The Army is continuing to evolve concepts to fight and win in future operating environments, which will increasingly involve digital means of combat effects. What will these capabilities look like, and how will they impact the overall force structure?
The Army is building integrated cyber and electromagnetic activities, or CEMA, cells into every operational formation, according to Maj. Gen. John Morrison, commander of Fort Gordon, Georgia, and its Army Cyber Center of Excellence, who spoke at TechNet Augusta in August. With this, the Army can “bring together and really start getting after the basic tenants of multi-domain battle in a fused, synchronized and integrated fashion, [which] is something the Army really has to start getting after.”
The Army has been using a series of pilot programs to inform how this will work. One of the main efforts, which has seen eight rotations in the last two years at the National Training Center in California, is called CEAM Support to Corps and Below. This pilot seeks to game out at what echelon the service wants certain CEMA capabilities; what it needs organically for certain maneuver elements; and what type of reach-back capability it might need or be able to dial in — all to figure out what future formations will look like.
Another annual pilot effort called Cyber Blitz is being partly run by the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.
Cyber Blitz will begin in September by taking and integrating a suite of tools and capabilities with an organic brigade combat team, or BCT. These tools include mission command, the intelligence backbone — Distributed Common Ground System-Army — and the Army’s Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool, which will include the latest inject allowing for cyber planning as well as electromagnetic spectrum.
Additional phases will see expeditionary cyber teams coordinate efforts with the brigade to figure out interface tactics, techniques and procedures. Then the next phase will involve a BCT with expeditionary cyber support being tested by the Maneuver Center of Excellence in a scenario where the team is cut off from the network during the planning phase of an operation.
The Army’s capabilities wish list
In these tactical formations, the Army wants the ability to exact effects in the cyber and electromagnetic spectrum.
Current authorities and policy on offensive cyber capabilities and effects are governed by the highest levels of government, which is to say the White House delegates to the secretary of defense and orchestrates through U.S. Cyber Command and cyber mission force teams that are allocated to combatant commands.
“When we look at organic capability that we would think about how we want to fight in the future, that’s what we’re looking at: What type of authorities would we need?” Maj. Gen. Patricia Frost, director of cyber at the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, told C4ISRNET at TechNet. “We have to frame that to have that discussion with [the Office of the Secretary of Defense], Joint Staff as to effects would be bound — I always say geography, but that’s not how cyberspace works — but very localized offensive effects, very tactical, and where should that echelon of authorities be.”
These forces Frost referenced would be the Army’s 17-series cyber warriors, not those aligned to the cyber mission force that feed up to Cyber Command. Michael Brownfield, senior engineer at CERDEC Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, who spoke to C4ISRNET during an interview at TechNet, that operational forces such as the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade from Army Intelligence and Security Command has two battalions that do offensive cyber work. While based at Fort Meade, Maryland, the brigade has been participating in National Training Center rotations.
“They’re supplying the offensive forces for the expeditionary cyber teams that are going to the [Combat Training Center] and trying to understand how an expeditionary cyber team can help standardize an Army brigade [to] perform their mission better,” he said.
Brownfield added that the window of experimentation is for the force of 2022-2025. Assuming these brigades will have someone on staff that understands cyber, they can plan and synchronize cyber and perform limited offensive cyber operations.
“I think it’ll be electronic warfare. Now these won’t be the electronic warfare professionals of today. It’ll be the ones we’ve transitioned into cyber operational planners,” Morrison said of what will be organic-to-brigade combat teams after the force figures out the right level of reach-back capability of cyber forces in remote locations.
“You might see that actually distributed much like it used to be down to the tactical edge for the commander to determine and exploit that as an enabling capability right there on the battlefield,” Brig. Gen. Todd Isaacson, deputy chief of staff/G-6 at Army Forces Command, told C4ISRNET at TechNet.
These tactical formations are also attempting to integrate defensive cyber capabilities within these structures leveraging the Army’s cyber protection brigade and local cyber defenders to do defensive cyber operations and internal defensive measures.
Currently, cyber protection teams are not organic to the brigade and provide reach back from sanctuary.
Frost also noted that on the EW side, they are trying to execute the attack and support activities. However, within that, there are also authorities concerns through which they must work.
On the intelligence collection side, is EW collection being done for intelligence Title 50 purposes or sensing for combat information and target information in regard to Title 10?
“There is a [signals intelligence] portion and that’s … at the time of collect is that truly combat-raw information. And at what point do you say that is going over to the Title 50 side of the house?” Frost said. “That is a lot of what we’re doing in the CEMA optimization: is understand when you look at platform integration — so technically we can do a lot of things on a platform, [but] do we have the authorities to integrate these capabilities?”
The force worked through these authorities back when EW was a larger component of units prior to the divestment of capability. Isaacson said these previous procedures and authorities will likely serve as the launch point. However, this might be affected by new capabilities since the Army isn’t going to take the same kits its used 20 years ago, he said.
“We’ll put modern capability in the hands of the war fighter. We’ll probably iterate and start to describe: Here’s how we do electronic attack, here’s how we do collection, how does this affect authorities the way we used to operate, and then are we still ... coloring within the lines, if you will — being inside Title 10 and 50?” Isaacson said. “And then: Is that the appropriate level for those authorities to be exercised?”
These will also be integrated at the Combat Training Center and possibly even the annual Network Integration Evaluations at Fort Bliss, Texas, Isaacson said.
Force structure issues
The Army is still figuring out at what echelon to house many of these capabilities, be it at the corps, the division or brigade combat team. The Army is working across several areas to address the force structure questions that the introduction of these capabilities raises among conventional units.
This includes the Army G3 — to include Frost’s office — as well as the Cyber Center of Excellence and Forces Command.
Working with the broader Army — through Forces Command and all other Army service component commands — on what capabilities from a cyber perspective need to be embedded into tactical formations, Morrison told reporters during a media round table at TechNet that they are strategically looking at where to place high-end cyber professionals. The other component is the transition of electronic warfare professionals into the cyber branch to be cyber operational planners.
Morrison acknowledged there will probably be some force structure mismatches, especially on the EW side, because “it is quite frankly a capability the Army traded away for all the right reasons in 15-16 years of war” against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
These cyber capabilities and forces the Army began building “did not come at the expense necessarily of Forces Command fundamental formations,” Isaacson said.
The Infantry bridge combat team, Stryker or armor bridge combat team formation structures did not change at the expense of cyber mission forces, he added.
“I don’t think we have a final answer precisely on what the impacts to structure will be, but I know that with each iteration we do at an [National Training Center] or [Combat Training Center] in general that has CEMA, we’re better informing what ‘right’ looks like,” Isaacson said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.