The Threat Expands

May 16, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Online Show Coverage
E-mail About the Author

Joint Warfighting 2012 Online Show Daily: Day 2

Quote of the Day: “The worst case scenario might be the most likely scenario.”—Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The threat to the United States and its allies is greater than ever as destructive weapons become available to more hostile militaries as well as to smaller groups such as terrorists. These weapons can be kinetic or digital, as cyberspace offers the potential for a devastating attack on both the military and the homeland itself.

Defending against these security challenges will require cooperation among many defense, civil government, industry, academia and nongovernmental organizations. Some of the very assets that have improved both the military and society at large may be exploited by malefactors ranging from nation-states to terrorist cells.

These points were the basis for discussions on the second day of Joint Warfighting 2012. A power-packed program featuring two of the top military men in the United States set the stage for lively discussions that reached as far away as Afghanistan.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, describes security threats at Joint Warfighting 2012.  
The day’s opening speaker was Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Gen. Dempsey wasted little time in describing the nature of the security threat facing the United States and its military. He told the audience that the proliferation of more types of destructive weapons meant that the U.S. homeland will not be the sanctuary it has been before. In addition to the threat to the public, many of the global capabilities that underpin the U.S. military are operated from the homeland. Attacks on the U.S. cyber infrastructure or the power grid could disrupt military operations globally.

That point was raised later in a panel discussion that focused on cyber. An audience member asked how cyber could be a warfighting realm when it could not wreak destruction as kinetic weapons could. Vice Adm. Bernard J. McCullough III, USN (Ret.), former commander of the U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet, pointed out that a cyber attack could generate a kinetic effect.

Gen. Dempsey also allowed that the same networks underpinning U.S. forces could be turned against them by enemy cyber action. Foremost among this threat is the potential for a denial-of-service attack that renders the networks and their capabilities useless. U.S. forces face the possibility of not being able to operate without their networks, especially as both space and cyber are likely to be contested exponentially more than today.

“The worst-case scenario might be the most likely scenario,” he warned.

The key to forestalling disaster under this worse-case scenario lies in training, the general emphasized. U.S. forces must practice operating in degraded environments frequently so that they will not be hamstrung by the loss of their network assets.

Cyber is one of the four technology areas that the JCS chairman identified as necessary to achieve the goals outlined for Joint Force 2020. Saying that actual cyber capabilities are beginning to resemble science fiction, the general added that the military needs to pursue offensive and defensive capabilities throughout the force. The other three technologies are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance along with long-range strike; undersea technologies, in which the United States already is strong; and unmanned technologies, which are gaining in importance.

A later panel explored the use of unmanned vehicles, in terms of both capabilities and limitations. Autonomy may be the key to improvements in these types of vehicles, but it also raises issues that must be addressed as development proceeds.

Col. Timothy P. Healy, USA, of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, TRADOC, charged that today’s unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is more akin to a remotely piloted vehicle. Artificial intelligence (AI) is needed for UAVs to reach their full potential as autonomous craft, he said. But, what may be more important is the use of AI in data dissemination. Today’s UAVs flood the bandwidth with all the data they collect. As those vehicles become more ubiquitous and their sensors improve, their data flow will threaten to choke the available datalink pipes. AI will be necessary to sort through data and streamline it so that whatever is not critical does not need to be sent back to headquarters.

Col. Healy stated that, until true AI is achieved, planners will not be able to determine how unmanned aircraft can replace their manned counterparts. However, Dr. Norman Friedman, author of “Unmanned Air Combat Systems: A New Kind of Carrier Aviation,” emphasized that unmanned vehicles never will be completely autonomous, as responsibility for them must be assigned—a point with which Col. Healy agreed.

Audience members watch on two large viewscreens as Gen. John R. Allen, USMC, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, speaks via a video teleconference link from Afghanistan.
Nowhere have UAVs been more effective than in Southwest Asia, and Joint Warfighting 2012 attendees heard a report on Afghanistan from the top of the pyramid—Gen. John R. Allen, USMC, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Speaking to—and answering questions from—the audience via a video teleconference link from Afghanistan, Gen. Allen outlined the progress made in turning control of that country’s conflict to indigenous forces.

Gen. Allen outlined the steps being undertaken by ISAF to give the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) the lead in the campaign against the Taliban. The effort to build an effective ANSF is nearing fruition, he noted, as the ANSF should reach its goal of 352,000 members in a few months.

The ANSF increasingly is partnering with ISAF on combat patrols. Gen. Allen noted that about 90 percent of ISAF operations are partnered with the ANSF. A total of 40 percent of those actually are led by Afghans. All nighttime operations are partnered, he pointed out.

But it is the quality of the ANSF effort that is raising eyebrows—and hopes—among Afghans and ISAF members alike. Gen. Allen reported that the Afghans are surprised at how well they perform under battle when they lead the operation—and so are the ISAF forces who partner with the ANSF under their leadership. As the ANSF builds confidence among its members, its stock among the Afghan people also is rising. Gen Allen cited polls among the Afghan populace that show that the Afghan people now have high opinions of their new army, and they view it as a key institution for their society.

On Thursday, May 17 at Joint Warfighting 2012: A keynote address by the chief technology advocate of Google Ventures; a keynote luncheon discussion on the Air-Sea Battle; and a panel discussion on reconstitution vs. new acquisition.