The Navy’s primary cyber outfit released its strategic plan for the next five years, a document that calls for using the service’s networks as a warfighting platform.

The document, released by 10th Fleet/Fleet Cyber Command in late July, covers the range of responsibility of the command, which is the only fleet with a global footprint in all the military domains, to include cyberspace operations, signals intelligence and recently, the Navy’s component to U.S. Space Command.

Much has changed since the last strategic plan was published in 2015, namely, the rampant activity of adversaries on a daily basis below the threshold of armed conflict to strategically harm the United States.

“The long term competition we face today is between democracies and authoritarian regimes, freedom of navigation, and access to shared world markets. Our long-term strategic competitors are executing strategic cyber activities to alter the international order. This will not let up,” the document read.

It added that adversaries learned the military’s game but now the military must learn the adversary’s game and play it on their terms.

“Historically, to undermine a state’s power required territorially-focused, overt armed attacks or physical invasion. While that is and will always remain a possibility, technology has provided our adversaries with the ability to achieve their objectives without traditional military force,” the document read. “Currently, our adversaries are engaging us in cyberspace and the costs are cumulative – each intrusion, hack or leak may not be strategically consequential on its own, but the compounding effects are tantamount to what would have been considered an act of war.”

The Navy, and military by extension, must be prepared to contest this activity.

“I am certain the opening rounds of a 21st century great power conflict, particularly one impacting the maritime domain, will be launched in the electromagnetic, space, or cyber domains. If the Navy is to fight and win, Navy networks must be able to survive those hits and ‘fight hurt,’” Vice Adm. Timothy White, who rarely speaks publicly, said in the forward to the strategy. “Our people must be trained and exercised to fight through those hits. This contest spans the continuum of competition and conflict. We must win this contest during the day-to-day competition of ‘peacetime operations,’ where our networks are already in close contact, under constant probing and attack. If we do not, we will be at a severe disadvantage during crisis and lethal combat.”

The plan, which continues to nest within the Navy’s overarching vision of Distributed Maritime Operations, features a three pronged vision; acting first in full spectrum information warfare, fighting and winning in a fully contested battlespace and promoting modernization and innovation.

Moreover, the plan tweaks the five goals outlined in the previous strategic plan 2015-2020. They include:

  • Operating the network as a warfighting platform: Following several high profile network breaches, the Navy must tighten the screws on its IT. Fleet Cyber is responsible for operating, maintaining and defending the network and as part of that, service leaders recognize they must “fight hurt” when networks are strained. They are also working ton establish greater cyber situational awareness across the service and reduce the intrusion attack surface.
  • Conducting fleet cryptologic warfare: Fleet Cyber published its cryptologic cyber warfare vision in 2019. As part of the new strategy, command officials said they will seek to expand and enhance capabilities in distributed signals intelligence as part of its contribution to Distributed Maritime Operations.
  • Delivering warfighting capabilities and effects: Fleet Cyber wants to expand how it delivers effects on the battlefield to include accelerating and synchronizing information warfare capabilities across Maritime Operations Centers, advancing integration of cyber effects into Navy and Marine Corps concepts and creating tactical cyber teams along with a maritime fires cell to provide expertise across the fleet for delivering cyber effects.
  • Accelerate Navy’s cyber forces: Fleet Cyber needs to develop a plan to meet increased demand, both for its joint force requirements through U.S. Cyber Command and Navy specific requirements. Leaders are also looking to mature organizational structures and command and control relationships between various cyber entities that control forces across the globe such as Joint Forces Headquarters–DoDIN, Joint Force Headquarters–Cyber and Cyber Operations–Integrated Planning Elements. Moreover, with the additional importance of the space domain, Fleet Cyber will look to exploit the increasing convergence between space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Establish and Mature Navy Space Command: The document states that Fleet Cyber’s goal is to “maintain maritime superiority from the sea floor to space with a core emphasis on lethality, readiness and capacity,” and so officials must re-focus to provide the best space integration possible as the service component to Space Command.

The strategy also articulates Fleet Cyber’s role in enabling Distributed Maritime Operations, which is underpinned by assured command and control, battlespace awareness and integrated fires. All of those require robust networks, information and completion of the kill chain.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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