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06 Jan 22. Spirk Discusses DOD’s ‘Data-centric’ Future. David Spirk, the Defense Department’s chief data officer, said the department is focusing data on joint warfighting activities and actions put in place in the past are bearing fruit.
Spirk spoke during a Howard Baker Forum of the Defense Writers’ Group yesterday. He said DOD is actually “doing well” in the process.
Spirk is the first chief data officer for the department — a sign of how new the concept is. In just two short years, his office, the military departments, the combatant commands and component data leaders have crafted the Defense Data Strategy, which lays out the vision for DOD to follow. The strategy allows DOD “to align our efforts and move towards that vision,” he said.
The department has a vibrant data community with interest directly from the top. “We’ve launched the and data accelerator initiative in partnership with our great friends in the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center,” he said. “We are going to create a Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office that will bring together, at a minimum, the components of the Defense Digital Service, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and the chief data office so that we can move even more aggressively and faster into this data-centric future for the department.”
In addition, the combatant commands are really starting to show “what true data-driven mission command can be,” he said.
Spirk said he believes this is the future. “It’s just the way that all operations and warfighting concepts in the future are going to be driven,” he said. “It’s about speed. And if you don’t organize your data, if you can’t create repeatable, testable and trusted data workflows from the tactical edge all the way up to your senior-most, decision-making activities, then you will just lag behind.”
He said U.S. industries also see the benefits of this approach to data and are moving in the same direction.
U.S. defense officials see this as an asymmetric advantage, and they are working to ensure this permeates America’s other asymmetric advantage — the unparalleled network of allies and partners.
Spirk mentioned the work going on with the “Five Eyes” — an intelligence alliance that includes the U.S., Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom — and NATO as he discussed the progress being made. “One of the things that I’m most excited about is the fact that we established a Five Eye Council,” he said. “It was just over a year ago today that we conducted the first ever Five Eyes CDO Council gathering.”
All those nations are working with the United States to establish the organizations and policies needed to enable the data strategy. He said just before coming on to the Zoom call, he had received an email from a Five Eyes counterpart with a question. “So even just this morning, we were interacting and comparing notes as a team.”
Six months ago, the United Kingdom promulgated its data strategy, he said.
He said Five Eyes representatives attend every DOD data council gathering, “and we regularly ask them to actively participate and present at those. It is vibrant, it continues to grow and it continues to be one of those things that we’re excited about.”
He hopes to have the first in-person meeting of chief data officers from the Five Eyes nations next month in Hawaii, if COVID-19 allows.
The 30-member NATO alliance is fully on board, as well, he said. NATO is looking to establish its own chief data officer at the alliance level, and many in Brussels — and elsewhere — are examining what the organization should look like and how it would interact across the alliance.
Spirk has briefed alliance chief information officers on the program and “what right looks like,” he said. The alliance data leaders will have a virtual meeting later this month to chart the way forward. (Source: US DoD)
07 Jan 22. Sweden launches Psychological Defence Agency, is it time for Australia to follow suit?
Sweden this week launched the Psychological Defence Agency, aimed exclusively at identifying and combating foreign information campaigns. With the rise in exploitable communications vectors, is it time that Australia followed suit?
The body, which is expected to employ some 45 employees, was established to identify and combat the rise of foreign information campaigns designed to undermine Sweden’s national sovereignty.
The head of the agency, Lieutenant Colonel Henrik Landerholm, explained that malign information campaigns are designed to undermine national and social cohesion – with the primary threat actors emerging from Russia, China and Iran.
“Psychological defence is society’s common ability to resist undue influence on information and other misleading information directed at Sweden. Our collective resistance to disinformation, propaganda and psychological warfare should prevent or make it difficult for an attacker to influence our decisions, perceptions or behaviours,” the agency addressed online.
“The Swedish Psychological Defence Agency leads the work of coordinating and developing Sweden’s psychological defence – an important part of a strong and modern total defence.”
In the face of global instability, is it time that Australia established its own psychological defence agency?
The threat of grey zone activities lies in an inability for the victim or wider international community to definitively attribute the operation and respond accordingly. Information operations, hacking or even counterspace measures are difficult – if not often impossible – to attribute to state or non-state actors, providing the victim with little legal or military recourse to defend themselves against threat actors.
If one is looking to achieve operational-strategic level goals and get away with little more than a stern warning, information operations are the perfect crime.
Further, if military theorists continue to hold the Clausewitzian maxim that “war is the continuation of politics by other means” true, then Clausewitz’s notion has taken on new life in the 21st century with emerging and infinitely exploitable communications vectors. In this light, Major General Mick Ryan recently explained that “at the end of the day, war is only effective in that it’s about achieving a political end state and achieving influence over someone that they no longer want to fight you.”
So great is the threat of cyber-enabled warfare on the modern body politic that upon the release of the French government’s Military Cyber Strategy in 2019, France’s Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly argued that already international “cyber warfare has begun”. Indeed, the French military cyber strategy examined the broad swathe of information operations conducted by threat actors, from intelligence to influence operations and undermining national resilience.
So how does information warfare achieve “influence over someone that they no longer want to fight you”? Simply, new and emerging communications tools provide new vectors for threat actors to foment internal divisions, destroy enemy morale and thus their willingness to undertake armed combat.
Indeed, Virgilijus Rutkauskas’ multivariate analysis in his paper Factors Affecting Willingness to Fight for One’s Own Country: The Case of Baltic States illustrates that “strong national pride, confidence in government and the armed forces, and financial satisfaction” are positive independent variables in determining whether one is likely to fight for their country. As such, disrupting these variables (or nodes) with a consistent and targeted communications campaign – either to devalue one’s perception of their country, their government, stir distrust within their defence apparatus or make them unsatisfied with their personal economic capabilities – would achieve the enemy’s end state: a country whose citizens simply will not defend it.
Foreign exploitations of these variables are evidenced across social media. In the lead-up to the last US presidential election, TikTok removed an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 videos for disinformation – although placing Chinese-owned TikTok and the politically motivated workforce inside the world’s social media giants as arbiters of “information” and “disinformation” is in and of itself a security risk.
A quick search of the TikTok app already yields interesting results. A simple search for “hate America” brings videos totalling 15.7 million views, meanwhile the app banned 81 million other videos in the 2nd quarter of 2021 for various misdemeanours.
When it’s one rule for me and one rule for thee for the social media giants, neuroplasticity might be at play.
“In his book, The Russian Understanding of War, Dr. Oscar Jonsson argues that Russian thought places a special emphasis on the psychological effects of their cyber capabilities. In this view, digital platforms are simply a means to an end … By focusing on the cognitive dimension of a target population, Russian doctrine hopes to sow doubt and discord,” 2nd Lieutenant Bryce Johnston wrote in the Modern War Institute in September.
Content that people see shapes the way that they think, which then shapes their attitudes to one another and their country.
However, the communications threat landscape goes far deeper than that of just moulding a user’s neuroplasticity. In fact, China’s cyber security laws outline that Chinese companies are required to share their data with the PRC, although TikTok has staunchly rejected that they participate in this practice.
Nevertheless, with an estimated 200 million downloads in the US – the threat of the app being a backdoor into a user’s phone and influencing the perception of the next generation to the United States and international rules-based order is too great to overlook.
An overview of cognitive campaigns
A prototype of such cognitive warfare was evidenced during the Huk rebellion in the Philippines between the 1940s and 1950s, in which ranger teams would place small drawing of eyes into Huk weapons caches. The result was that the enemy combatants believed that they were always watched; fearful of an ambush and divided on how to respond, many of the guerrilla movements disbanded. This hugely successful tactic undermined the rebels’ willingness to fight without having to fire a bullet.
In a sign that things never change, even Sun Tzu prioritised this style of conflict.
“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting,” the famed strategist wrote.
More recently, at the outset of the War in Afghanistan, Peter Singer in the Brookings Institution argued that the US should foment division between the local Afghan mujahideen and the wealthier Arab jihadis (termed the “Gucci Mujahadeen”) to mitigate the threat of a unified opposition to the invasion. This way, the ideological and religious bedfellows would nevertheless collapse on their small but exploitable in-group vs out-group characteristics.
Such behavioural operations have been magnified in recent years, with threat actors leveraging new cyber-enabled communications vectors.
Writing in ASPI’s The Strategist in October, cyber expert Pukhraj Singh explained that Australian companies exhibit an array of exploitable weaknesses that place a continuum of organisations – and Australia’s overarching national resilience – at risk.
“The relentless compromising of the private sector, which remains a soft but strategic target, has diluted the conventional boundaries of conflict, forcing the government to enhance its legislative reach,” Singh argues.
Singh notes that while the commonwealth’s Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 acknowledges the vulnerability of Australian cyber space, it needs to refine critical infrastructure.
“While the contentious issue of how much access into the enterprise networks the Australian Signals Directorate should be offered requires deliberation, the private sector can’t withstand the Category 5 hurricane that a state-sponsored cyber attack could be,” Singh observes.
Indeed, Singh draws a link to how the breadth of cyber-enabled operations – from hacking through to information warfare are critical tools to psychologically weaken nations, without having to rely on military intervention.
“Before and after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainian power grid was repeatedly targeted with destructive malware. Ben Buchanan notes in his book The Hacker and the State, ‘It plunged hundreds of thousands of people into darkness…’ Life went on. But the attacks did demotivate the population, affecting people’s will to fight and resist the Russian insurgency,” Singh argued.
The overwhelmingly intersecting notions of information, psychological and cognitive warfare are not limited to hostile campaigns.
Succinctly, retired US Naval Commander Mike Dahm noted that “violent action is one way to accomplish a mission; it is not the objective”. Simply, strong communications nodes enable the final goal of competing for “foreign hearts and minds” while also winning over “the next generation of warriors through social media”.
Indeed, the French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly is likely correct in arguing that “cyber warfare has begun”. Low barriers to entry and an inability to attribute attacks to threat actors make cyber incursions too attractive to deny.
New technology sharing arrangements under the AUKUS agreement must enable Australia to tap into world-leading cyber capabilities, build our cyber resilience and mitigate the threat of cyber-enabled information war. (Source: Defence Connect)
06 Jan 22. On 12th December it was reported that the United Arab Emirates had ordered construction of a Chinese facility in the country to stop. This followed US government concerns that the facility could be secretly used for intelligence collection. The facility was reportedly under construction within the Khalifa Port built by China in Abu Dhabi. The UAE does not maintain any military cooperation agreements with the People’s Republic of China. The Wall Street Journal reported that US intelligence had spotted what it believed to be Chinese SIGINT gathering vessels near the port. Some US officials had voiced concerns that the facility’s completion could negatively affect US-UAE defence relations. (Source: Armada)
06 Jan 22. Amid the increasingly tense situation developing between Ukraine and Russia, in early December the former announced that it is seeking supplies of electronic warfare kit. International Crisis Group analysis stated that circa 100,000 Russian troops have been deployed near the Russo-Ukraine border. These Russian deployments have included electronic warfare systems deployed with the Russian Army, according to analysis by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank. Armada has chronicled the use of cyber and electronic warfare by Russian forces against Ukrainian Army units. This large-scale deployment of Russian troops has seen a commensurate increase in US reconnaissance flights near the Ukrainian Theatre. Reports in mid-December noted a major deployment of US Air Force Boeing RC-135V/W Rivet Joint SIGINT aircraft. Almost half the 17-strong fleet performed reconnaissance flights in international airspace near the theatre on 13th and 14th December. These aircraft were almost certainly collecting communications intelligence concerning the Russian build-up. This will be relevant to NATO’s understanding of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. It will also help the alliance deepen its understanding of Russian Army command and control. This process helps identify potential weak points in Russian Army communications. (Source: Armada)
06 Jan 22. The PLAN’s Yuhengxing intelligence gathering ship spent three weeks gathering signals intelligence in the vicinity of Australia’s coastline in August and September 2021. Meanwhile, separate reports emerged in late November that the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Yuhengxing intelligence gathering ship had been spotted close to Australia’s coastline. The revelations described the ship patrolling the coast for three weeks in August and September. During this time this ‘Dongdiao’ class vessel is believed to have collected SIGINT from coastal military bases. The ship entered Australia’s Exclusive Economic Zone near Darwin on her northern coast. The Yuhengxing is not believed to have entered Australian territorial waters. She then traveled south towards Sydney before crossing the Tasman Sea and heading to New Zealand. (Source: Armada)
06 Jan 22. Chinese military flights near Taiwan continue. On 11th December, reports stated that 13 military aircraft entered Taiwan’s southern Air Defence Identification Zone. This included a Shaanxi Y-8 variant electronic intelligence gathering aircraft. The presence of this plane was almost certainly to monitor the electromagnetic reactions of Taiwan’s IADS. Specifically, the aircraft would have recorded the behaviour of the IADS’ ground-based air surveillance radars. (Source: Armada)
06 Jan 22. China may have also enriched her space-based SIGINT assets with the launch of the Shijan-06 satellite constellation from the Juiquan Satellite Launch Centre, central China. The launch onboard a Long March-4B rocket occurred on 9th December. Reports say that the satellites were built by the China Academy of Space Technology and the Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Company. Two spacecraft are thought to comprise the constellation. They may have been deployed for the collection of SIGINT, primarily electronic intelligence. (Source: Armada)
04 Jan 22. Leidos has filed a protest to challenge General Dynamics IT’s win of a $4.5bn cloud services contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. As is normal for any large award: General Dynamics IT is facing a challenge to its win of a $4.5bn cloud services contract with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Leidos first filed the protest on Dec. 28 and made a supplemental filing on Jan. 3. A decision from the Government Accountability Office is expected by April 7.
The massive contract covers NGA’s user facing data center services that support multiple networks and security domains. NGA is seeking to upgrade its cloud computing and desktop environments intelligence mission.
The contract comes with a five-year base period and five individual option years.
It is no wonder that an unsuccessful bidder would file a protest given the size, scope and customer. Leidos declined to comment. GDIT also has not responded to a request for comment.
We’ll track GAO’s protest docket to see if anyone else files, though the window is rapidly closing on new protests.
Generally, these kinds of protests challenge how the evaluation was conducted. We’ll update this post if we learn more.
Neither Deltek nor GovTribe list any incumbents for this contract, so this is likely a new procurement or one where several existing contracts are being bundled into one.
Like much of the intelligence community, NGA is rapidly moving to the cloud to gain several advantages including close to real time decision making, greater use of artificial intelligence, and more computing power at the edge. NGA also faces the challenge of efficiently working with and analyzing massive amounts of data. (Source: washingtontechnology.com)
04 Jan 22. Why the US should fight Russia, China in the ‘gray zone.’ China has achieved a military buildup in the South China Sea, stole billions of dollars worth of American intellectual property and is launching ongoing cyberattacks, while Russia interfered in U.S. elections, used masked “little green men” in Ukraine, and actively promotes mis- and disinformation. Now it’s Washington’s turn to get serious about the “gray zone,” especially when it comes to cyber and information warfare, says a new report from the Atlantic Council. The term is used to describe competitive actions that occur below the threshold of conflict. The think tank’s recommendations come as the Biden administration finishes its National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, which are expected to be published within weeks and address gray-zone or hybrid warfare.
“The DoD needs to compete now and engage in offensive hybrid warfare actions. The United States must respond where competition with China and Russia is taking place today, primarily by playing an enhanced role in gray-zone competition,” read the report, which was led by the Atlantic Council’s Clementine Starling, Air Force Lt. Col. Tyson Wetzel and Christian Trotti ― with former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The report called for new strategic competition coordinators on the National Security Council with direct access to the president, as well as a new whole-of-government messaging strategy aimed at countering anti-American narratives and reinforcing the rules-based international order. The Pentagon would play a supporting role, “executing offensive and defensive hybrid warfare activities that comport with U.S. values.”
Already, Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said last month that the Defense Department’s overarching “integrated deterrence” concept ― a key part of the forthcoming National Defense Strategy ― expands “across the spectrum of conflict from high-intensity warfare to the gray zone.” That includes other instruments of national power: intelligence, economic, financial, technological and alliances, Kahl has said.
That mission is going to become more important as nations hostile to U.S. interests increasingly operate below the threshold of traditional conflict to challenge international rules and norms, particularly at flashpoints in the Taiwan Strait and Ukraine, the authors argued. The DoD has taken significant steps to compete in the gray zone, but the authors called for “a departmental paradigm shift” and for the military to go on the offense.
“The department has begun to focus more on countering our strategic competitors’ hybrid warfare efforts, but what I also see is an inherent conflict between competing now and the sexier thing, which is buying new equipment, getting ready to fight the war of the future; and sometimes, under the weight of that effort, competing today loses out a little bit,” Wetzel, who is also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Defense News.
“Everybody agrees we need to defend in the gray zone, but we really wanted to focus on the fact that we can take the offense as well,” he added.
For instance, as Russian President Vladimir Putin masses troops along Ukraine’s border and claims Ukraine and the West are the aggressors, the U.S. government ― under a more proactive approach to gray zone warfare ― would communicate more consistently and more often that Putin is the sole antagonist.
“Just on the information domain, we need to control the narrative, we need to counter false narratives a lot clearer,” Wetzel said.
The broader Atlantic Council report, drafted with expert input over the last year, made recommendations aimed at deterring or winning a conventional conflict as well as gray zone activities. Among the report’s other conclusions:
- The DoD needs guiding principles for hybrid warfare. The department should be part of unified interagency efforts, invest in “below-threshold” capabilities and training, engage only where strategically important, go on the offense to reinforce the international rules-based order, use strategic messaging, and stick to American ideals.
- Washington needs a hybrid warfare toolkit. That means establishing diplomatic norms as well as naming, shaming and sanctioning bad actors ― all the while, the DoD can show presence, launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, and conduct kinetic or non-kinetic actions against proxy or mercenary forces.
- Hybrid operations can improve conventional deterrence. Adversaries will use hybrid warfare until they can acquire a coercive deterrent against the U.S. and its allies. Containing engagement with China and Russia to cooperation and competition for as long as possible is in America’s interest ― but the U.S. “must get better at proactively engaging in and shaping the gray zone.”
- The State Department’s Global Engagement Center needs a funding boost and authorities to “lead whole-of-government strategic messaging and offensive information operations campaigns, and it needs to lead whole-of-nation efforts to engage with social media companies, and with allies and partners to create a coherent and effective campaign for countering mis- and disinformation.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
04 Jan 22. New L-Band RF over Fiber Solution for Air Force Satcom Telemetry. The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL), in the USA, is a scientific research organization that is responsible for planning and executing the US Air Force (USAF) science and technology program in order to improve and develop new products and services.
The AFRL approached RF over fiber manufacturers, ViaLite Communications, to deliver a solution for a satellite communications downlink, transferring the L-Band signals through the ground station complex.
ViaLite’s L-Band HTS links, in the standalone Blue OEM module format, were selected by AFRL for integration into their system. Compact, single link and available in RF bands up to 6 GHz, the links were an ideal fit. They can be operated as either transmitters or receivers and are easily mounted into existing equipment. AFRL explained that they’d decided on the links based on their performance, best in class quality and reliability.
Craig Somach, ViaLite Director of Sales, said: “We are pleased to continue supporting AFRL; helping with the advanced satellite and terrestrial infrastructure they operate across multiple satellite transponders and locations.”
Craig and the team were also on hand to provide service and support to AFRL during the equipment installation process.
As well as OEM module format, the links are available as rack chassis cards (for use in ViaLite 3U and 1U rack chassis units), as Yellow OEM modules (designed for system integrators and equipment manufacturers to build into their own designs) and in the ViaLite Blue2 module which houses two links and can be setup to be a dual transmitter, dual receiver or transceiver.
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