Cyberstrategy Takes Shape

December 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

The U.S. Army is developing new operational strategies for its forces to use in cyberspace. These plans will create new occupational specialties and restructure personnel formations to permit the service to operate as effectively in cyberspace as it does on land.
The U.S. Army redefines how it will fight in and across the electromagnetic spectrum.

U.S. soldiers will soon be planning and executing operations in cyberspace as effectively and efficiently as they do on physical battlefields. These new missions are being outlined in a series of concepts suggesting how ground forces will function in cyberspace. Once they are formally evaluated and approved, the cyberplan is scheduled to become part of the U.S. Army’s overall warfighting and operational doctrine.

The branches of the U.S. military are increasingly viewing cyberspace as a new operational environment because it allows forces to conduct a range of missions, from intelligence gathering to directly attacking and crippling an adversary’s command and control capabilities. The U.S. Air Force already is in the process of establishing an active cyberspace presence (SIGNAL Magazine, August 2007), as is the U.S. Navy. Like its sister services, the Army also is determining its needs in cyberspace, explains Lt. Col. John Bircher, USA, deputy director for futures, U.S. Army Computer Network Operations and Electronic Warfare Component, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “The big question we’re trying to resolve is, how does the Army need to operate in and through cyberspace?” he says.

An important part of the Army’s planning process is determining operational needs and mission responsibilities for the service’s various organizations. Prior to 1964, the Signal Corps was responsible for what was known as signal warfare. But in 1964, that responsibility became electronic warfare (EW) under the Army Security Agency and eventually the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). From the late 1980s until 2003, this EW mission remained relatively static, the colonel observes.

However, by 2003 the Army began encountering adversaries who used the electromagnetic spectrum in new and unusual ways, such as employing cell phones to detonate improvised explosive devices. Col. Bircher admits that the service was not prepared to deal with this challenge. To counter these threats, the Army established the Combined Arms Center in Fort Leavenworth as the service EW proponent. The colonel explains that EW covers a range of areas, from intelligence gathering to jamming and support operations. This mix of capabilities requires a combined arms approach to the electromagnetic spectrum, because the EW mission involves a range of coordinated capabilities designed to prevent enemy forces from using the spectrum while simultaneously defending U.S. spectrum use.

To help develop new concepts for EW and cyberspace operations, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) established an integrated capabilities development team (ICDT). Most of TRADOC’s centers of excellence in infantry, armor, aviation and communications are involved in the ICDT. Outside groups with input included the Army National Guard Bureau, the Army Intelligence and Security Command, the Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM), the Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Army Forces Command and the special operations community. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the other services also are represented. “It’s a very big community of practice,” Col. Bircher says.

The center is preparing two documents outlining the Army’s possible future cyberspace missions. The first, Cyber Electronics in Full-Spectrum Operations, Operational Concept, will suggest the steps the Army must take to dominate cyberspace in the 2010 to 2015 time frame. A draft is scheduled to be ready this month. The recommendations will be tested at the Unified Quest exercise in spring 2009 with concept approval slated for June 2009. A second document looking out at 2015 to 2024 will focus on long-term cyber issues.

After the operational concepts for these two time frames are complete, the center’s development team will begin a capabilities-based assessment as part of the Joint Initial Capability Development (JICD) phase. Col. Bircher explains that this assessment will determine the Army’s needs, any gaps in requirements and how to solve them. He expects the JICD phase to be completed between 2009 and 2011. Once complete, he says that the Army can begin planning resource allocations for 2015 and beyond.

Col. Bircher notes that the documents dovetail with ongoing work on the Army’s capstone document, which outlines the service’s overall operational strategy. As opposed to writing a document focusing on cyberspace that would only be read by a specialized audience, placing the cyberspace strategy in the service’s capstone concept gives it broader exposure to the entire Army, the colonel asserts. “It’s critical for us to ensure that our ideas and our thoughts and our way ahead are fully nested in part of the Army’s capstone concept revision,” he maintains. The first draft of the Army capstone concept is scheduled to be complete by summer 2009.

An important goal of the development team was conceptualizing a mission for computer network operations. Col. Bircher notes that computer network operations do not fit neatly into any Army organization’s mission. As warfighting capabilities change, he says that there is a simultaneous need to create operations or effects either in cyberspace or through cyberspace. Advances in technology also are driving the service to emphasize cyber operations. The colonel cites the example of a modern cell phone that can transmit voice, text and images while wirelessly accessing the Internet. “Is that a radio, a telephone, a computer, or does it matter?” he asks.

The colonel adds that because modern devices have such blended capabilities, the hardware is irrelevant; only the data matters. “It is about sending, receiving, storing, transmitting and manipulating data. So cyberspace and radio communication means are overlapping,” he says.

Cyberspace operations break down into three mission areas: creating effects in and through cyberspace; offensive and defensive effects; and how to support those operations. For example, jamming is a traditional electronic offensive operation. A network attack, whether it is a computer or communications network assault, also is an offensive operation. He notes that an enemy can be denied the use of its communications by jamming equipment or attacking the network.

Defense involves more than protecting information, such as information assurance and network defense. It also means protecting U.S. forces from an adversary’s use of the spectrum. Col. Bircher cites the Counter Radio-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device (RCIED) Electronic Warfare (CREW) system as an example of network defense that denies enemies the use of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Cyberspace support functions range from spectrum management to computer network exploitation, EW support, signals intelligence and network management. All of these capabilities are critical to the Army’s ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations. Also critical are the capabilities the Army can perform in cyberspace to influence adversaries or target audiences with information. “That needs to be part of this overarching capability,” he says.

Col. Bircher observes that a difference exists between how warfighting capabilities evolve and how cyberspace operations support this evolution. Six core capabilities fit into this evolutionary aspect, he says. They are network operations, electromagnetic spectrum operations, EW, network warfare, computer network operations and space superiority. However, the colonel admits that these mission areas do not all fit perfectly into cyberspace.

For example, there is the Active Denial System (ADS), which is designed for nonlethal crowd control. The ADS uses millimeter waves to quickly heat a person’s skin, producing a burning sensation that triggers an automatic physiological response, causing targeted individuals and groups to jump out of the beam’s path. According to the strict definition of the electromagnetic spectrum, Col. Bircher says the ADS is a spectrum user because it operates by emitting energy and delivering an effect at the other end. “That doesn’t really fit into the notion of cyberspace operations. I would argue that it doesn’t fit into the notion of what electronic warfare is. It’s a weapons system,” he says.

Conversely, areas such as spectrum management and network warfare fit into offensive, defensive and support categories for cyberspace operations. Although these concepts are intuitive to the Army’s network and EW communities, Col. Bircher notes that implementing them will be challenging because it affects how the service is organized. Another concern is how the Army’s cyberspace capabilities and roles will fit into the joint community.

Restructuring the Army to accommodate new missions in cyberspace also will create new occupational specialties. Col. Bircher explains that this role shift already occurred when the service established its EW structure. “One of the huge gaps that we saw was the ability to plan, synchronize and deconflict electronic warfare operations at all levels. We recognize that gap, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in our Army force today,” he says.

To meet these changes, the Army established a new EW career field for officers and a new EW military occupational specialty for enlisted personnel and warrant officers. In this fiscal year, Army personnel can select EW as a single career field. This differs from the past, when EW work was viewed as part-time work, Col. Bircher says. He adds that the Army expects an additional 1,500 personnel—officers, soldiers and warrant officers—to become EW specialists over the next five years.

A 12-week pilot course for officer qualification in EW has already been run. The colonel adds that the course length will be fine-tuned over the next two courses. Pilot courses for enlisted and warrant officer training also will be run in 2008. Important considerations will be selecting skills sets and coordinating their education and mission with other communities in the Army.

While the Army is planning its future, it is not yet considering standing up a separate cyberspace command. Col. Bircher explains that the ongoing analysis process will determine a range of cyberspace solutions for the service. It is up to the Army’s leadership to determine if an integrated command is necessary, he says.

Cyberspace operations also blend into information operations. As the team fleshes out the concept, a key consideration is how cyberspace affects the operating environment. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon R. England’s definition of cyberspace is “a global domain within the information environment consisting of interdependent networks of information technology structures, including the Internet, telecommunication networks, computer systems, embedded processors and controls.” The question is how to function in this environment, Col. Bircher remarks.

“It becomes an educational process for commanders—cyberspace is part of your operating environment. Accept it, embrace it and learn how to manipulate it to achieve desired effects,” the colonel maintains. Commanders can now use cyberspace to deliver capabilities, such as information, to achieve effects that they previously were unable to deliver. In the past, the only way to prevent an adversary from broadcasting propaganda was to destroy radio towers. Today, it is possible to manipulate or counter propaganda through cyberspace, Col. Bircher says.

In 2004, during national elections in Afghanistan, the Afghan government bought airtime with local telecommunications firms. When Afghan citizens turned on their cell phones, instead of receiving an icon from their telecommunications carrier, a message appeared telling them to register to vote. The message did not endorse any of the candidates, it only advised them to register to vote. “That’s a powerful method of delivering information through cyberspace in order to achieve the effect of having a valid presidential election as determined by the United Nations,” he says.

But challenges remain. The key hurdle is pulling together what had previously been disparate organizations and getting them to work together to create a unifying concept, explains Col. Bircher. “We are a nation at war, and we’re going to be a nation at war for the foreseeable future. Balancing the requirement to support soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are at war—in contact with the enemy today—while also developing what the Army needs to look like in seven years, is a huge challenge. The focus is often on what’s happening today, but if we don’t get what tomorrow looks like right, then we’re stuck with a bad solution,” he says.

Web Resources
U.S. Army Combined Arms Center:
U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command:
U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command:


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