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  • The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer anchors off the coast of Phuket, Thailand. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is advancing the quality of technology in multinational training exercises, so allies and partners can interoperate in cyber the way they might have to in regional operations. U.S. Navy photo
     The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer anchors off the coast of Phuket, Thailand. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is advancing the quality of technology in multinational training exercises, so allies and partners can interoperate in cyber the way they might have to in regional operations. U.S. Navy photo

Indo-Pacific Command Plays its Digital Card

The Cyber Edge
August 1, 2019
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Securing cyberspace is at the heart of regional security for dozens of nations.


The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is incorporating new cyber technologies and standards as it strives for greater interoperability among a growing number of allies and potential partners. This increased reliance on cyber is viewed by command leadership as essential for maintaining effective military capabilities in the face of a growing kinetic and cyber presence by diverse adversaries.

Readiness is the top priority for command’s J-6. This applies to command, control, communications and computers (C4) capabilities, capacities and resiliency as well as cybersecurity. Brig. Gen. Paul Fredenburgh III, USA, the outgoing director for command, control, communications and cyber, J-6, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), emphasizes that the command must be ready to respond fully to any crisis that erupts. “It’s the evolving tactics, techniques and procedures of zero-day exploits that we really are concerned about,” he says.

He states that INDOPACOM is hard at work enhancing readiness to fight today’s fight, and posturing the theater for future fights while improving existing capabilities through innovation and new technologies. The command’s current plans, coupled with the Defense Department’s focus on China, will empower INDOPACOM with greater capabilities, capacities and security over the next few years, Gen. Fredenburgh offers. “I think we will have the cyber capabilities required to enable our joint and combined multidomain operations.”

The command’s goal is “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” notes Gen. Fredenburgh. This includes unfettered access to seas, airways and cyberspace on which all nations depend to foster economic growth and prosperity. INDOPACOM’s deterrence against aggression is built around “a strong and lethal joint and combined force,” he states.

Three of the United States’ top adversarial states—China, Russia and North Korea—are part of the region, and both natural disasters and violent extremist organizations remain a concern. The general notes that the security environment has been transforming largely because of the digital information age. Cyber is increasingly contested and leveraged as an asymmetric means of influence from nation-states and nonstates as well.

He continues that networking and digital technology adapted to military applications has provided a competitive advantage on the modern battlefield. But proliferation and lower costs have opened up this technology to all types of adversaries and malicious cyber actors.

The nonstate threat comes from a variety of extremist organizations. Many are global in nature through their presence in cyberspace, which they use for recruiting and information dissemination as well as intelligence collection. “As this technology becomes cheaper and available, it’s being leveraged by these organizations to achieve their different goals,” the general says.“We run into this all the time and have to deal with it.” He emphasizes, however, that the most critical problems are those backed by nation-states.

North Korea continues to evolve and mature its capabilities, the general observes, noting the rogue nation has proved that it can impact the Indo-Pacific region. “It has not stopped leveraging cyber as an asymmetric means of advancing its interests, and it is not afraid to use it either,” he cautions.

At the top of this cyber exploitation are regional competitors who are using the capabilities to advance their repressive visions against sovereignty and independence, short of open warfare, Gen. Fredenburgh reports. “They have increasingly sophisticated cyber tools to undermine our economies with widespread theft of intellectual property,” he states. “They undermine democracies by propagating dissonance in democratic processes, and they challenge an open, interoperable, reliable and secure Internet—along with the opportunities to expand communication, commerce and free exchange of ideas. These adversaries that we face are doing a significant amount below the threshold of armed conflict,” Gen. Fredenburgh imparts. “In the cyber realm, there is a current and ongoing competition with our adversaries, in this domain especially. The evolution of that, as we continue to mature our capabilities in cyber, is probably the thing that has changed the most during my time [as INDOPACOM J-6].”

Cyber is at the heart of many of the region’s issues, and the command is counting on it to ensure allied forces maintain superiority over adversaries. INDOPACOM’s cyber strategy emphasizes backing the region’s joint and combined force with a secure, interoperable network architecture, the general states. Cyber capabilities and effects are incorporated into the joint force commander’s plans and multidomain operations, he adds, to provide diversity in mission-critical areas.

The command has four cyber priorities. The first is to improve readiness through cyberspace via resilient communications. Gen. Fredenburgh says this entails providing command and control across the full range of military operations, including a denied, degraded or contested environment. “Execution of our operational plans demands the warfighter has resilient, joint, combined warfighting C4 and cyber effects capable of prevailing in any type of environment in that we equip them with the right cyber capabilities and authorities down to the tactical edge,” he declares.

Accordingly, the command has focused heavily on cybersecurity and defensive cyber operations, the general continues. The link between both types of forces has been strengthened to operational requirements and priorities. A key to this effort is enhanced situational awareness tools, which would accelerate decision making and improve cyber incident handling processes. A related thrust aims as deepening relationships with ally and partner military cyber forces, he adds.

Given the diversity of networking technologies over the vast region, the command is innovating by “taking the threat-informed technological research and development approach” to enhancing communications, the general offers. Vital technologies include protected satellites, enhanced encryption, multiple bands for diversity and dynamic planning tools, he adds. Terrestrial infrastructure improvements already underway focus on increased capacity, security and survivability.

The second priority is to modernize full-spectrum cyber capabilities for multidomain operations. The force must have a network security architecture that can ensure essential elements such as command and control (C2), intelligence, situational awareness, decision making, fire support, logistics and collaboration among forces. The enabling technologies for this priority include a virtually distributed, cloud-based infrastructure, analytics and artificial intelligence, Gen. Fredenburgh says.

The third priority is to enhance regional interoperability. The goal is to enable the militaries of the diverse partners and allies to operate as a unified force in the region, the general says. The focus is on the seamless and secure exchange of tactical and operational information among individual forces. To deter the shared cyber threats in the region, INDOPACOM is building out the Mission Partner Environment in conjunction with the Joint Staff and the Defense Department, Gen. Fredenburgh notes.

The fourth priority is to increase the presence of advanced capabilities at training exercises. The force that can rapidly adapt commercial technologies to military operations will have a battlefield advantage, the general observes. This effort will include collaboration with industry, academia and the defense industrial base to incorporate advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, the cloud, identity management, data-level encryption and network reconstitution capabilities.

Overall, atop the command’s wish list for commercial technologies are analytics and artificial intelligence, the general offers. “As we look at how we can speed up our situational awareness, understanding and decision processes … as technology improves, it is going to be a critical objective to keep that decision superiority advantage in place,” he states. In turn, cloud-based technologies are important enablers of these capabilities. Key technologies for INDOPACOM also would allow resiliency in its networks, the general continues.

Gen. Fredenburgh relates that a recent coalition interoperability forum focused on identity management. The command must leverage identity management with data-level encryption to control access to, and dissemination of, information by authorized parties. Allies and partners must be able to share information at the appropriate level while simultaneously denying it to an adversary, he reiterates.

And arrangements with various partners continue to evolve. In addition to the Five Eyes partnership—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States—INDOPACOM is sharing information to an increasing degree with other nations. The United States maintains separate security treaties with Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, and it has recently increased its agreements with India. The United States and India are the world’s two biggest democracies, the general points out, and they are aligned in terms of the values needed for a critical strategic partnership. He sees this relationship growing and maturing, with India a natural partner for the United States in the Indo-Pacific region—“a tremendous opportunity for our two countries,” he emphasizes.

As the command is negotiating agreements and building interoperability with its different mission partners, it is using the same set of technical standards, the general states. He compares these standards to those of NATO. This standards-based approach will enable easier consolidation of different national networks, he notes.

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