Speed of Cyber Is Not Always in Milliseconds
U.S. Army officials offer lessons learned from the third annual Cyber Blitz.
The U.S. Army’s Cyber Blitz experimental exercise September 17-28 turned out to be an eye-opener for one maneuver officer regarding cyber’s capabilities on the battlefield.
Military leaders often describe the “speed of cyber” as being measured in milliseconds or microseconds, which means the operations tempo in the cyber realm is incredibly high and decisions are made rapidly. But an offensive cyber campaign can sometimes take much longer than maneuver commanders might expect. In a teleconference with reporters to discuss Cyber Blitz results, Lt. Col. John Newman, USA, deputy commanding officer, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, reports that the experiment proved to be a revelation.
“Dealing with the speed of [cyber] was one of the biggest lessons learned as the maneuver force because not everything is in milliseconds. If I’m asking for a certain effect—maybe it is to degrade a communications platform—that may be something that can be done remotely very, very quickly with a few keystrokes, or it may be something that takes multiple hours or potentially days to accomplish,” Col. Newman says. “It’s all too easy for me as a maneuver officer to think it is just a few keyboard strokes, and it is just a quick finger snap, and this effect will be rendered on the enemy. This experiment for me was a very good eye-opener to help understand not everything goes as quickly in that realm as I may think it does.”
Another lesson learned is that every service member will need to understand cyber electromagnetic activity (CEMA) lingo. “With the advent of CEMA on the battlefield, all [military occupational skills], all warfighting functions need to be CEMA literate. They need to be able to speak the lexicon and understand what is being spoken to them,” says Richard Wittstruck, the Cyber Blitz director with the Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC). “That does not mean that every warfighting function needs to be a CEMA expert. Only those [military occupational skills] that are operating on a daily basis with that expertise and proficiency would need to go much deeper.”
Wittstruck also stresses the need to allow commanders to visualize the CEMA battlefield. They are accustomed to maps showing troop strength and movement, movements of displaced civilians, and other major elements on the battlefield. But they cannot yet visualize where the enemy is “hiding in spectrum,” has the “spectrum high ground” or is “vulnerable in spectrum,” he says.
Commanders will have to learn how to visualize and understand the adversary’s intent in spectrum operations and how that correlates with the scheme of maneuver on the traditional battlefield, Wittstruck indicates.
Lt. Col. Wayne Sanders, USA, a CEMA assessor with Army Cyber Command, says service members also learned about the degree of cooperation and support needed between cyber and other elements, such as intelligence, operations and signal. Those lessons learned will inform Army doctrine regarding CEMA operations. “All of those are really key. These are your combat multipliers when you have those working together,” Col. Sanders offers. The lessons learned will allow senior leaders to make informed decisions on such matters as additional capabilities, authorities, processes and targeting requirements, he adds.
This exercise was the third annual Cyber Blitz. The Army adds elements and levels of complexity each time. This year included an expeditionary CEMA team; an intelligence, cyber, electronic warfare and space detachment known as an IQ team; and an Army special operations detachment. It was held in cooperation with Valiant Shield, an exercise in the Pacific Ocean.
The experiment was set in the 2025 time frame and tested the ability of cyber and electronic warfare forces to influence combat conditions. The scenario included U.S. forces moving into another country to push out a near-peer threat and re-establish the border. It included an air assault, but before the mission, cyber and electronic warfare soldiers helped “set the conditions for that air assault to happen,” Col. Newman reports.
Army officials note that Cyber Blitz is a learning event, not a graded training exercise. “This is something I foot stomp to the troops when they come in is that they’re fighting to learn. They’re being given an opportunity to try new things with new capabilities to see how well they can combat a regional peer,” Wittstruck says.