DIA chief: US must avoid 'Kodak moment'

More so now than ever, information is playing an outsize role in military capabilities and being rolled into conventional elements.

In 21st century warfare, war is cognitive as much as it’s kinetic, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a small group of reporters in his office this week.

Top competitors, Stewart said, are organizing their forces in this new information space and have developed doctrine to fight and win in the information age.

Russia views many facets of the information space — to include information operations, space/counterspace, cyber, cyber-enabled psychological operations and electronic warfare, to name a few — as critical to fighting and winning future conflicts, especially against the U.S., according to a recent and unclassified report on Russia’s military published by DIA.

“Moscow perceives the information domain as strategically decisive and critically important to control its domestic populace and influence adversary states. Information warfare is a key means of achieving its ambitions of becoming a dominant player on the world stage,” the report says. “Since at least 2010, the Russian military has prioritized the development of forces and means for what it terms ‘information confrontation,’ which is a holistic concept for ensuring information superiority, during peacetime and wartime. This concept includes control of the information content as well as the technical means for disseminating that content. Cyber operations are part of Russia’s attempts to control the threat environment.”

China, similarly, views information domination as critical and has taken concrete steps to better posture itself in this space.

Investments in so-called information capabilities serve a purpose for a more “informatized” military, according to the Defense Department‘s most recent annual report to Congress on China’s military developments. “The [People’s Liberation Army] conducts military exercises simulating these operations and likely views conventional and cyber operations as means of achieving information dominance,” the report says. “PLA writings suggest EW, cyberspace, deception, counterspace, and other operations during wartime could deny an adversary’s use of information.”

[DoD’s assessment of China’s information capabilities]

Nations such as Russia and China have observed how the U.S. fights dating back to Desert Shield and have taken steps to organize and defeat the U.S.

Stewart noted that one of the most important fights in the technological space is in quantum computing and quantum encryption. Whoever wins this fight wins the game, he said, meaning that whoever gets there first can control the market.

Quantum encryption capability allows for one to more easily decrypt traditional encryption methods and make decryption for competitors nearly impossible. Stewart likened quantum encryption to spinning a coin on a flat surface, and in order to read the encrypted message the coin must be caught at just the right spot.

China is making significant advancements in this space with one of the most advanced capabilities in the world, he said, noting that the U.S. advantage is shrinking.


“[H]ow many of you own a Kodak camera? How many of you still use Kodak film?” Stewart asked the audience at the annual GEOINT Symposium in June. “I’m willing to bet it’s not many. Well, if I’d asked that question 20 years ago every hand would be in the air.”

Stewart’s point was that while Kodak dominated the market in photography and even helped invent the digital camera, bringing the first megapixel camera to market; yet the company “refused to completely embrace the digital future they helped create,” Stewart said, failing to bring its previous level of innovation to the next wave of technology. The intelligence community is currently facing its own “Kodak moment”, Stewart remarked, noting that if the IC doesn‘t address the issue, it will be left behind.

He added this week that the challenge for the DIA and the IC is reforming and maintaining the relentless focus on innovation. For the government, embracing disruption can be a challenge.

Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has previously referred to innovation in the private sector as a small brush fire, in that if no one stamps it out, it will continue to burn. “I would describe innovation in the Defense Department as a forest fire: ‘Holy shit, we’re on fire, let’s put it out,’ ” Selva candidly admitted at the fiscal 2017 McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference in 2016, where he highlighted how the department is sometimes averse to change and disruption.

“If we form a hypothesis and build an experiment, you have to be willing to be wrong. Then we can discount that idea and move on to another one. My experience with commercial industry tells me that innovation in commercial industry is exactly that process,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last year, adding that failure can be tolerated if done small and quickly.

[Selva: Innovators must be willing to be wrong]

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work spearheaded the so-called third offset, which essentially looks to ensure conventional deterrence through man-machine teaming and other means to offset military gains made by competitors of the U.S.

Russia and China now have battle networks — theaterwide battle networks, Work warned during a conference last year, that are approaching parity with the U.S. In order to strengthen conventional deterrence, the U.S. wants to make sure it can extend its advantage in that particular area, he said.

[How the third offset ensures conventional deterrence]

Work provided five examples of injecting artificial intelligence and autonomy into these grids: autonomous learning systems that use big data to crunch numbers in ways humans cannot; human-machine collaborative decision-making that provides fused information and visualization coupled with machine-to-machine communication; assisted human operations to allow humans to make more informed decisions and to include physical assistance such as exoskeletons, wearable electronics and disposable sensors; advanced manned-unmanned system teaming; and network-enabled cyber and EW, autonomous weapons, and high-speed weapons, all of which will be injected into these grids to impact performance.

“Our adversaries — all of them and potential adversaries — are modernizing at a rate that we were not accounting for and our Army acquisition process has to move at the speed to create that offset,” Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, who formerly served as deputy director for operations at the Army Rapid Capabilities Office and is now commanding the 10th Mountain Division, said during a panel discussion at the same conference.

In areas such as electronic warfare, Stewart orated a similar refrain from many top military leaders; in 16 years of fighting an adversary that the U.S. can dominate in every domain, the country has forgotten what it’s like to fight a peer competitor that can challenge it in every domain of war.

“We assume that we had [battlefield supremacy], and therefore we took actions inside the Army to cut our field artillery, to do away with EW inside the Army as a capability, and now we’re finding that those capabilities did not go away on our threat — enemy, adversaries — at the near-peer level. We’ve just been focusing on a different thing the last 15 years, and appropriately so,” Maj. Gen. Bo Dyess, acting director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Training and Doctrine Command, told reporters during an Association of the United States Army symposium in March.

[A force in flux: Military adjusts to emergent domains of warfare]

Part of the thinking in publicly releasing the Russian study, aside from the fact customers asked for an unclassified version, was its importance to the American people and the notion that it’s hard for decision-makers to shape policy if only a few people know about something, Stewart said.

A similar report on China, to be rolled out in the same fashion as the Russia study, will be coming out soon, Stewart said, with one on North Korea and then Iran to follow.

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

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