Mission command systems exist for the physical world, providing commanders a picture of the ground and air environment. However, the Army, as well as the joint force, is shifting to so-called multidomain operations, which opens up a need for new tools to fully understand the operating environment.

"What we lack right now is a comprehensive understanding of cyberspace,” Col. Steve Rehn, the cyber capabilities manager at the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, said Aug. 23 at TechNet Augusta.

In multidomain battle, the commander cannot make a decision unless he understands the entirety battlespace, Rehn said, which makes it imperative that someone develop systems for understanding cyberspace (broadly defined as cyber, the electromagnetic spectrum, space and even the social media environment).

Rehn said the Army is in the process of prototyping what will eventually become a program in 2020 called cyber situational understanding, or cyber SU. This tool will help commanders visualize and understand what is happening in the nonphysical battlespace under their command, which could have drastic impacts during operations.

For example, Rehn said, speaking a day prior during the same conference, there’s at least seven different networks within an average brigade combat team aside from the primary command or communications network.

The communications personnel within the brigade generally have a good handle on the primary one, but not all the others. This presents openings for the adversary if they can exploit one portion of this network and move laterally to the most important ones, gleaning sensitive information or shutting it down.

One component of cyber SU is to pull this data on all the networks together to provide the commander a more complete picture of his battlespace, which now includes the broad realm of cyber.

Not only that, Rehn said, but the general vision for a cyber SU capability, on a conceptual level, is to be able to pull information from all types of sensors in the battlespace that might provide greater intelligence about adversary action.

He provided another example in which a link goes down on the battlefield. While the normal course of action when a link goes down is to troubleshoot, if personnel were able to detect and correlate at the time the link went down that there was radio frequency interference in the same location, that would likely change the reaction and how the staff would approach a down link.

With a situational awareness tool, staff can tell the commander what the impact to the mission might be, as well as provide additional intelligence that it is typical in the doctrinal template, such as inferring from the adversary they’re facing that a denial-of-service attack means the enemy is about to launch an attack and where the attack might take place.

However, Rehn noted earlier, such understanding of adversary tactics has not been realized yet. He said he’d like to get to a place where, if the adversary is targeting certain friendly systems, friendly forces might be able to discern if that is an indicator of a particular action they might take in the physical space. The Army hasn’t linked observed activity within cyberspace yet to understand what that might mean in the physical space, he said.

Overall, he noted, cyber situational understanding can tip off the commander to certain indicators in which there were no physical effects or indicators.

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

More In TechNet Augusta