• Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, USN, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6), reviews the complexity of information warfare.
     Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, USN, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6), reviews the complexity of information warfare.
  • Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, outlines Marine Corps efforts to out-innovate adversaries
     Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, outlines Marine Corps efforts to out-innovate adversaries
  • Discussing how to prevail in the gray zone are (l-r) panel moderator Kathleen Hicks, director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies; Vice Adm. John D. Alexander, USN; Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, USN; Vice Adm. Fred M. Midgette, USCG; Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, USN; and Nina Hachigian, former ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
     Discussing how to prevail in the gray zone are (l-r) panel moderator Kathleen Hicks, director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies; Vice Adm. John D. Alexander, USN; Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, USN; Vice Adm. Fred M. Midgette, USCG; Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, USN; and Nina Hachigian, former ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Competition to Innovate Better Than Adversaries

February 8, 2018
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Peers and near-peers have shown initiative; now the United States must respond.


West 2018, SIGNAL Magazine Show Daily, Day 2

Quote of the Day:

The world’s most powerful military, built in part through technology revolution, now finds itself challenged by adversaries who have taken their own revolutionary steps to seize the military high ground. The United States faces the task of retaking that high ground through new methods and capabilities that would restore supremacy in combat. Innovation is the currency, and the stakes are high.

Speakers and panelists returned to this theme throughout day two of West 2018, being held February 6-8 in San Diego. The changing nature of conflict has compelled planners to be more flexible in their outlooks as they meet new challenges and plan for potential future

The already-complex Marine Corps mission is about to become more intricate as the Corps strives to incorporate new methods of warfighting and countering enemy capabilities. Viewing adversaries has given the Corps a glimpse of the future, and major changes may lie over the horizon.

These points were hammered home by Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, USMC, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, speaking at the morning keynote address. From amphibious assaults to information warfare, the Marines are incorporating new capabilities that will lead to an entirely new way of waging combat, the general allowed.

Planners have studied peer activities, particularly Russian operations in Ukraine, for a look at what they may expect in future conflicts. “Anywhere we go, we are going to be contested,” Gen. Walsh declared. “We would probably struggle in the complex environment [such as in Ukraine].”

“A key part of our force is out-innovating our adversaries,” he declared.

One step taken by the Corps is to stand up Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) information groups that pulled together all elements of the information environment. Gen. Walsh observed that the structure is in place, and training and equipment will follow. Demand for participating in and support from these groups will be high.

He pointed out that the F-35 is a complete game-changer for the Marine Corps and the Navy. “We’re learning a lot with the F-35B that will help with the F-35C on the carriers,” he allowed. The aircraft’s sensor suite will change the way maritime and littoral forces fight. Even reconnaissance may change substantially in the future, and this in turn will change the way Marines operate.

“When you shift gears to a high-end [combat], it changes your training and changes your force,” he warranted.

The Navy is facing uncertainty as it girds for information warfare. New technologies, capabilities and tactics will be necessary for it to prevail in that burgeoning arena. But while some needs are obvious, the course for the overall way ahead remains elusive.

Explaining the complicated nature of naval information warfare was Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, USN, deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6). The admiral outlined a series of challenges and potential options, beginning with the state of the realm.

“The cost of entry is low to our adversaries, so you have a changing nature of warfare,” she said. The network is at the heart of information warfare.

“We need to have sensors, weapons and platforms that can talk to each other. That is what we mean by a networked fleet,” she declared, adding, “We must create our networks and operate them so if something goes wrong, we can isolate that and continue to operate other parts of the network.”

The admiral cited three priorities: assured command, control and communications; battlespace awareness; and integrated fires, including electronic warfare (EW) and cyberwarfare, along with the links that bring them together. She observed that the Navy has had glimpses of being in a contested EW environment, but it is not an everyday concern.

Adm. Tighe emphasized the importance of command and control (C2), citing nuclear forces as an example. “We have to modernize our nuclear C2 if we are to modernize our nuclear capabilities effectively,” she declared.

Obtaining good people for information warfare is a challenge. The Navy must vie with industry for quality, and industry offers much more money for talented professionals. Adm. Tighe described one way the service hopes to recruit and retain the personnel it needs.

“We are not going to be able to meet the price point offered by the private sector. So, to get good people, we are trying something new: give them the training they need, put them on an important mission, and get out of their way,” she said.

One of the areas where information warfare is being felt is the gray zone, which is the name for a state of conflict that is neither peace nor war. As if the changing nature of warfare didn’t pose a big enough challenge, U.S. security is challenged by peer and near-peer nations operating just below the threshold of conflict. Some areas of contention literally have no rules, while others are constantly shifting and posing a dilemma for uniformed and civilian planners alike.

Operating in the gray zone was the focal point of a panel comprising military and civilian experts. Their discussion largely focused on challenges, but some potential solutions were offered as these leaders exchanged views on this undefined domain.

Nina Hachigian, former ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, emphasized the importance of diplomacy in pursuit of security gains. “You need diplomacy to frame the narrative,” she declared. Noting that Russian cyber attacks were distributed all across Europe, she added, “We could now be banding with our European colleagues against Russia.”

Vice Adm. John D. Alexander, USN, commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet, said that working with partners and allies in the region is key to getting at the ambiguous parts of the gray zone. Technology can play a major role in helping personnel deal with the gray zone. He predicted “a marked increase in virtual training” that will improve gray zone tactics.

“The next big step for us is to get into AI and predictive intelligence,” the admiral offered.

That sentiment was echoed by Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, USN, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command. “He who dominates AI is he who is going to dominate the decision space,” the admiral offered, also agreeing with Adm. Alexander that the virtual world will play a major role in dealing with the gray zone.

Malicious activity in cyberspace is a good indicator of what is going on in the gray zone, noted Vice Adm. Michael M. Gilday, USN, commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and commander, 10th Fleet. “You can purchase malware as a service. So, if you want to buy an attack, you can buy an attack,” he noted. The admiral observed that cyberspace lacks international norms, which makes deterrence confounding.

One of the leading players in the gray zone is China, and panelists cited the country’s flaunting of international norms and laws as it pursues its own national agenda. Hachigian said that China doesn’t want to be isolated or called out, and the United States can work on that point. However, different elements within the United States have different ideas of whether to confront or work with China. “We have such a complex relationship with China, trying to get our entire government on the same page is a challenge,” she said.

One discussion point focused on how the United States never ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China throws at the United States when accused of violating international maritime norms. Adm. Alexander pointed out, “We didn’t ratify the Law of the Sea, but we follow it. China ratified it, but they ignore it. So who’s right and wrong?”

 

On the final day of West 2018:

An address by James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition; a panel discussion on hyperwar; and a luncheon town hall featuring the sea service chiefs and led by Adm. James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.), dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

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