Tactical cyber #itsthefuture

Tactical cyberspace control is rapidly becoming central to dominating the information environment and thus will emerge as paramount for forces campaigning in the information age. This is especially salient for the Australian Army given many of our traditional adversaries, both asymmetric and conventional, are relying on the internet and converging technologies for command and control.

If we wish to retain our tactical acumen against a highly capable and determined adversary it is necessary to ensure that we implement interim tactical cyberspace control measures. While there is no perfect immediate solution, tactical Electronic Warfare (EW) systems and sensors are best positioned to provide operational cyberspace control pending the ability to leverage both cyber and EW capabilities as an integrated system. Simply put we need to utilise EW personnel to swiftly establish an organic deployable Computer Network Operations (CNO) element, focused on the exploit and attack functions, or for want of a better term, "tactical cyber".

The information domain includes both the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) and cyberspace. Historically, Army has been very successful at dominating the EMS through EW (consisting of electronic support (ES), protection (EP) and attack (EA)). More recently, we have witnessed the importance of dominating cyberspace through CNO (consisting of computer network exploitation (CNE), defence (CND) and attack (CNA)). Of late, the blending of telecommunications and computer networks, referred to as convergence, has resulted in the previously distinct trades of EW and CNO rapidly merging to become one and the same. This congruence is especially apparent in the offensive realm – that being, CNO (CNA, CNE) and EW (EA, ES); with the increase in radio aperture entry point CNA/CNE, protocol based EW attacks, and importantly the advent of common equipment. Particularly against an asymmetric threat, the EMS directly intersecting cyberspace can prove both a means for CNE and an avenue for CNA (see figure).

The US Army just released its first Field Manual for Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA), revolutionarily integrating cyber, EW and spectrum operations (read spectrum allocation). They achieve this technically by defining common data contexts and software control mechanisms (which includes leveraging other battlefield sensors as EW assets) and practically by implementing a CEMA element at all command levels down to the Brigade Combat Team. Crucially, they have developed the ability for an operational commander to leverage both cyber and EW capabilities as an integrated system. Given a Joint Doctrine Note has been published on this topic, it is likely that the Australian Army will eventually undergo a period of transition similar to that of the US, and perhaps the next Royal Australian Corps of Signals Force Modernisation Review may see the development of a dedicated CNO trade stream. In the near-term if we wish to remain tactically capable it is necessary to ensure that we implement interim measures for our operational commanders.

Utilising EW personnel to provide interim CNO (particularly CNE) seems the most apt solution noting: the prevalence of EW personnel (relative to CNO personnel) and their apposite location in the operating environment; in combination with, their technological competence and the possible long term convergence of the EW and CNO fields. In the current environment oversight and prioritisation are the most commonly purported rationale for not having commenced this undertaking previously; both far outweigh the technical barriers to proving this capability. Furthermore, despite some current legislative restrictions on CNO, the rapidly changing legal definitions are keeping pace with technology and therefore legislation should no longer be used by the Army as a barrier for entry into the CNO field.

If we wish to retain our tactical acumen when campaigning in the information age we must commence tactical cyber, without delay, by implementing a rigorous approval process and providing our tactical EW unit with the very limited resources and appropriate remit to commence trial CNE/CNA operations. Growing the capability from the coalface – a method that has thus far yielded favourable results for our Allies. Whilst all areas within Army have vital capabilities impending, the pervasive nature of the Internet has resulted in tactical cyber becoming far more pressing than others being considered through the Force Structure Review process. We must bridge the gap until a more sustained program integrating CNO, EW and spectrum operations completes the colossal task of growing an adequate CNO trade to enable appropriate permanent CNO (or even better CEMA) support down to the operational level.

MAJ Isdale is currently the S5 of 7th Signals Regiment (Electronic Warfare). She has fulfilled a number of Signals and Intelligence appointments across Army. She holds a Masters of Business (Management) and is currently finishing her Masters in Information Technology.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government. Further information.