The Vocabulary of Conflict

A diagram from the Attack the Network Lexicon depicts various forms of irregular warfare operations along with their accompanying strategic concepts.

Public Intelligence

What distinguishes civil support from homeland defense operations? How do operational variables differ from mission variables? What factors define the operational environment? The vocabulary of conflict in U.S. military operations can be unusually complex and esoteric. There can often be huge doctrinal differences indicated by the addition of a single word to a name or description. The amount of epithets and acronyms can sometimes overwhelm even military personnel, causing military communication to appear as a language unto itself. To eliminate the barriers and confusion created by this technical vocabulary, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) worked with a number of government agencies to produce a lexicon detailing the precise definitions of terms and concepts employed by military personnel in countering enemy networks.

The Attack the Network Lexicon, originally released to military personnel in May 2011, is “intended to provide a common operational vocabulary across the many organizations and technical/military disciplines who must coordinate their efforts to successfully attack the many different varieties of adversary networks.” Though the lexicon was originally intended for use in countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan, the scope of the project was broadened to encompass terminology that can be “commonly applied to tactics used to attack networks in a more generic sense” including criminals, drug traffickers and insurgents. The contents of the lexicon were developed from interviews with military personnel and further refined by “subject matter experts from over fifty organizations across the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.”

Terms that are defined in the lexicon are accompanied by diagrams demonstrating the hierarchical topology of a particular concept or operational focus.  For example, the concept of irregular warfare contains a number of sub-disciplines including both counterinsurgency “civilian and military efforts taken to defeat an insurgency and to address any core grievances” as well as support to insurgency which involves “aid or comfort to an insurgency, which is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.”

In addition to defining key terms, the lexicon also functions as a general guide to network analysis, providing an overview of the processes for understanding and countering adversary networks. Several sections of the lexicon focus on assessing network structure and organization as well as techniques for “engaging” the networks through lethal and non-lethal means.

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