Enabling Spectrum-Based Operations in a Cyber World
A road map could achieve true understanding of the realm.
Work is needed to improve temporal, spectral and information understanding within the layers of the cyber domain to facilitate useful cyber-spectral and information maneuver. These advances could be incorporated into tactics, techniques and procedures as well as tactical and operational systems to enhance the overall military commanders’ decision process to achieve information dominance.
Most of the tactical cyberspace domain is spectrum-dependent and administered solely at the physical layer. Currently, warfighters cannot comprehend, much less maneuver within, a space that is inaccessible to them because they are not in a dimensionality to understand it. They operate in a cyber-spectral flatland.
To address this issue, electronic warfare operators, radio frequency operators and spectrum managers must operationalize their activities. They must be able to provide assurance, awareness and real, timely courses of action commanders can understand, execute and maneuver within to defend freedom of action in this multidomain operational space. To get to this level of understanding and interaction, new ways are required to present this operational space to decision makers, commanders, operators and other spectrum-dependent parties.
Tools such as stock charts, heat maps and network links and nodes presented on computer displays can help elucidate non-spatial dimensions in formats that are generally understandable to human operators. Showing predictive analytic results on these same displays can assist commanders to see into the future and get ahead of the enemy’s observe, orient, decide and act (OODA) loop.
The critical question facing the cyber community is how to coordinate and collaborate across all layers of the cyber-spectral operational environment. Only in this way can spectrum management, electronic warfare, offensive and defensive cyberspace operations, and information operations be meaningful to warfare commanders and enhance their ability to defend the cyber-spectral terrain.
Understanding this battlespace is key to success. Operators dependent on spectrum must grasp how their requirements relate to each other and to other operations. Spectrum and cyber resource access cannot be managed effectively without incorporating some information about their usage. The goal would be to derive a common operational construct for integrating maneuver and defense of these tactical cyberspace domains across all the layers.
Spectrum has been described as a multidimensional construct comprising both physical and temporal dimensions as well as the signal dimension, which comprises frequency, power and modulation. Cyber spectrum can be described similarly by adding the information dimension to the definition.
A better understanding of the cyber-spectral operating environment requires incorporating the value of information into the management of limited cyber-spectral resources and integrating cyber-spectral activities into the broader operations context. The warfighters’ role must change from human-in-the-loop to human-on-the-loop or even human-outside-the-loop.
One way to look at integration of operations across these spaces is by defining the concept of influence more broadly, encompassing the difference between influencing a computer algorithm and influencing a human’s perspective. Hacking can digitally influence actions; information operations may influence decision-making; and electronic warfare influences radars and radios through denial, deception, degradation and disruption.
Assessing these influence types must be done in collaborative and mutually supportive ways to achieve influence of the target audience via any means possible. Which and how much data is dedicated to these activities provides a foundation for the value of the information being transported.
The need for coherence and coordination of cyber-spectral activities, referred to as cyber electromagnetic activities (CEMA) by the U.S. Army, becomes even more crucial as the OODA loop timeline shortens, in some cases reduced from hours or minutes to seconds or milliseconds. At this speed, a human operator cannot possibly participate in the OODA loop, and activities such as command and control become more like configure and constrain. This is especially true as more autonomy and cognition are applied to information operations, and the human’s role is simply to ensure computers act in compliance with and inside the boundaries defined by the warfare commander.
Commanders cannot initiate this OODA loop without the first steps: observe and orient. However, the electromagnetic operational environment cannot currently be fully understood because the observation of it is somewhat limited to emissions that do not offer the full range of perspectives. Much like constantly observing the surface of the Earth and the atmosphere surrounding it to understand and maneuver within three-dimensional space, persistently observing the multidimensional surface of cyber spectrum enables understanding and maneuverability within it.
Temporal improvements such as compressing the OODA loop can be achieved through better understanding of the domain. Commanders will be able to get ahead of an adversary’s OODA loop when provided with more persistent collection and understanding of cyber-spectral state across the domains; greater application of autonomy for course-of-action generation and selection; and thinking, planning, operating and visualizing within a predictive cyber-spectral environment. In addition, a mental shift from management to operations is necessary to ensure cyber-spectral operators are in or part of the fight.
Spectral improvements also can be realized through more optimal use of this scarce resource. Today, frequencies are generally allocated and, at times, modulation sharing and power control approaches are incorporated to facilitate greater sharing over space, time and spectrum. However, a mathematically rigorous time-variant model would optimize the transport of valuable information over all or any available transport. This model should incorporate a concept for co-residence of information on any transport as well as include communication, navigation, sensing and other spectrum- or transport-dependent operations.
Additionally, optimal and critical thresholds for determining how much of the transport is needed to ensure a mission is effective must be incorporated. Today, it is generally an all-or-nothing approach that is time, space and spectrum invariant except at gross scales such as days or kilometers. The optimal/critical boundaries illustrate when more resources won’t improve the situation and when fewer resources are completely worthless.
While electronic warfare operators, radio frequency operators and spectrum managers are shortening the OODA loops and enhancing the utilization of available transport media in a mathematically rigorous manner, they also need to roll out a cyber-spectral Internet of Things. An integration fabric must be created through which activity and state information can be shared among collectors, consumers, and spectrum- and cyber-dependent systems as well as across operational echelons in a flexible, scalable, distributed and decoupled manner. This will feed persistent awareness and allow for movement into the predictive cyber-spectral environment to get in front of the enemy’s OODA loop.
To leverage these temporal, spectral and interoperability improvements, information transfer needs must be mapped to available transport capacity. Essentially, the time-variant definitions for information value must be mapped to the mathematically described optimized transport. This could be one of the most difficult improvements to make because the commander’s intent determines the information’s value. Capturing a commander’s intent digitally to assign it a relative value is not straightforward.
Once electronic warfare operators, radio frequency operators and spectrum managers can comprehend, compute, optimize and visualize the cyber-spectral operational space, the military will be closer to maneuvering within it. These courses of action can be in more dimensions and time-variant and responsive to dynamic conditions, leading to additional opportunities and mechanisms to present dilemmas to the enemy, enabling both force projection and force protection. In addition, commanders will be able to identify opportunities for information maneuver by incorporating approaches such as content adaptation, content scaling and difference caching to expand into even more dimensions of action.
By continuing to implement capabilities in alignment with these and other related recommendations and advancements, the U.S. military will learn to truly maneuver within this complex operational space. It will do so in a manner that outpaces the enemy and exploits opportunities that are incomprehensible today. These capabilities will keep commanders, operators and other participants informed, aware and in the loop on the cyber-spectral battlefield of tomorrow.
Dustan Hellwig is the CEO and chief technology officer at Chesapeake Technology International. He has been working in the electronic warfare and nonkinetic warfare environment for more than 28 years.