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Look Upward and Inward for the Crux of the Next Battle

Space and cyber, and their effects, may be the keys to prevailing in future conflict.
A panel of -6s from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command organizations discuss the importance of the space and cyber domains. Credit: Bob Goodwin Photography

A panel of -6s from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command organizations discuss the importance of the space and cyber domains. Credit: Bob Goodwin Photography

Widespread changes among the military services are leading to a return to core missions complemented by a greater emphasis on new technology realms. As a result, back to basics is flavored by space and cyber domains that pose challenges of their own.

A panel of -6s from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) organizations outlined these challenges on the third day of TechNet Indo-Pacific 2019, held November 19-21 in Honolulu. Led by the INDOPACOM J-6, Maj. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, USAF, the panelists addressed a number of challenges facing their organizations and the U.S. military at large.

“If there is a next fight, it will be won in space and cyber,” declared Robert Stephenson, N6, U.S. Pacific Fleet. He added, “The next fight is going to be maneuver warfare, like in World War II, and we’re going to have to maneuver in space and cyber in the same way.”

Space largely means satellite communications (SATCOM), and the panelists offered varying perspectives on it. “Commercial SATCOM is an integral part of future operations,” Gen. Skinner offered. Stephenson addressed the use of nongeosynchronous commercial SATCOM, saying that it is a challenge because forces will need new types of antennas or tracking systems. However, the military is watching industry developments in densely populated low-earth-orbit constellations closely, he added.

He warned against too much reliance on commercial SATCOM, recalling how NBC bought up all the Pacific SATCOM time during the Sydney Olympics in 2000. “The Olympics are coming up in Japan next year, and we’re going to be competing against a major media market for the communications satellites,” Stephenson pointed out.

Cyber has its own issues, especially in multidomain operations. Col. Joseph E. Delaney, USMC, Information Environment Directorate, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, pointed out, “The biggest impediment is not understanding the entire information domain and its effects on operations.”

Col. Roy Rockwell, USAF, deputy chief information officer, Pacific Air Forces, noted, “We have to capture, curate and share the data among our mission partners.” And Col. Lisa Whittaker, USA, deputy director, G-6, U.S. Army Pacific, asked, “In an all-domain operation, how to we maintain convergence? There are multiple opportunities with industry, but at the end of the day they must be policy-compliant.”

Col. Delaney described how the Marine Corps is modernizing by eliminating some entire functions. “We are divesting ourselves of some major capabilities that will shock you, and we are investing in others. We’re doing away with tanks, we’re doing away with others. With these changes, we’ll be able to [modernize] fiscally."