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  • Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, alongside Iraqi security forces, fire artillery at known Islamic State of Iraq and Syria locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border. The annual Cyber Quest experiment, which focused this year on cyber situational understanding, is designed to evaluate prototypical technologies and deliver systems to warfighters sooner. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV
     Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, alongside Iraqi security forces, fire artillery at known Islamic State of Iraq and Syria locations near the Iraqi-Syrian border. The annual Cyber Quest experiment, which focused this year on cyber situational understanding, is designed to evaluate prototypical technologies and deliver systems to warfighters sooner. Army photo by Spc. Anthony Zendejas IV

Army to Issue Cyber Quest Report Soon

The Cyber Edge
June 27, 2018
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

The experiment focuses on cyber situational awareness.


U.S. Army officials conducting the third annual Cyber Quest experiment, which ends today, will issue a report in about 30 days that will determine which of the systems involved will transfer to programs of record. The exercise consists of an array of systems, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, that help provide situational understanding of the cyber and electronic warfare realms.

Cyber Quest is led by the Army Cyber Center of Excellence. It allows the service to assess prototypes and is designed to identify and improve the delivery of advanced cyber, electronic warfare and signal technologies to the warfighter. Technologies from 20 vendors were integrated into simulated combat operations during the June 11-27 assessment and demonstration period at Fort Gordon.

The primary focus for this year’s experiment was on enhancing the understanding of the cyber situation. Maj. Gen. John B. Morrison, USA, commander of the Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon, Georgia., explained to reporters in a June 22 press briefing that it can be challenging to understand what is happening in the cyber realm. Some of the tools evaluated during Cyber Quest offer that visibility and allow a greater understanding of cyber and cyber forces—whether friendly, enemy or something in between—and how that all relates to the greater operational picture.

“Cyber is something amorphous. You can’t really see it. You can’t overlay it onto what you’re trying to accomplish operationally. Some of these tools actually will overlay what is happening in cyberspace … onto what a unit is trying to accomplish,” Gen. Morrison said. “That is pretty powerful because now you can see effects that are happening, both enemy and friendly, in cyberspace, but you can also see where it may be hindering your scheme of maneuvers.”

The officials noted that warfighters simply do not have time to analyze the vast reams of available data. “The unit is conducting tactical operations, and it’s not like we’re setting cyber and electronic warfare off to the side,” Gen. Morrison elaborated. “Units don’t have time to try to figure things out manually in a fight. We need some level of machine learning or artificial intelligence to help move things along.”  

Col. Steven D. Rehn, USA, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) capability manager for cyber, said many of the vendors also found the experiment to be a learning opportunity. Most, he explained, are more familiar with large commercial enterprise networks than with smaller tactical networks. “The network itself is relatively small compared to what they’re used to in a commercial space. However, the volume, velocity and variety of the data that we use for a similarly sized network in the commercial space is exponentially larger,” Col. Rehn stated. “That produces an interesting challenge for them to attack the problem from a cyber defense standpoint.”

Col. Mark Dotson, USA, TRADOC capabilities manager for electronic warfare, said he was impressed with a technology that allows the remote reprogramming of sensors from a tactical operations center (TOC). “The software enables us to remotely reprogram sensors from different vendors off of a situational awareness tool in the TOC. The reason that’s so important to us is it means the first step toward being able to look at other services’ equipment, equipment from different years with different software in it, and being able to remotely tell that equipment to change what it’s doing within the spectrum.”

Col. Dotson also touted a long-range high-frequency radio direction finding capability. “We’ve been able to direction find from high-frequency radios out to Japan and Germany just in the last couple of days. That’s important for us as we look for longer-range targets,” he offered.

The Army tweaked this year’s Cyber Quest, making it more of a joint effort with the Marine Corps and with the intelligence function.  The 9th Communications Battalion from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force participated, as did the Army Intelligence Center of Excellence.

The Army, Gen. Morrison said, is going to “up its game” with its intelligence partners. “Intel is a critical enabler for everything we do in cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum,” he said. “The Army is on a track to really start delivering integrated capabilities and integrated formations. The key to that is bringing together cyber operators, electronic warfare professionals and intel professionals, and putting them together into a combined unit.”

Those joint efforts will continue to grow, the general said, because “when it comes to cyberspace and electronic warfare, it will absolutely be a joint fight.”

The ultimate goal is to better enable to the warfighting commanders. “What we’re really talking about providing to a maneuver commander is the ability to conduct combined arms maneuvers in and through cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum,” Gen. Morrison said.

The latest Cyber Quest experiment differed in other ways as well. It shifted the focus from network dependencies to the operational requirements of cyber and electronic warfare, the general reported. “Our real focus has been getting capabilities into the hands of soldiers and getting direct user feedback,” the general said. In one case, a vendor made 25 changes in about a week, based on soldier feedback, the officials reported.

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