Leaders Share Perspectives From the European Theater
The geopolitical environment, the constant barrage of adversarial cyber attacks and Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine has prompted European nations to take steps and protections, some not necessarily seen before. For Brig. Gen. Karol Molenda, Polish military, commander of Polish Cyber Command, who became the new institution’s first commander in 2022, growing his country’s cyber capabilities in short order was a priority.
In just a few years, the country has become sixth in the world in terms of cyber capabilities, according to the Cyber Defense Index. The cyber leader is also guiding on a world stage, as the latest chairman of the international Cyber Commander’s Forum, which brings together allied military cyber leaders, such as U.S. Army Gen. Paul Nakasone.
As Poland faces a constant, hostile digital environment, their approach has been to bring together military institutions responsible for information technology (IT), cyber and cryptography, Gen. Molenda said. “We created a unit that is capable of providing networks, IT services, encryption, cybersecurity and cyber effects to all of the Polish armed forces. And we knew that we needed to invest in people. We created an environment, and we created a place where they could gain the extra knowledge and skills needed. And we created a high-school cybersecurity [program] to build the talent.”
Knowing that the country needed “an appropriate level of knowledge to support us,” the Polish military turned to partners at the U.S. European Command in 2019. “That helped a lot,” he said. “Thanks for this cooperation. Thanks for sharing information and knowledge and showing us the ropes. We were able to speed up, and we established our Cyber Command in less than three years.”
The Polish military’s cyber force now includes 6,000 plus soldiers, the general continued, adding, “and we were lucky enough to do it before the war in Ukraine.”
He advised that in the cyber realm, it is most important to understand your adversary. “You need to know your enemy better than they know themselves,” the Polish commander said. “You need to know how they operate, know their vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and also their tactics, techniques and procedures.”
Russia constitutes the majority of adversarial cyber action against Poland. “Russia’s main goal in conducting cyber influence and hybrid operations is to divide the rest of the world and to make us weaker,” Gen. Molenda explained.
As such, the Polish military had to change its security approach from a reactive stance to proactive. “We started to counter our adversaries in our network and in our environment, creating the appropriate levels [of security] to make our networks safe,” he said. “We also know their ambitions, we know the aspirations, we know their mentality. We have learned over the last 10 years of their history, and some of those years were tough for us. But we are doing our best to prepare ourselves to admonish the adversary and be very careful in our relations with Russia.”
And while the United States is pursuing the concept of Joint All-Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, its application on a global scale would have to involve allies and partners. That type of solution applied to Europe—or elsewhere in the world—could even be called ‘CJADC3’–adding coalition and communications to the moniker, said Brig. Gen. Chad Raduege, USAF, the J6, U.S. European Command.
“I endorse that ‘C3,’.… and adding in the critical component of communications,” he said. “But I don’t think that goes far enough. Because I think we limit ourselves when we talk about ‘Joint All-Domain Command and Control, and Communications.’ What I really think we need, and what I emphasize in the daily circuit in the European Theater, is to put another ‘C’ in front for coalition. The reality is that we don’t fight as a single service, and we certainly don’t fight as the United States alone.”
BG Jarmo Vähätiitto, Chief of C5 for the Finnish Army's Defence Command: Russia’s war in Ukraine has dramatically changed the security environment in Europe, and for Finland that shares an 850-mile border w/Russia, that means it keeps our readiness high in all areas #RMCS23 pic.twitter.com/W45DNkobGv— Kimberly Underwood (@Kunderwood_SGNL) February 23, 2023
In June in Bydgoszcz, Poland, NATO countries, including the United States, will be working to increase integrated coalition operations, multinational cybersecurity and information sharing. “There's an interoperability exercise we call CWIX, the Coalition for Warrior Interoperability eXercise,” Gen. Raduege continued. “It has evolved over the years, and it is the world's largest interoperability exercise. This year, we're going to have about 25 different nations that will come together and about 1,500 experts that are working through interoperability and information sharing.”
In Finland, Brig. Gen. Jarmo Vähätiitto is the chief of C5 (Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Cyber) for the Finnish army's Defence Command. Being in such proximity with Russia, sharing an 850-mile border with the adversary, makes it a complex environment for Finland to negotiate, the C5 chief said. However, the country has now squarely aligned itself with NATO and its allies, applying last spring, along with Sweden, to become the 31st and 32nd members of NATO.
Finland also will purchase U.S. F-35 Lighting II aircraft from the United States, a move that will further the partnership, if done well. “Finland has made a decision to invest in technology that is manufactured in the United States,” Gen. Raduege said. “Most notably the F-35. The F-35s are coming to the European Theater in a big way. And so, there is a long sustainment tail and production timeline that we need to make sure that we get right with Finland.”
The Eastern Scandinavian country has learned firsthand from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the destruction of critical infrastructure that protection against such kinetic measures is vital. In fact, those capabilities have to be combined with cyber defenses. “We should be prepared for a combination of soft and hard power in Europe,” Gen. Vähätiitto stated. “We need cyber defense. Absolutely, we need it. But cyber by itself is not enough.”
Finland has a very strong national pride, the general explained. “About 85% of our population is ready to defend Finland with arms,” he said. “I think that the will to defend is our most important strategy.” The general sees how important that will is, as witnessed from Ukraine’s inspiring stance in defending its country, even though it is much smaller than its invader. “Ukraine has about 10 operational brigades and 4 brigades on the battlefield,” Gen. Vähätiitto noted. “Russia has over 100 battle groups in Ukraine that issue 20,000 artillery rounds every single day.”
BG Karol Molenda, Cmdr, Cyber Command, Polish Military: Russia does not play. They are targeting our critical infrastructure. In the last year their level of cyber attacks on Poland increased in magnitude as we work to support Ukraine and democracy #RMCS23 @AFCEARMC @AFCEA pic.twitter.com/2Jj2AURWDf— Kimberly Underwood (@Kunderwood_SGNL) February 23, 2023
The Netherland’s Mietta Groeneveld, a colonel in the Royal Netherlands Army, and director of NATO’s Command and Control Centre of Excellence, explained how NATO has needed to shift militarily, to become a stronger alliance. “In 2019, the French president [Emmanuel Macron] declared NATO brain-dead,” she said. “Of course, that needs some explanation. He warned that European countries really cannot rely on the United States to come to our defense. He questioned whether the deterrent effect of Article 5 would be [enough] with all the other increasing threats, and he was worried about fading European unity.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the mindset of NATO countries has shifted, with military increases both domestically and to the alliance, Col. Groeneveld noted. “We can say that unity has proven to be quite strong. We have seen some significant changes. The war has been a wake-up call for all European nations to increase their defense spending. In fact, we have seen the largest defense budget increases in our history by several orders of magnitude. NATO has also increased our defense budget by 40%.”
The colonel observed that while NATO’s political alliance is robust, the military side of the alliance still needs to evolve further. While the alliance has added multidomain operations as a priority, has agreed in concept to a new force model, and is recognizing China for the first time as an adversary, NATO military should bolster its defense, including in the cyber realm, and take concrete steps to evolve its force. “It's fair to say that NATO’s political is very, very strong,” she emphasized. “Now, NATO’s military side, it has to step up a little bit.”
NATO must realize that just existing is not enough of a deterrence, that the alliance must become more sophisticated as a fighting force, Col. Groeneveld said.
“It is our main goal, of course, to defend, but also to deter,” she stated. “That fight for deterrence is today. And it is a little bit of a struggle for NATO. That deterrence, we always thought it would be enough to deter just by showing that you have a lot of troops."
“We have to remember that Ukraine is fighting not only for its freedom but also for ours,” Gen. Molenda stated.