The Army is once again using the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, as a proving ground for the integration of cyber capabilities into smaller units.
The goal: to explore the best ways to meld cyber and electronic warfare capacity down into the brigade and company levels, as networks and information wars become more and more important further down the chain from headquarters.
The 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division will head from Fort Riley, Kansas, to NTC sometime in late July or August for a simulated fight to protect a fictional ally from an aggressive neighbor. One of the primary goals will be to better meld cyber and electronic warfare capabilities with troops at the brigade and company levels.
Companies will embed with cyber elements from U.S. Army Cyber Command, and the brigade command will work closely with other parts of the cyber electromagnetic activities (CEMA) team. The 1st ABCT has prepared with CEMA since February.
"We've frankly really enjoyed working with the cyber team in our brigade. It's a new capability; it has opened up a lot of possibilities for us on the offensive and defensive side of the house," said Maj Steven Chadwick, 1st ABCT's operations officer, during a Pentagon media roundtable on Thursday. "We're pretty confident that in the cyber domain we're going to achieve some success."
The effort to carve out best practices will include consideration of the force structure, capabilities and doctrine, as well as building the infrastructure to create an optimal training environment. The Army wouldn’t go into details regarding specific capabilities and techniques, but the cyber efforts center around protecting brigade-level networks from enemy disruption, denying enemy communications, and fighting the social media information war.
Since the last time the U.S. fought anything close to a near-peer adversary, technology has taken dramatic leaps. The Army has adopted many complex networks to dominate on the battlefield, but these networks are also prime targets for the enemy. The situation in the eastern Ukraine, where Russians aided separatists with expertise, equipment and manpower, can serve as a lesson to the Army has it navigates these new challenges.
"I can say there are lessons learned with the integration of regular and irregular forces that serve as a pretty good model," Burnett said when asked about the Ukraine example.
A team of about 40 to 45 Army Cyber personnel will join the brigade at NTC, about 2-3 per company. The format isn't set in stone though, Burnett noted. The size of CEMA teams and allocation of assets will be under consideration, as will the structure — in other words, it's to be determined if cyber personnel become organic to brigades or if the brigade would effectively receive them on loan from Army Cyber while deployed.
The other elements studied include what kind of equipment needs to be brought to the fight. For brigades, solutions will be man-portable, but Burnett declined to go into further detail.