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30 Dec 20. US Army looks to millimeter waveforms to strengthen communications. Future deliveries of U.S. Army tactical network tools could include new waveform technologies that would reduce adversaries’ chances of interfering with communications.
The research and development organization tackling future capabilities for the Army’s tactical network team has several efforts underway with millimeter wave technology, a frequency channel that could allow for improved communications in the future. The Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR (Command, Control, Communication, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Center is exploring new capabilities that could allow for more secretive communication.
The first area the service is exploring is WiGig, essentially the latest version of Wi-Fi that uses the 60GHz frequency band. According to Dan Duvak, chief of the C5ISR Center’s Radio Frequency Communications Division, the service is attracted to WiGig because the advanced technology allows narrow beams that point in a specific direction. In the future, this will help the Army’s command posts evade detection.
“They’re like laser beams being pointed from your router to each user,” Duvak said. “So what we see on the battlespace is taking that commercial technology and pairing it with existing Wi-Fi capabilities at command posts. So now we reduce the detectability because we have these very small pencil beam-type signals, going just user to user, right, instead of a big bubble of blasting energy.”
The technology is another piece of the Army’s capability set process, packages of new network tools the service’s tactical network team is delivering to soldiers every two years. The WiGig technologies are targeted for capability set ‘25 and will improve data rates, with some systems getting up to gigabits per second of data flow, greater than current capabilities, Duvak said.
The C5ISR Center is working with two companies on two other millimeter wave technologies to solve mobility and range challenges with commercial offerings, such as routers that are stationary and made for houses with a range of only several meters, he said.
Through work with a company called FIRST RF, the Army was able to reconfigure a commercial technology to extend the range from meters to kilometers. Custom software and antennas also give the radio antijam capabilities. The service is looking to use this technology for its distributed command post or manned-unmanned teaming.
The R&D outfit is also working on a custom waveform with Collins Aerospace in the 30GHz range. That project is targeting manned-unmanned teaming between air assets.
“Our target here is air applications, and a lot of it is the integration within the airframe,” Duvak said. “We traded off a little bit of the throughput. So on that one, we’re probably not at that gigabit per second, we’re more in the tens or hundreds of megabits per second. But we’re getting a lot more range by doing so.” (Source: glstrade.com/C4ISR & Networks)
29 Dec 20. 5 projects that advanced the Army’s future networking capabilities in 2020. U.S. Army Research Lab made important progress in 2020 on projects that will have major implications for war fighter communications and networking in the future. The projects tackled a wide range of futuristic technologies, from “unhackable” quantum networking developments to an X-ray vision-like project that could enhance surveillance capabilities. The lab also made advances mesh networking, a capability that the Army views as core to the future of its battlefield communications.
Here’s a look at five of the Army’s scientific advancements this year:
A step toward an ‘unhackable’ quantum network
A quantum device developed by Army scientists this year allows large amounts of information to be stored as holographic patterns, an important step toward building a quantum network.
The scientists were able to trap millions of rubidium atoms in laser beams and cool them near absolute zero, allowing for the quantum bits to be stored as patterns or images.
As the research lab put it earlier this year: “To imagine this technology better, picture a canvas or sea in which quantum images or waves can be written. … Those images or wave patterns, called spin-waves, can then be stored as information. Spin-waves are like the paint for [the] …. metaphorical canvas.”
Kevin Cox, a scientist at the Army Research Lab who worked on the project, told C4ISRNET that the device created could have significant ramifications for secure communications.
“Due to their fundamental nature, quantum bits of information cannot be copied or duplicated. For this reason, high-speed quantum communication networks may allow data transmissions that are impossible to eavesdrop on,” Cox said.
The device, researchers have said, is an important step toward the development of a quantum repeater, a device that could transport quantum information over long distances. One hasn’t yet been built successfully. The development is one step toward delivering game-changing technology to the war fighter.
“It has been proven that — in addition to foundationally secure communications — quantum networks offer unique capabilities to detect exceedingly weak adversarial signals,” Cox said. “Further, quantum networks will be relied upon to interconnect future soldiers, quantum computers, quantum sensors and atomic clocks that will form the backbone of next-generation capabilities.”
Other research concepts are building off the success of the quantum device, in areas such as atomic RF sensors, magnetic sensors and atomic clocks, Cox said. Large-scale quantum networks on a national or global scale are decades off, he noted. In the next five years, the Army Research Lab plans to develop an in-house testbed for a quantum networking device to discover war fighter capabilities in a controlled environment. From there, the team work with researchers at University of Maryland to investigate metropolitan scale quantum networks and “understand and overcome technological challenges associated with long-distance quantum networking,” Cox said.
Improvements in long-range precision fires
This year, researchers achieved technology readiness level four for advanced technologies that will improve the Army’s long-range precision fires in the future.
At TRL level 4, the technology demonstrates that it works in a lab environment, for airframe and flight control, according to Frank Fresconi, program manager of the laboratory’s Long Range Distributed and Collaborative Engagements. Those technologies will improve the ability to maneuver munitions in the future.
Another technology that achieved TRL 4 is known as strap down guidance tech, or estimation and image processing algorithms for accurate fires in contested environments, Fresconi said.
The new capabilities will improve the Army’s “capability to be able to intercept moving ground targets using low cost components,” such as sensors, processors and actuators, he said, noting that the lab’s advancements could be operationalized in 10-15 years.
Next year, the lab plans to tackle advanced energetics, propulsion, flight and warhead mechanisms technology in more extreme environments, such as higher speeds, higher mechanical launch loads, higher thermal flight loads and a more contested electro-magnetic spectrum, Fresconi said.
More energy efficiency with 5G
Army-funded researchers built an electronic device for frequency switching that is 100 times more energy efficient than current capabilities.
Frequency switches, such as those used in mobile phones, flip back and forth among Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G and LTE. These devices, according to Chakrapani Varanasi, division chief of the materials science program at the Army Research Office, are bulky and far less energy efficient with limited range. The new 5G switch uses two-dimensional materials and allows for “easy integration of electronic communication devices in to soldier wearable systems for situational awareness,” Varanasi said.
“The new devices are made using novel single-atom, thick layered materials — hence very low mass — with extraordinary properties that did not exist before in the conventional materials that are currently used,” Varanasi told C4ISRNET. “They enable signal transmission about 100 times faster than current devices, resulting in reduced latency and near-instant data download/upload.”
In the future, the switch can be used in satellite systems, smart radios and “across the Internet of Things or wherever faster, reliable, low-energy data transmission is required,” Varanasi said.
Moving forward, the research will focus on developing devices with more reliability and extended life, as well as advancing manufacturing techniques so the switch can be developed at a higher scale for a wider array of applications.
3D imaging to one day see through blockages
Army-backed researchers took a small step toward what could be considered a form of X-Ray vision. In 2020, the Army sought to make advancements that could allow them to see through “scattered media,” such as thick fog or inclement weather.
The project focused on imaging an object through an inch-thick slab of foam. As light travels through scattered media, the photons scatter. Current imaging systems typically isolate photons that travel directly to the target and back, but the challenge is that very few photons will travel on that path, said David Lindell, a PhD candidate at the Stanford University Computational Imaging Lab. Using an algorithm, the team built a system that could also capture an object’s image using the scattered photons.
“The goal was basically to see through it or develop some kind of X-ray vision,” Lindell said.
Future applications for this research include remote sensing and surveillance in “all types of conditions,” he said.
“You might have these systems deployed on satellites or airplane. And a big challenge in these scenarios of imaging through the atmosphere,” Lindell said. “The atmosphere, the belt acts like a scattering slab, similar to what we demonstrated, albeit at a smaller scales in the lab.”
Future research will include using the system in environments like fog that have the additional challenge of the being in motion.
Mesh networks and radios that last longer
A critical capability for the future of the Army’s battlefield communications is mesh networking, which allows for connection between several nodes to pass data and build a network.
But currently, mesh networking requires radios to be turned on, draining critical and limited battery power. Army researchers built a radio this year could go into sleep mode to save battery but still monitor for traffic and sustain a mesh network.
“So we looked at is how could you make high-performance radios that give you the full performance that DoD needs in their systems, but yet could maintain a network and also let the radios go to sleep, and only wake up when needed,” said Ron Tobin, team leader for energy efficient communications at the Army Research La.
What the team ultimately developed is called the common sensor radio. Old systems are constantly powered up listening for traffic, even if there’s none coming in. The new system is different.
“It can go to sleep and wake up on a schedule once a second, twice a second, every other second, whatever your requirement is to listen for traffic. And then once there is traffic, it can stay up a lot longer to actually to handle the traffic,” Tobin said.
The team also worked on the adaptability of the radio, building it to adjust data rates and power depending on conditions such as interference or noise. They also discovered a system to prevent radios from transmitting at the same time as other radios, preventing radios from essentially talking over each other. (Source: Defense News)
28 Dec 20. Hanwha Systems secures contract for second batch of indigenous C2A command-and-control systems. Hanwha Systems announced on 27 December that it has secured a KRW184.6bn (USD168.5m) contract from South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) to produce a second batch of locally developed ‘Command, Control, and Alert’ (C2A) systems.
Hanwha Systems announced on 27 December that it has secured a KRW184.6bn (USD168.5m) contract to produce a second batch of locally developed ‘Command, Control, and Alert’ (C2A) systems. (DAPA)
The move comes after DAPA had awarded the company – the lead company in the programme – a KRW32.9bn (USD30m) contract in December 2018 to produce an initial 12 units of the automatic C2A system.
The C2A system, which was developed from 2011–17 by a team led by the state-owned Agency for Defence Development in co-operation with more than 20 local companies, entered service with the Republic of Korea Armed Forces – and was integrated with the country’s air-defence system – in late 2019.
Unlike the previous system, the data for which is verbally relayed up the chain by radio communications, the new command-and-control system transmits this data digitally in real time. DAPA had pointed out in January 2019 that the C2A reduces the amount of time needed to detect and respond to a hostile target from what is currently up to 3 minutes down to 30 seconds. The system is also designed to assign a target to the air-defence weapon system best suited to counter it. (Source: Jane’s)
23 Dec 20. Elettronica proves itself a team player again on Tempest. Working as part of a pan-European military aircraft enterprise is nothing new for Elettronica. The Italian electronic warfare (EW) specialist – founded in Rome 70 years ago and still family-run – has since the 1990s been the country’s champion on the EuroDASS consortium that provides the Praetorian defensive aids subsystem (DASS) on the Eurofighter Typhoon. Before that, it played a role in the Panavia Tornado programme.
Elettronica is one of four Italian businesses on Team Tempest
Now the firm is one of four Italian industrial representatives working with the UK’s Team Tempest in developing a successor to the Typhoon – the Tempest future combat air system. The effort pits aerospace and defence companies in Italy, Sweden and the UK alongside their counterparts in France, Germany and Spain, which are collaborating on a rival project spearheaded by Dassault and Airbus Defence & Space to design a rival next-generation fighter to go into service in the 2040s.
In global aerospace terms, Elettronica is a modest-sized firm: it employs around 750 people and its 2019 revenues of €268m ($326m) place it just outside FlightGlobal’s Top 100 ranking of aerospace groups by revenue. However, the company’s well-honed expertise in EW means it can compete on equal terms with some of the industry’s largest players, insists Paolo Izzo, vice-president global sales. “EW in these big groups is a division. It is our entire business,” he says.
Joining the Italian contingent on Team Tempest alongside Elettronica are GE Aviation subsidiary Avio Aero, Leonardo, and the national arm of European missiles house MBDA. In July, the four companies – with BAE Systems, Saab and other industrial representatives from the UK and Sweden – officially kicked off “trilateral industry discussions” on what each company will contribute to the development effort. It followed a framework pact signed at 2019’s DSEI defence exhibition in London.
That was not the only international collaboration initiated by Elettronica that year. It joined its EuroDASS partners Leonardo UK, Spain’s Indra and Hensoldt of Germany to launch “Praetorian Evolution”, a “future concept” for the DASS that provides protection for the Typhoon from the likes of infrared or radar-guided missiles. Future capabilities are likely to include high-precision targeting and advanced combat identification.
“We have been the design authority on the Praetorian with Leonardo UK since the beginning,” says Giovanni Zoccali, vice-president Europe and consortia sales. “And that experience is the best base for us to help develop a sixth-generation fighter.” Other corporate characteristics necessary for the Tempest effort, he believes, include “the ability to work with partners, to follow a technological plan, and to be open and agile to adapt to new developments. These are all in the DNA of Elettronica.”
Elettronica’s EW expertise stretches from infrared countermeasures against heat-seeking missiles to escort-jamming technology and anti-drone systems. EW, maintains Zoccali, is becoming crucial in modern warfighting. “It is much more important than in the past. In the next-generation fighter, EW will play a crucial role in a systems of systems environment. Future battles will only be won if we can win this technological race,” he says.
A relatively new development for Elettronica is its ground-based ADRIAN – anti-drone interception, acquisition and neutralisation – system, which, says Izzo, is the result of an effort “five to seven years ago to study threats and doctrine in the EW field”. The result: a product able to counter hostile mini- and micro-drones, comprising command and control radar, jammer and electro-optical technology. Elettronica is in talks with the Italian military and a “country in the Middle East” about deployment.
Elettronica’s business strategy includes moving from marketing single pieces of equipment to offering entire EW suites, marking an approach to airborne combat technology “in which the various subsystems are no longer federate and physically divided by type, but, rather, integrated at a functional level”, according to the company. “We want to be not only a provider of products, but a solution provider,” says Izzo.
An example of this is the Virgilius multi-platform EW system, which combines alert, surveillance and deception functions in a one-box design, and can be integrated with a directional infrared countermeasures device. “It is a passive and active system in one,” says Izzo. Customers include the Italian air force, which has fitted Vigilius on its Leonardo Helicopters AW101 combat search and rescue fleet.
Elettronica says it has grown its order backlog by more than 50% in five years to around €800m, mainly as a result of success overseas, particularly in the Gulf and Asia. The company has recently opened sales and support offices in Abu Dhabi, India, Qatar and Singapore, and “this intense activity is bearing fruit with substantial orders”. Zoccali expects that in the next 10 years, Elettronica will be making just over half its revenues from outside Europe.
Like many of the country’s businesses, Elettronica makes much of its “Made in Italy” credentials. “Traditionally, we are an Italian company and the EW point of reference for the Italian ministry of defence,” says Zoccali. Elettronica relies on Italy for a “solid 10%” of revenues, but that domestic endorsement is vital. “Support from your own armed forces is an important step for sponsorship of sales to all the markets in the world,” he adds.
Even cracking the relatively closed transatlantic marketplace may be a possibility in the future, if Elettronica’s bosses can find the right company to work with. “We do not at the moment compete for the US budget,” says Zoccali. “But what we are trying to do is partner to present our portfolio. You never know, one day we may have a presence there.” (Source: Google/Flight Global)
22 Dec 20. L3Harris scores award for US Navy’s Next Generation Jammer. The US Navy recently announced a $496m contract with L3Harris for a portion of the Navy’s premier aerial-jamming platform. The engineering and manufacturing development contract is for the Next Generation Jammer Low Band. The Next Generation Jammer, which will be mounted aboard EA-18G Growlers, is the Navy’s and, by extension, the joint force’s leading aerial electronic attack platform. It will replace the ALQ-99 jamming pod and has been broken up into three pods covering three portions of the electromagnetic spectrum: mid, low and high. The Navy awarded the mid-band pod to Raytheon in 2016. In 2018, the Navy awarded contracts to Northrop Grumman and L3 Technologies to demonstrate existing systems as a means of buying down risk on the eventual program and awardee. The timeline and funding for a high-band post is unclear at this time.
Officials have said not all three will be integrated on aircraft at once.
The Navy, in a Dec. 18 announcement, said the contract supports the final design and manufacturing of eight operational prototype pods with four test pods to work through issues such as airworthiness and integration on the Growler.
“I’m proud of the hard work and determination of the Navy and industry team,” said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “The teams work to reduce development risk, inform technology realities, and speed capabilities to the fleet was impressive. The efforts by all those involved enabled the Navy to move forward in a rapid manner to bring this new critical capability to bear for our war fighters, saving years in operational development.”
Geurts signed a decision memorandum on Dec. 8 certifying the low band program Milestone B, which is the official start of the program.
“NGJ-LB is the next step in the evolution of Airborne Electronic Attack that is needed to meet current and emerging electronic warfare gaps,” said Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, program executive officer, tactical aircraft programs. “The increased jamming capability that NGJ-LB brings to the war fighter is critical to sustaining the future missions of the Navy and other services.”
Congress has signaled some concern with the program and the Navy’s approach, requiring a report on the jammer in the annual defense policy bill for Fiscal 2021. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
22 Dec 20. US Army fortified radio capabilities in 2020 to withstand electronic warfare. The U.S. Army made critical advancements this year to strengthen the radios it plans to use for multidomain operations in contested and congested environments in the future.
The Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command’s C5ISR Center — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center — worked with vendors Persistent Systems and Silvus to bolster radios to stand up to electronic warfare attacks from highly capable adversaries such as China and Russia. The radios are “very, very difficult to jam,” according to Dan Duvak, chief of the C5ISR Center’s Radio Frequency Communications division.
The new radios are able to detect and evade interference, as well as operate on reduced power, Duvak said. Radios from each company were among the most promising capabilities at the C5ISR Center’s Network Modernization Experiment.
“We’re pretty cognizant that if we just use our legacy system [and] send energy out in all directions, you know, we’re not very efficient with our power and batteries, from dismounts and things like that,” Duvak told C4ISRNET in an interview earlier this year. “But also, the adversary is going to have that capability to detect us. And as soon as they detect our radio transmissions, that’s a bad place to be.”
To help prevent that scenario, the Army worked started working with commercial vendors in 2019 to strengthen its radios’ resiliency. The project is part of the Army’s effort to modernize its tactical network by delivering new tools, known as capability sets, every two years. Capability set ’21, which was delivered to soldiers this year, focused on filling immediate tactical network gaps.
Persistent Systems and Silvus radios are targeted for capability set ’23, which focuses on increasing network resiliency and improving bandwidth. The Army expect to use the radios at the mid-tier, allowing soldiers in a company to communicate back to a brigade or battalion level that may be a far distance away.
The radios use several techniques to avoid interference and jamming. While working with the C5ISR Center, Persistent Systems strengthened radio transmission security by improving the robustness of its waveform, Duvak said. The advanced capabilities office took the radio to its electronic warfare lab and tested different adversarial jamming techniques on the radio to see how it performed.
“We’ve been able to build out the types of attacks into the hundreds, varying all the types of things that get varied per jamming technique,” said Eric Stern, vice president of engineering and operations at Persistent Systems. “We have built new detection and mitigation electronic protection measures, adapted those, and built them into the firmware to maximize performance.”
A critical feature of the Persistent Systems radio is that the resiliency capabilities are added through a firmware update, meaning the Army can upgrade all the radios it has bought from the company. Plus, the update is free, adding major cost savings, Duvak added.
The Silvus radio, meanwhile, used advanced interference cancellation algorithms and frequency switching to avoid adversarial jamming. The company and the Army are excited about power control features on Silvus radio that minimize the amount of energy the radios give off in the field, helping avoid detection.
“It’s a way of automatically throttling back the power of your system to minimize the [radio frequency] footprint,” said Jimi Henderson, a Silvus vice president. “And even in a dynamic mobile scenario where nodes are moving around, it’s intended to always use the minimum power necessary to maintain a given reliability.”
Duvak said that the radios are particularly useful for robotic systems in the future that need low latency and high bandwidth to send video and other large data files to soldiers, particularly if they are streaming live video. The radios from the two companies are far more capable than current models, he said.
“If you have a manned vehicle controlling an unmanned vehicle, the unmanned vehicle is going to be sending live video feeds back so you can drive it right and you can control it,” Duvak said. “It’s also going to be collecting a lot of sensor data … of what the battlespace looks like and sending that back for situational awareness. So there’s a lot of data coming back from that robotic platform.” (Source: Defense News)
21 Dec 20. Congress wants an inventory of all AI projects at the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s top artificial intelligence office must create an inventory of all ongoing AI activities across the department and services, under a new spending bill expected to pass.
The director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center has four months to deliver a report to Congress that details each artificial intelligence activity to give lawmakers a clearer sense of how money is spent on the projects. The requirement is one piece of a huge spending bill with pandemic relief that lawmakers are rushing to approve and President Trump is expected to sign.
“The agreement is concerned … about a lack of coordination among the myriad of artificial intelligence programs within the department and the military services,” lawmakers wrote in their notes on the proposal.
The inventory that the JAIC delivers to Congress must include “each program’s appropriation, project and line number; the current and future years defense program funding; the identification of academic or industry mission partners, if applicable; and any planned transition partners.”
The JAIC is tasked with accelerating the adoption of artificial intelligence across the Department of Defense. Lawmakers increased the JAIC’s operations funding $5m to account for new commercial geospatial analytics efforts, bringing its total operations funding up to $137m.
The inventory mandate follows a July 1 report from the department’s inspector general that found that the JAIC needed better processes in place to track AI projects across the department.
“An AI inventory management process for identifying and developing a baseline of AI projects is necessary to maintain awareness of the types and number of AI projects across the DoD,” the inspector general wrote.
At the time, the department’s chief information officer, who oversees the JAIC, told the inspector general that the office required services to report AI projects through a budget process. Creating an inventory of all ongoing artificial intelligence projects is no small feat with disparate efforts across each service and their respective research labs.
The JAIC wants to become the central AI repository for the Defense Department, providing services and combatant commands with software tools and platforms to develop artificial intelligence tools. The organization plans to do that through its Joint Common Foundation, a platform that will be available early next year.
The JAIC will also increase its work with Pentagon components in 2021 by offering services ranging from AI readiness assessments to assistance with more complex capabilities as part of the office’s shift to “JAIC 2.0,″ an organizational realignment announced earlier this year to better meet the needs of the war-fighting community.
“We think that our transformational value will be much better in the enablement space,” Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, JAIC director, said in November. “We obviously will continue to do products, we’ll continue to work on some of the high-end, game-changing technologies and programs. But we really want to start a tide that rises all boats across the department.” (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
21 Dec 20. USMC builds tactical cyber force to help with growing threats. With limited resources and increasing threats, experts at U.S. Cyber Command cannot conduct operations for everyone and protect everything.
As a result, the Marine Corps is spreading expertise and resources from high-end cyber warriors to the fleet as it builds prowess in the domain, with new cyber-focused careers for Marines and first-time tactical cyber forces.
The shift is a big one because presidential rules permitted only remote operations from Cyber Command for many years.
Streamlined authorities have paved the way for more operations from Cyber Command. Maturing cyber operations, authorities and doctrine are giving way to expanding the aperture to the tactical space, to include adopting new ways to conduct cyber operations, such as using electronic warfare methods. But tactical unit commanders need planners who understand the ins and outs of the domain and how to plug into the larger Cyber Command enterprise.
On the offensive side, the Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command — the service cyber component to Cyber Command — is sharing its knowledge with Marines who work in the field, training them to use computer systems and access certain capabilities to achieve their missions.
Defensively, MARFORCYBER is aligning its specialized defensive cyber teams to specific Marine Expeditionary Forces, while also working to translate cyber threats to the fleet.
MARFORCYBER acts as the connective tissue between deployed fleet forces and Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, the subordinate entities beneath Cyber Command led by each of the service cyber component commanders. These headquarters provide planning, targeting, intelligence and cyber capabilities to the combatant commands to which they’re assigned, conducting the actual operations for Cyber Command.
As the Marine Corps builds its cyber workforce within the fleet, these personnel need to know what resources and capabilities they could use as they deploy around the world. They are learning basic skills like how to call for help from Cyber Command.
MARFORCYBER’s Littoral Operations Cyber Cell serves as this resource center for the fleet. For example, a unit deploying to the Pacific will need to know how to plug into Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber Fleet Cyber as opposed to Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber Air Force, which covers cyber operations in Europe. Orders might change for a unit, and forces that deploy to a different theater need to know whom to contact and how available cyber resources might shift.
“It’s all about helping the 1700 cyber guys in the force … plugging them into the matrix and giving them the resources that they can build the cyber community the right way,” Capt. Neal McGaughey, a cyberspace warfare development officer at MARFORCYBER’s Littoral Operations Cyber Cell, told C4ISRNET.
The Marine Corps a few years ago created a new cyber career field — dubbed 17XX — in its effort to build out a larger cyber enterprise across its fleet, beyond its responsibilities to Cyber Command. One role is a cyberspace planner, which exists at various echelons and commands, such as the Marine Corps Force level and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Unit.
For the Littoral Operations Cyber Center, this means familiarizing the cyberspace planners with certain resources before deployment. One such resource is the emerging cyber planning elements at the combatant commands. These cells are forward extensions of the Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber and exist in the planning section of the combatant command to better understand battle rhythms and to bake cyber capabilities into operational plans from the beginning.
Familiarity with these structures is important for the Marine Corps planners so they understand that they can call upon certain cyber capabilities and know where to get them.
“We’re having a lot of success because we’re educating some people who are brand new to the community just on the construct of the enterprise,” McGaughey said.
With guidance from the Littoral Operations Cyber Center, cyberspace planners in the fleet are now doing situation reports, which can be passed around the larger cyber enterprise, including joint units and Cyber Command, to advertise what capabilities smaller Marine Corps units possess and what they might need.
The reports not only help to educate the broader community but also provide a library of sorts that the Marine Corps can reference to see if a particular set of gear or operations succeeded, allowing them to adjust in the future.
Beyond those planning operations at the staff level, the new tactical units will conduct cyber operations under the larger umbrella of what the Marine Corps calls operations in the information environment.
These forces, dubbed the Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) Information Groups (MIG), will encompass a bevy of information-related capabilities to include cyber, electronic warfare, intelligence and information operations.
These forces will work as both the primary planners and advocates for MEF commanders within the information environment, as well as deploy their capabilities on the ground alongside other Marines at the tip of the spear.
On the cyber front, given that tactical operations and authorities are still emerging, these forces are looking for expertise from MARFORCYBER regarding tactics and capabilities.
While cyber operations at the top Cyber Command level are inherently joint, that joint-nature begins to dissipate at the lower levels within the services that are creating their own tactical forces. However, MARFORCYBER, given its relationship with Cyber Command, is looking to push as much capability as it can — even if it comes from another service — down to these new tactical forces, McGaughey said.
Rather than functioning simply as a tactical extension of MARFORCYBER, McGaughey said leaders view the MIGs as providing more cyber reach for the force.
“Where I see the MIGs coming up, they’re going to be extra capacity for the cyber mission enterprise, they’re going to be able to help with planning, and then they’re going to be able to deliver effects and capabilities on behalf of JFHQ-Cs in the future,” he said.
Cyber Command forces will someday be able to control tactical sensors in the field from remote sanctuary positions, but strong relationships must exist between the tactical and remote forces to understand each other’s battle rhythms, McGaughey explained.
“What we’re trying to do is get them trained up certified, get their name into that battle rhythm and showing the capabilities, so when the time comes that you can remote C2 [command and control] these sensors and enable a cyber operation, you’re already trained” to their mission set, he said.
He pointed out one example: II MIG, which is focused on the European theater, is traveling to San Antonio early next year to try to forge a relationship with Air Forces Cyber/Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber Air Force, which is responsible for cyber operations in European Command.
“Whenever they deploy, now they can actually say, ‘Hey, we’re going to go into theater and now we can deploy that capability for you,’” McGaughey said of what the MIG can do for Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber.
More broadly, the military is looking to merge cyber with other aforementioned capabilities within the information environment, and McGaughey described how MARFORCYBER is aiding these forces within the larger domain and taking an agnostic approach to capabilities and effects.
MARFORCYBER, given its close proximity to Cyber Command, takes capabilities from the joint world — including Military Information Support Operations, or psychological operations, and capabilities Cyber Command has — and broadcasts them to the fleet to use, so long as members possess the proper authorities, he noted.
With the shift toward information environment operations, McGaughey said the Marine Corps is looking beyond simply cyber or electronic warfare capabilities, taking a broader view encompassing information packages.
“I am not going to ignore that and only focus on OCO [offensive cyber operations] exploits or cyber exploits or capabilities. We are going to push that information out there as soon as we can,” he said of the Cyber Command MISO capability, as well as broader information capabilities across the joint force that tactical forces can use.
On the defensive end, MARFORCYBER decided to align some cyber protection teams to specific MEFs to better integrate them with their battle processes to be more proactive against cyber threats.
Cyber protection teams (CPTs), defensive teams that each service provides Cyber Command, function as cyber SWAT teams that respond to local network breaches. While the services don’t own the offensive teams they provide to Cyber Command, each service retains a select few cyber protection teams to use how they choose.
This emerging relationship fosters a better cyber defense posture by embedding these high-end teams with units permanently, as opposed to them periodically jumping in to provide support.
“By aligning them to a particular MEF, it builds the impetus to start to learn those plans that those MEFs are assigned to backwards and forwards in order to best support them,” Lt. Col. Ryan Barnes, operations officer for the Marine Corps Cyberspace Warfare Group within MARFORCYBER, told C4ISRNET.
Those top cyber protection teams will understand the MEFs’ needs for a particular plan, and the MEFs know what information they need to provide to get the best support, Barnes said. “It’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.”
The Marines are still working out much of these relationships and concepts, but the alignment to specific MEFs is a departure from the way the Corps conducted business in the past.
Upon first hearing about cyber protection teams, Barnes — as a prior artilleryman — thought the concept sounded like an artillery liaison team, which is an artillery battery’s forward element that embeds maneuver units and provides expertise and assistance.
Additionally, Barnes thinks of cyber protection teams as scout sniper teams conducting reconnaissance and identifying problems ahead of time. This seeks to foster a more proactive approach rather than reactive, he said.
Declining to offer specifics for security purposes, he provided a hypothetical example in which cyber protection teams might go forward and examine the communications and network infrastructure in an area where their unit doesn’t have a presence. They would identify vulnerabilities or challenges to the commander, allowing the incoming unit to harden its communications systems before plugging into the infrastructure.
The force, however, is still ironing out some of the delineation of responsibilities between various defensive cyber elements. These include the cyber protection teams, local unit defenders at installations or specific units, and new defensive cyber operations-internal defense measures (DCO-IDM) companies the Marine Corps is creating. These tactically focused cyber teams will defend critical digital assets at the tip of the spear, existing within the MIGs.
Barnes tasked the three cyber protection leads across each MEF to become the “best friend” of the DCO-IDM company commander to learn responsibilities and divisions of labor.
The key is sharing expertise gained from years of conducting operations and from threat information that flows from the close linkage between MARFORCYBER and other top cyber elements, including the National Security Agency.
For example, teams might share tips on what vulnerabilities to scan for when setting up a tactical environmental network, which isn’t always as mature as those in garrison, Lt. Col. James Sheasley, current operations officer for MARFORCYBER, said in an interview. There’s almost more urgency to harden the network in the tactical space, because the teams build systems that may not have been online in a while to receive critical updates.
Barnes is waiting on after-action report from a recent II MEF exercise to see exactly what efficiencies the force identified. For another event in December called Dynamic Response, the unit is evaluating how quickly cyber protection teams can deploy with gear, Barnes said. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
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