The Army is kicking off its program for a tactical cyber tool that will allow the commander to not only visualize, but also understand the cyber environment within their battlespace.
Cyber Situational Understanding, or SU, is currently looking for vendors to demonstrate technologies on their own dime, using a variety of realistic test environments to show how they work. Currently, the Army plans to award a contract in March 2020.
Timothy Coen, project lead for Cyber SU, told Fifth Domain in an October interview that a tactical commander is usually worried about maneuvering forces on the battlefield, not typically the non-physical elements that can affect that movement. But with cyber being a critical component in future conflicts, commanders will need to understand how it factors into their battle plans.
“How do we put that on a picture, a map, somewhere that you can understand and say in your planning and in your execution, ‘Here’s a threat you face; here’s the risk level’ — and how does that translate to the impact on the mission that someone is trying to complete in physical space,” he said.
Currently, the planning process done by Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities teams on brigade operations staff is very manual and no single system allows them to correlate all the data they need quickly. Moreover, this process relies on the expertise of these staff members, which can vary, given there is no analysis tool that can collate all the cyber systems in the battlespace, Conen said.
The system could provide data on cyber risks to the commander’s forces. This could be, for example, an onscreen icon for each unit that would potentially change color if, say, a battalion was compromised. This would be useful to a commander because, potentially, all the information being sent to that battalion is being viewed by the adversary, which the commander then has to take into account for his battle plan.
It can also suggest potential opportunities for the commander, such as affecting nearby cell towers, traffic cameras or even social media.
However, despite close linkages at the tactical level between cyber and electromagnetic spectrum operations/electronic warfare, they are not trying to do EW work, Coen said.
In fact, he said more work needs to be done across the Army to iron out requirements and roles between the current program of record for electronic warfare visualization — Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool — and Cyber SU.
“Just tell me what the data you want to present to the commander, give it to me in a format you think is best to present and then we’ll work together to figure out what we’re going to present to the commander on his [common operational picture],” he said.
The program is poised to follow the path paved by EWPMT with a series of incremental capability software drops.
The first phase, which the Army is calling a minimum viable product before the first capability drop, will be helping commanders and units visualize themselves. This is a critical gap right now, more so than even visualizing enemy space.
“One of the holes in our swing is the ability to see ourselves,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Army Cyber Command, said at an event in September. “We do a pretty good job at actually being able to visualize the adversary, what their courses of action are, what their capabilities, limitations are, how they’re likely to conduct business, but sometimes we have a difficult time seeing ourselves in this environment.”
This will have a limited deployment in fiscal year 2020.
Capability drop 1 will be seeing the battlespace pulling in information from intelligence platforms like the Distributed Common Ground System and EWPMT. This will have an initial operational capability in fiscal year 2022. Capability drop 2 is the actual understanding component applying analytics to the first two capabilities drops so commanders can actually derive a “so what” from the cyber environment, Coen said. This will have a full deployment in fiscal year 2024.
Each of these phases will be awarded under separate other transaction authorities.
The Cyber SU system will eventually be folded into the Army’s Command Post Computing Environment, a web-enabled tools that will consolidate disparate command post tools into applications on a common map interface for the commander. During the industry demonstration phase, Coen said companies have received the software development kit for CPCE so they can plug and play in it.
Following the March award, Coen said they expect to do two years of prototyping. He added that they are working with Forces Command to hopefully get a unit they can prototype by October of next fiscal year as a means of gaining feedback.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.