As the military seeks to better integrate capabilities across the five domains of warfare more seamlessly, operational vignettes provide concrete examples that progress has been made, but more work is required.
This is especially true for cyber.
Top military leaders have long said cyber isn’t done for cyber’s sake, but rather to support joint force commanders. In fact, former head of U.S. Cyber Command Adm. Michael Rogers has noted that Cyber Command’s success will be defined by others.
“I try to do this with all the combatant commands, sit down face-to-face: ‘Where are we? Are we meeting your requirements?’” he said. “Cyber Command, in many ways ... functions to enable and support the success of others. I always tell our team that much of our success will be defined by others, not by us. That’s the way it should be.”
The majority of Cyber Command’s forces are fielded to the various combatant commands around the world to serve the objectives of those joint force commanders in larger campaign plans.
While Cyber Command has worked to integrate cyber effects and planning with traditional military operations, a recent operational vignette provides a look at some of the fissures that remain and could hinder success against a high-end adversary like Russia or China.
Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, speaking via teleconference at the AUSA LANPAC Symposium hosted May 22 in Honolulu, Hawaii, described an operation by an anti-Islamic State group coalition he recently commanded.
The coalition identified primary command posts ISIS was operating from, but didn’t know where alternate command posts were located. Rather than hitting the sites with missiles and having the militants be unknown for a while, Townsend said, they used “multidomain operations capabilities” from space and cyber to deny the enemy’s primary command posts, forcing them to move and unveil alternate command posts.
Once identified, the coalition struck the alternate command posts, working its way back to the primary sites.
While the operation overall was a success, Townsend said it took weeks to plan with only about a week of payoff.
“Part of that was organizing ... all of these domains and syncing the authorities that we had … at the [joint task force], corps or division or brigade levels,” Townsend said. “Some of these authorities are held at national levels and some of our different international partners that are part of the combined joint task force had authorities also … at their own and different levels.”
Currently, the authority to conduct offensive and defensive remote cyber operations abroad — governed by an Obama administration directive known as Presidential Policy Directive-20 — has triggered an approval process that rests with the president and can be delegated to lower levels.
Some have derided this process as too slow and bureaucratic, especially in a world that moves as rapidly as cyberspace.
There have been reports that the government has considered rescinding PPD-20 to more empower commanders lower down the chain of command.
“If we want to compete, deter and win in cyberspace we have to get … more oriented on mission outcomes and risk models and threat-driven operations that allow us to become the challenger instead of the challenged in this domain,” Maj. Gen. Christopher Weggeman, commander of 24th Air Force/Air Forces Cyber, said recently during congressional testimony when asked if PPD-20 has hindered operations.
“Becoming the challenger is going to require us to be more of a 21st century information operations/information warfare cogent organization or group of interagency partners that wants to then do the things that are happening to us to impose cost, to deny benefit, to demonstrate stake and to convey the legitimacy of those actions to our citizenry as well.”
Putting strain on the current construct
Given the global nature of cyberspace and the ability to generate effects remotely across the world, some have questioned how this construct fits into the current military organization, which is geographically organized.
During an April symposium hosted by the Army and Marine Corps on the future of multidomain operations, participants (including senior leaders and members of the joint services, academia and multinational partners) discussed how the future of so-called multidomain and cyber operations might affect current organizational constructs.
One of the discussions (conducted under Chatham House rules) splintered into how the joint force might need to rethink “echelon” and geographic organization of force employment as space and cyber effects and capabilities transcend geographic and combatant command and echelon boundaries.
The joint force has to figure out that command-and-control structure.
The remote, theater-level operations conducted by Cyber Command are typically folded under higher authority levels as they transcend geographic boundaries and sometimes have internet paths that pass through third-party countries.
The services have begun to experiment with exercising tactical cyber capabilities, which are much more localized and less stringently controlled. These rely on so-called over the air attacks that can target WiFi signals or leverage electronic warfare capabilities — generally held at much lower authority levels — to jam signals.
Won’t cut it
Townsend said operations need to get beyond the episodic synchronization that exists and achieve continuous integration.
The anti-ISIS vignette Townsend described was against an adversary inferior to the U.S. and coalition partners in every domain. However, Townsend asked, what happens in the future against a near-peer adversary that can contest the U.S. and coalition partners in one, more or all domains?
“We’re going to have to generate sophisticated, multidomain operations in minutes and hours, and those operations will have to last days and weeks,” he said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.