United States more consistently achieve strategic goals.
The training offered by the NET supports the U.S. Army and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational communities by teaching and coaching students and teams from tactical through 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 it to more efficiently and effectively accomplish its objectives at any level. Network analysis provides important foundational skills to better understand the relevant actors within the global security environment and any of its complex components. Network engagement 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 its objectives.
For more information, please contact Mr. Chris Worret (email@example.com) or Mr. Matt McMillan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1The TRADOC G-2 Battlefield Development plans are classified analytic assessments of Russian and Chinese systems warfare. These were deliberately produced to support TRADOC concept and capabilities development in light of joint MDO.
 Department of the Army, The Operations Process, ADP 5-0 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2019), 1-1.
 The 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 stakeholders’ meeting, “We need a methodology for Attack the Network.” The AtN line of effort is widely viewed as a critical component of the higher level and more broad joint doctrinal term of network engagement.
 LTC (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 NET.
 The best example of this “nuanced form of human network engagement” is the 1st Cavalry Division, which clearly described the process and the results it achieved in an article in the April–June 2012 edition of Military Intelligence, 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.
 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Countering Threat Networks, JP 3-25 (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2016), x.
[ 6] The Cognitive Maneuver seminar conducted in July 2019 assembled top DoD subject matter experts representing the Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Special Operations Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff J-2 , and others who provided a range of perspectives that were subsequently woven together to form an approach for cognitive maneuver.
 Joseph R. Biden Jr., Interim National Security Strategy Guidance (Washington, DC: White House, March 2021, 14).
[ 8] James N. Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2018), 5.
 Department of the Army, Network Engagement, ATP 5-0.6 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2017), 1-1. This expands the nested concept of AtN to the broader concept of network engagement.
 Department of the Army, Network Engagement, ATP 5-0.6 (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2017), 1-3.
 While this course is available to U.S. Army Intelligence teams through the use of Foundry resources (GEN 305 course title) and is often applied to the intelligence warfighting function, 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.
 James N. Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2018), 1. While the specific phrase, “we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy” comes from the unclassified summary of the 2018 NDS, it is well supported by the 2021 INSSG.
 This comes from the current working definition of cognitive maneuver, which was revised by NET instructors at the AWC in March of 2021 as they prepared for the April-May 2021 Cognitive Maneuver course. Their decision was based in part on feedback from AWC staff and students who participated in the initial Cognitive Maneuver course during April–May 2020.
For more information, or support from TRADOC G-2, please contact Angela M. Williams, email@example.com Produced by the US Army TRADOC G-2 Operational Environment and Threat Analysis Directorate