Army Battles Adversaries, Limitations in Cyberspace

May 1, 2017
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The service is waging combat against digital enemies that may be out of reach.


U.S. laws and the lack of a firm national cybersecurity policy are restricting the Army’s actions in its around-the-clock battle against dangerous cyber adversaries. The service lacks the authority to engage in activities that truly resolve digital conflicts, although it could earn the authority through its ongoing efforts. The Army is challenged to both streamline its fight against cyberthreats and exploit continually changing technologies.

These were among the assessments of Gen. Robert B. Abrams, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command, in his keynote address at the recent AFCEA Army Signal Conference in Springfield, Virginia. Gen. Abrams told members of the overflow audience to look no further than Crimea or Ukraine for lessons on the importance of cyber in today’s military operations.

“There is a raging war going on in the cyber domain 24/7,” he declared.

Anyone who can access the network is duty-bound to defend it, said Gen. Abrams, who also addressed the offensive side of cyber operations. Presently, the Army’s hands are tied. When the service identifies a threat and wants to shut it down, officials must ask the president for permission. The Army must work to obtain the authority to strike against cyber attackers when it needs to, the general offered. And it is possible to do that. “We have to earn policy makers’ trust, and we can by demonstrating that we can be responsible in this domain,” he warranted.

Gen. Abrams praised the ability of young Army personnel dealing with cyber at the tactical level, admitting that he was converted by seeing them in action during cyber pilots at combat training centers. “Our digital natives get it. They see the power; they see the potential,” he offered. “We must have cyber capability at echelon.”

His call comes as the service is experiencing a digital convergence. Electronic warfare (EW), cyber and space all will be competitive in the battlespace, said Lt. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Understanding that environment is more important than ever, he emphasized. EW “is absolutely necessary for future warfare,” he declared. “The [electromagnetic spectrum] is like any other environment out there, but we don’t have an appreciation of that spectrum.”

The force will need an effective converged mission network to combat the new capabilities enemies are developing and wielding. “If we can’t protect our network, we provide our enemy a lot more advantage than they could gain,” Gen. Lundy pointed out. Echoing his remarks, Mark Kitz, director of System of Systems Engineering, Program Executive Office for Intelligence, EW and Sensors (PEO IEW&S), said the Army must move toward multifunctional EW as cyber, EW and intelligence converge in the battlespace.

The virtual domains of space and cyber become more important every day, added Seth Spoenlein, associate director for Technology, Planning and Outreach, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate. Unfortunately, U.S. enemies know that too. Addressing spectrum challenges will depend on the physics of the different regions where the Army operates, he said.

Gary Martin, PEO for Command, Control, Communications–Tactical (C3T), explained that the Army is working to reduce the logistical footprint of its communications systems, particularly the Warfighter Information Network–Tactical (WIN-T), to improve mobility. Future radios will be able to sense a network’s existence. In a couple of years, if a radio can sense a network but cannot join it, it will receive the products it needs to do so, he said.

Gen. Lundy said the Army needs better mobile communications that are easier to set up and use on the move. The general noted a gap between FM line-of-sight radio and satellite communications, and he asked for a solution to fill it.

Industry must be the source of many of these advances, and the general called for empowering the commercial sector. “We need to give industry the opportunity to provide us with options because there are a lot of options out there,” he stated.

Yet amid all the calls for future technologies and capabilities, Lewis Shepherd, executive consultant on advanced technologies for Deloitte Consulting, had one word of advice for people trying to predict the future: Don’t. Change is happening too dynamically to foresee with accuracy what lies over the horizon, he said. Network capabilities are growing exponentially, and no one can predict where this will lead anymore than the founders of the ARPANet could have foreseen today’s Internet.

The Defense Department’s third offset strategy, which will combine artificial intelligence and machine learning with personal combat, is one example of how a rapidly approaching future will prove revolutionary. “The third offset is the way the Defense Department and the U.S. Army are going to fight and win the wars of the future,” Shepherd stated.

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