Small Wars Journal

Maneuvering in an Intelligent Direction: Two Army Cyber Dilemma’s Which Need to be Addressed by the Mid-21st Century

Sat, 09/10/2016 - 7:07am

Maneuvering in an Intelligent Direction: Two Army Cyber Dilemma’s Which Need to be Addressed by the Mid-21st Century

Kurtis M. Hout Jr.

The U.S. Army’s Cyber proliferation initiatives in the development, advancement, and ultimately weaponization of the cyber domain has arguably been one of our Army’s highest priorities as of late. Cyber is now not only an Army branch with the implementation of the 17 series, the profession has also massaged itself into the discussion of arenas such as Intelligence, Signal, and Space Operations. The Army’s FY 2016 IT-Cyber budget was approximately $1.023 billion (Sternstein, A. (2015). This figure is significant in the context that the U.S. Army’s FY 2016 budget allocated $1.283 billion for upgrades and modernization of a preponderance of it’s most critical and storied weapons systems and the development of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (finally phasing out the aged HMMWV)  (Freedberg Jr., S. (2015). In short, the Army is allocating proportional resources to the cyber domain as it is to the success or failure of key weapon systems like the M1 Abrams tank, M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and the M109 Paladin Howitzer just to name a few. Making cyber a priority and eventual capability to the warfighter is further illustrated with the ambitious implementation of the FM 3-38 Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) in 2014, and declassifying JP 3-12 Cyberspace Operations 2013. Clearly the Army is making cyber both a priority and a developmental capability in hopes that by 2040-2050 the field can be a tangible option to the warfighter. However, the Army’s push for cyber to become a focal point of the battlefield does have missing nuances that must be addressed by the mid twentieth century if we are to remain as the premier ground force, that fights and wins our nations wars. In the following pages I will examine two problems the Army leaders must overcome and at least begin to address now, so that by 2040-2050 we are positioned to be victorious.

The first problem facing the Army leaders in the 2040-2050 cyber landscape is that current doctrine is committed to maneuver. Maneuver is a word synonymous with the Army so much that our bravest and finest officers who are selected for infantry or armor branches attend the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, for both officer basic and advanced military schooling. Furthermore, the image and idea of combined arms units moving in perfect harmony and deliberate fashion is identifiable with the entirety of the Army as whole. The concept of maneuver and Unified Land Operations (ULO) are both inherently brilliant, however by 2040-2050 this concept will face potential challenges. The problem with maneuver is that it requires intensive, protracted, synchronized, and most importantly authenticated communication systems which by 2040-2050 will most likely all be located in the cyber domain. Case in point, military orders and directives may not be followed if the person receiving the orders has doubts that they are invalid or produced by the enemy. This is not to say FM communications won’t exist in the mid-21st century however, their own reliability and protections from jamming or compromise must be at least partially questioned in a near peer competitor fight. The central issue is not that Department of Defense Information Networks (DODIN) will be at risk in 2040-2050 to cyber infiltration, attacks, or manipulation, but that by 2040-2050 some enemies to the United States may have evolved their rationale to simply concede the cyber domain entirely.

Given the United States' dramatic and robust development of the cyber domain it is likely that  at least a small percentage of both nation states and rogue actors will simply “give up” efforts to affect the cyber domain in traditional methods. Cyber tactics and options being the usual Denial of Service (DoS), malware, root-kit, etc. In other words, The Army along with DoD/CYBERCOM has the potential to win the cyber battle, but lose the cyber war when you consider the Army’s enormous investment and arguable technological reliance in digital communications systems needed for maneuver. In light that this same logic has occurred within the Amy recently, it is not unthinkable our strengths will be used against us again.

Both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign’s witnessed a commitment by the enemy to concede certain tactical initiatives because they knew they could not compete. For instance, most terrorist and insurgent elements could rarely measure up against the Army or coalition forces in a “stand up” and prolonged conventional fight. This is not to say the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan was absolutely unsuccessful, however conventional and overwhelming attacks were certainly the exception, not the rule. Insurgent leaders were committed to suicide and insider attacks, as well as acts of intimidation and harassment with indirect fire. Such methods did not routinely establish a precedent of orthodox modern warfare, nor did these tactics ever create an illusion that the Army could be systematically defeated. The fact that insurgent leaders understood they could not defeat coalition forces is a testament to the brave men and women in combat, as much as it is to decades of preparation in small unit tactics spurred from “cold war” era disciple. More often than not the enemy in methodical calculation observed coalition forces strengths and then exploited these variables to their advantages. This led to an unprecedented commitment by the enemy to engage in asymmetrical or unconventional warfare. This type of warfare inherently did not play to the Army’s strengths, or promote the decades of the Pentagon’s “cold war” procurement, preparation, planning cycles.

Maneuver was hindered because terrorists quickly figured out Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) have profound psychological, physiological, and strategic effects. Casualty figures aside, IED’s were a game changer both from the fact they were cheap, unsophisticated, and struck at the core of the Army. Ultimately, IED’s compelled dramatic upgrades and innovations such as IED Taskforces, Mine Resistant Armored Personnel vehicles (MRAP), improved body armor, and unmanned aerial systems. These technological advancements undoubtedly made a difference in the success and failure of Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, a 2040-2050 cyber environment may negate our ability to forge technological advancements. Case in point gamma rays from an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) caused by a high altitude nuclear detonation (NUDET) on the homeland and abroad could have profound historical implications. For example, a successful EMP complex attack has the potential to both incapacitate Army forces deployed, and the factories and industrial networks at home that support such forces. The similarity between IED’s and EMP’s is undoubtedly rooted in logic that any potential adversary of the Army will seek deny our strengths through any means necessary.

This denial as with IED’s is likely to come via creative, yet unsophisticated means. For example by 2040-2050 it’s possible either North Korea, or Pakistan leadership could implode leaving the materials needed for high altitude NUDET’s unsecured. This action would allow the potential for a NUDET over the continental United States of America, or Army operations abroad as illustrated recently in the bestselling book by William R. Forstchen One Second After. The same rational, and blatant disregard for human rights behind victim operated IED’s is absolutely conversely possible in an EMP threat scenario. In doing so a North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan could level the playing field by negating our technological prowess. Albert Einstein’s quote “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones” is fitting in this context. Our enemies would relish a war where sticks and stones or only crew served weapons would be the equal tools between both sides. Obviously, both IED’s and EMP’s create equality given maneuver has the potential to be degraded in both environments.

The believability of an EMP attack was formally introduced and gained traction in the public eye in 2004 with the government publication report by the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack. However, EMP theory and testing has existed since the 1960’s with operation Starfish Prime, and Fishbowl respectfully. Both tests, undoubtedly were rooted somewhat by the devastation caused by the Carrington Event of 1859, the largest geomagnetic solar storm in recorded history. The report gave a scathing and controversial account of the United States of America’s unpreparedness to the threat of an EMP. Notably, the 2004 executive summary made specific references to Army EMP threat readiness. The report stated, “The end of the Cold War relaxed the discipline for achieving EMP survivability within the Department of Defense, and gave rise to the perception that an erosion of EMP survivability of military forces was an acceptable risk” (Foster, J., Gjelde, E., Graham, W., Hermann, R., Kluepfel, H., Lawson, R., Soper, G. (2004). The report also stated, “Our increasing dependence on advanced electronics systems results in the potential for an increased EMP vulnerability of our technologically advanced forces, and if unaddressed makes EMP employment by an adversary an attractive asymmetric option” (Foster, J., Gjelde, E., Graham, W., Hermann, R., Kluepfel, H., Lawson, R., … Soper, G. (2004). Quotes aside, the report is an important reminder that not only have policy makers raised the red flag that the threat of an EMP is real, they have done so at an interesting nature in DoD’s history. In 2004 a compelling argument could be made Iraq and the global war on terror were the pervasive “flavor of the month”, not EMP attacks or a robust initiative to protect and harden digital systems vulnerable to gamma rays. This all the while fast forwarded to 2016 in a post sequester world, and a country in an election year, on the eve of a major confrontation with the Islamic State.

The EMP Commission has since published two additional reports, both rightfully omitted military EMP threat assessments as openly admitting this information does not enhance the national security position of our country. The most recent assessments focus on critical infrastructure threats and can be surmised as damning to the national security of the United States (Graham, W. R. 2008). The question of whether EMP threats to the country or the Army are certainly not the basis of this work, this is an unclassified work, and classified data would likely glean the true nature of the level of our unpreparedness as a country and military. Instead, EMP discussion is important to understand because this topic represents a major gap in our own cyber doctrine. Currently, the unclassified Joint Publication (JP) 3-12(R) Cyberspace Operations 2013 makes no mention of EMP events. EMP omission in JP 3-12 is so complete that the term EMP is not even mentioned as a glossary term. FM 3-38 CEMA 2014 mentions and defines an EMP however the references are sparse, and hardly denote the event as being the focal point of electronic warfare.

This is interesting considering near peer competitors Information Warfare playbooks like Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran all make EMP attack a complementary part of their cyber doctrine (James, W. R. 2013). If our adversaries are including EMP’s into the cyber discussion it may behoove Army Cyber doctrine to consider following suit. Considering a NUDET at 30 kilometers could neutralize or disable electronics capable of affecting the cyber domain in a 600 kilometer swath of area. This capability at least from the outside looking in deserves at least some mention in cyber doctrine (James, W. R. 2013). Such an event as evidence from the EMP Commission could likely at the very least disable Army vehicles on the move deployed in a contingency zone.

Ultimately, one nuance of the 2040-2050 cyber landscape is going to be a mix between cyber-attacks that need to be differentiated between those that seek to cause harm in the cyber domain, and those that seek to deny the cyber domain outright. Here the risk to Army units is twofold. In a near peer competitor fight, a nation state will likely elect to abstain from EMP attack based off the potential for fratricide and human rights concerns. Thus, the cyber landscape will be based off a tempo of manipulation. For instance ground navigations systems will be infected with malware to cause faulty geolocation positions, thus a unit will be isolated and vulnerable. Another potential example could be a DoS attack on an Air Defense system flooding a targeting computer with incorrect enemy positions rendering the system useless. A third example could be a root-kit virus injected into a mission command server that initiates false data reports, and or unauthorized orders. In this 2040-2050 climate ground force commanders will likely be “calling for fire” from tactical CEMA units which after 30 years of practice will be proficiently involved in the targeting process. In this scenario the ability to maneuver free from electronic jamming, interference, or manipulation will be the critical capability the Army will rely on for victory. If communications are either disabled or compromised the mission will halt.

One way to account from this perceived future where a mixture of cyber harm, and cyber denial will exist is the adoption and creation of radio spectrum protection initiatives which are rapidly deployable. For instance, if we know an EMP threat is possible, instead of protecting and hardening individual systems from gamma rays perhaps a cyber 2040-2050 climate will include radio spectrum protection teams. Even more ambitions initiatives could lead to the development off a ground based EMP shielded vehicle capable of transporting a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) worth of armor and artillery to an objective. A vehicle similar to the NASA Crawler-transporter this vehicle could shield a force from gamma rays until such threat was neutralized. This idea of course is a plan B, and ideally all Army Battle Command Systems (ABCS) would be rated to withstand an EMP attack, however current fiscal environments may preclude such a bold campaign. Furthermore, 2004 the EMP Commission found that most military unit’s decision to use cheaper, off the shelf commercial technology did not increase the likelihood all ABCS would be rated to withstand an EMP attack. These theoretical radio spectrum protection teams would deploy ahead of a Joint Forces Land Component (JFLC) and hedge the risk of an EMP on an incoming multinational force. These units could strategically work with JFLC planners to erect protection zones which could shield an entire force, at a far less costly and more labor intensive method as with most Army fielding initiatives. Additionally, even if the Army was to create individual EMP protection for its vehicles, its likely multinational partners may lack such capabilities, rendering their forces deadlined before they could reach a Forward Line of Troops (FLOT). In the stagnant and immobile EMP plan the Force would be at risk while on the move, however the enemy would need to fire a constant stream of EMP’s to account for the protection zones. This of course is all notional, however by 2040-2050 the Army may be so dominate at cyber, an enemy will be compelled to use EMP attacks, not as an elective choice, but as a matter of last resort.

In conclusion to the first cyber nuance of 2040-2050 facing the Army is that policy makers must accept the reality that the cyber domain includes EMP threats. The Army can absolutely win the cyber domain, however as with IED’s we need to think about the second, third, and fourth order effects of what being dominate in the cyber domain will mean forty years from now. An Army can fight to win and hold ground, however doing so is moot if the ground become un-maneuverable due to IED’s. As illustrated above, I think it’s likely in the future some nation states, terrorist groups, and trans-continental crime syndicates will concede the ability to operate in the cyber domain, and instead elect to simply deny the Army the ability to operate in cyber space. EMP attacks are one of the most comprehensive ways nation states and nefarious groups will try and accomplish this feat. Another way is to simply attack the Physical Network Layer at the site with a possible insider attack. A third and perhaps more crude way a nefarious group could deny cyber space to the Army is to target the subject matter experts themselves given the shortage of “hard skill” cyber security engineers. My point is, cyber space can be manipulated and denied by various means, in multiple domains, and the most important and proven way to mitigate this fact is open, fluid, and authenticated communication of the threat. The cyber environment of 2040-2050 may involve a simple cyber persona claiming to be a representative of a foreign dignitary for the express reason of forcing Army personnel to congregate in an enemy kill zone within an installation. These are not extremely sophisticated methods, yet they are effective.

The second cyber nuance or problem the Army will need to address by 2040-2050 is refining the lines of effort for respective war fighting functions (WFF) given the implications of warfare in the cyber domain. The age old adage “the more the merrier” is a wonderful prospect for efforts that are less technologically advanced, and unsophisticated. However, not ideal for cyber military operations. In short, there is a very high likelihood cyber deconfliction will be essential in a digitally saturated battlefield. Such cyber deconfliction is an advanced concept, and it comes at a time when the Army is highly reliant on a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) system that is excellent in training soldiers at individual tasks, however could be better at analyzing how other MOS synchronize in a unified way. Part of this tunnel or stove pipeped rationale is not product of poor leadership. Instead it may be a byproduct of naturally occurring educational gaps within the enlisted, warrant, and officer system. I say this primarily given the dramatic shortages in cyber educated Soldiers, and the general population alike. Currently, despite the Army’s best efforts we are an organization that traditionally attracts highly technical and technologically immersed individuals. Furthermore, in the leadership ranks, very few STEM degrees are possessed by senior officers. This is not an isolated Army dilemma, instead it is representative of a national epidemic of shortages of academic STEM interest as a whole (Serbu, J. 2013). This fact is not a negative jab at soldiers at all. The Army, fights and wins its nation’s wars. Its hero’s do not need to have Information Technology degrees at from MIT to do their jobs. However, this fact does illustrate that there is a shrinking pool of people who are seeking STEM related careers, just as STEM requirements and commitments are being increased.

Such an increase in STEM, and cyber incorporation into the Army WFF inherently comes with mixed affects. The positive outputs of incorporating cyber into Intelligence, Electronic Warfare (EW), and to a lesser degree Operations means we are creating shared understanding, situational awareness, and ultimately redundancy across the force. For instance, by 2040-2050 Cyber branched officers and NCO’s could be located at the tactical levels, and proliferate their doctrine, understanding, and tasks in an integrated staff environment. If the cyber officer is on a mission, then perhaps the Intelligence or Signal Officer could step in and at least “cover down” on mission requirements and shared understanding. The negative outputs of incorporating cyber across the Army are roles, responsibilities, and tasks, at times can be blurred. This is an important concept to denote because ultimately accountability for mission inputs and variables establish a tempo and pattern of predictability. The more we integrate cyber operations into the other Army branches we elevate the level of complexity and need for deconfliction of an arguably already complicated apparatus. We are already starting to see this phenomena currently within the Electronic Warfare (EW) branch and the Intelligence WFF.

The Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) represents the newest EW initiative to provide their Soldiers with the ability to map and visualize both enemy and friendly electromagnetic signatures (Pollachek , B. 2015). Additionally, the EWPMT has the ability to launch non-kinetic fires which give commanders an ability to “prosecute a target--by disrupting, destroying or exploiting it” (Pollachek , B. 2015). The EWPMT is certainly an upgrade and asset to the EW corps, which before its implementation did not have an assigned tool to launch EW attacks at the lowest levels. The blending of EW and Intelligence is evident given a few of the assigned tasks according to the EWPMT doctrine is to “conduct intelligence preparation of the electronic battlefield, determine enemy actions, identify possible courses of enemy action and identify EW effects to destroy, neutralize and suppress enemy EW capabilities” (Combined Arms Center 2013). If this is the case, does the Intelligence WFF need to change its verbiage to “conduct intelligence preparation of the non-electronic battlefield? If so does EW or Intelligence brief a commander on what a technologically sophisticated enemy is doing, as opposed to an Intelligence Officer? These questions undoubtedly need answered by 2040-2050. Another blending of the cyber domain and Intelligence are evident examining JP 3-12. For example the Physical Network Layer is essentially defined as the “primary target for signals intelligence (SIGINT), including computer network exploitation (CNE), measurement and signature intelligence, open source intelligence, and human intelligence. It is the first point of reference for determining jurisdiction and application of authorities. It is also the primary layer for geospatial intelligence, which can also contribute useful targeting data in cyberspace” (JP 3-12 I-3).

Identifying the blending of Intelligence across CEMA, EW, Cyber is not a difficult feat, nor life altering news. Intelligence was intended to be collaborative in nature, and benefits from cross communication with other military specialties. Furthermore, situational understanding is at the core of being able to brief a decision maker on what is going on. The problem exists when we acknowledge the reality that given the rise in complexity in relation to a cluttered electromagnetic environment across the potential for “cyber fratricide” is becoming more and more inevitable. Evidence of this is already present today in current cyber operations involving the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL) targeting (Harris, S. 2016). In the course of “ratcheting” up cyber-attacks on ISIL there has been open discord and disagreements between the Intelligence Community (IC) and CYBERCMD over whether to disable or monitor ISIL operations. If discord exists in the disabling or monitoring question now, wouldn’t these disagreements intensify in 2040-2050 near peer competitor fight, with thousands of potential cyber targets? What if an Operations Officer in a Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) was asked to conduct Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) on a target whose spectrum was being exploited and analyzed for an entire battlespace? In this scenario the CAB is following its orders, but so is a CEMA BDE conducting spectrum management analysis of its target. Using the same rationale, the same Operations Officer in the CAB may call for Cyber fire to disable the Air Defense Artillery (ADA) radars of select enemy batteries to preserve armament for their notional Objective. In this context CAB operations in a way are driving cyber operations given its use facilitates movement between a flight line and their objective. 

Given the naturally occurring disconnects between the strategic, operational, and tactical levels across military branches this scenario has an elevated in possibility. What if a unit was calling for Cyber fire on an enemy Mission Command node exploiting critical information, and then this node was destroyed by an adjacent unit? In this scenario by 2040-2050 do we need to rethink FM 1-02 Operational Terms and Graphics 2004 to denote cyber network exploitation as a symbol readily depicted on all ABCS tools not just the EWPMT ? Only a decision maker can deceiver which action is more beneficial (destruction or exploitation), however the idea does pose the question is the Army ready to take Mission Command to the collaborative electromagnetic level? Both examples up to this point have been conventional and tactical in nature, however the same cyber deconfliction principles can be used in asymmetric at the strategic level.

In this example an enemy’s power grid was targeted to halt the production of among other things munitions for a war effort. This cyberattack was successful, and the power grid was permanently disabled compelling surrender. What if in doing so the civilian population who was employed in the industrial sector decide that since we took away their jobs, one way of showing contempt for our actions is to engage in insurgent activities? Of course the Geneva Convention and the Law of Armed conflict applies to cyberspace, however history has shown power generation has been targeted in past. For example the Trans-Siberian Pipeline Explosion in 1982 was perhaps the world’s first known cyber-attack, and little public outcry ensued for a loss of Soviet hydrocarbon resources (GCN Staff 2013).  All three aforementioned examples highlight complexity and a need for cyber deconfliction. Such deconfliction could be mitigated to a certain degree with at least a discussion that one of the major military specialties should act as a nexus focusing cyber unity of effort.

At least from a threat perspective the Intelligence WFF needs to own and maintain the pulse of the enemy, even if this pulse is digital. Currently, this is not the case and Cyber, Signal, EW, CEMA, are all likely positioned to brief enemy cyber operations. This precedent is acceptable now; however I would argue it cannot operate in a 2040-2050 cyber saturated war. For instance a Signal Officer needs to focus on establishing friendly communications. A Cyber or EW officer needs to be positioned to fulfil Cyber Fire requests. The Operations Officer needs to plan friendly forces actions. Cross collaboration is certainly not a negative, however as mentioned before Intelligence needs to own the threat, which means they need to understand the cyber domain better by 2040-2050. This isn’t to say Intelligence doesn’t have its own problems to contend with. Currently, The Army Intelligence WFF has significant challenges its must overcome to remain the nation’s eyes and ears of our country’s adversaries, foes, and enemies. These challenges certainly did not occur overnight, nor should it be thought these challenges can be solved swiftly. Instead, the Intelligence branch needs to accept the reality that fifteen years of conflict, a failed Distributed Common Ground System Army (DCGS-A), and a pattern of over-classification guidelines have arguably taken their tool in hampering advancement of the Intelligence WFF as a whole (Ohlheiser, A. 2014). Additionally, the Intelligence WFF’s credibility and reputation have been further degraded in an era post Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and the Office of Personnel Management hack. The latter of course being especially damning considering the value of security clearance can be eroded if a subjects personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data is a matter of public knowledge. Alas, these facts are certainly hard to accept for an Intelligence Professional, however they need to be addressed because Intelligence by 2040-2050 could act as the nexus between the different domains (Land, Sea, Air, Space, Cyber) all of which touch the cyber domain.

In conclusion both maneuver and intelligence military specialties have the ability to be rapidly transformed in a 2040-2050 cyber environment. Maneuver is critical to an army that prides itself on its ability to “shoot, move, and communicate”. Two of these skills may be drastically affected if enemies deny our ability to use our technological advancements. Furthermore, the cyber domain is only growing in complexity, and such would necessitate discussion on a military specialty to fuse, organize and deconflict a cluttered electromagnetic environment could pay huge dividends.


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Categories: Mad Scientist

About the Author(s)

Captain (CPT) Kurtis M. Hout Jr. is an active duty branch qualified Intelligence Officer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan in various roles within the conventional, unconventional, and clandestine realms. He has an exclusively tactical background, however he aspires to transition to the combatant command or strategic level at corps and above. CPT Hout has been an Iraqi Army and Afghan Police advisor, a Contracting Officer Representative, and has earned numerous certifications from the Defense Acquisitions University and the Department of Homeland Security Emergency Management Institute. Additionally, He has been recruited to serve as Joint Special Operations Command augmentee charged with leading a lethal targeting cell tasked with hunting High Value Individuals in the southern province of Kandahar, Afghanistan. He has a Masters of Cyber Security Studies (August 2016) from the American Military University, and two bachelor degree’s in liberal arts from the University of Northern Colorado. CPT Hout’s graduate degree accomplishments include being named three time on the dean’s list honor roll and maintained a 3.85 GPA. Kurtis was an undergraduate scholar athlete and NFL prospect in the 2009 Draft, and devoted his life to the sport of football for much of his adolescence and early adulthood. He is a husband to an extremely supportive wife and father to two very gifted boys. Kurtis prides himself on his flexibility and reliability as a Soldier, scholar, and family man. CPT Hout currently is a Big Red One (BRO) Soldier in the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, Duty First!