Tag Archives: electronic warfare

For Sea Control, First Control the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Sea Control Topic Week

By LCDR Damien Dodge

Rapidly maturing electromagnetic technology will revitalize U.S. Navy combat potential and enhance opportunities to establish sea control. As the new National Security Strategy aptly illustrates the United States is faced with resurgent great power competition. Simultaneously, the Joint Operating Environment of 2035 portends a future influenced by the proliferation of disruptive and asymmetric capabilities engendered through global advances in “science, technology, and engineering” expanding the innovation horizons of “robotics, Information Technology, nanotechnology and energy.”1 The Intelligence Community’s Worldwide Threat Assessment reinforces this view and highlights aggressive competition due to adversary advances in high-impact dual-use technologies. The creation of Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) center in Beijing and China’s recent testing of its “quantum satellite” followed by its rumored fielding of an at-sea railgun offer practical demonstrations of this outlook.2 Furthermore, retired Marine General John Allen and Amir Husain envision “hyperwar,” in which the future battlespace will churn with cross-domain action and counteraction at speeds nearly eclipsing human capacity for comprehension and reaction.3

Within the context of this near-future operating environment, current maritime Information Warfare (IW) capabilities, such as those contributing to Signals Intelligent (SIGINT), Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMW), Electronic Warfare (EW), and communications, do not afford sufficient operational agility or adaptability to gain advantage over or exploit the weaknesses of adversaries. Adversaries that are bent on projecting overlapping and reinforcing domains of combat power near their national shores could overwhelm and exploit seams in current Navy electromagnetic-dependent  capabilities.

Given this challenging, hypercompetitive environment the Chief of Naval Operations’ Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority confronts this problem head-on. The CNO seeks to “strengthen naval power at and from the sea” and also to “advance and ingrain information warfare” capabilities across the Navy. This is to enable maritime commanders to achieve objectives through multi-domain maneuver and control “in a highly ‘informationalized’ and contested environment.”4  Additionally, the “Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control” echoes the CNO’s direction by promoting “Distributed Lethality,” which advocates for “increasing the offensive and defensive capability of individual warships, employing them in dispersed formations across a wide expanse of geography, and generating distributed fires.” This is complemented by Defense Department officials advocating for human-machine teaming and an explosion in fielding unmanned systems. Finally, this accelerating competition compels the CNO to advocate not only for a larger fleet, but also one which “must improve faster” where “future ships… [are] made for rapid improvement with modular weapons canisters and swappable electronic sensors and systems.”5

Fortunately, rapid advances in technology, beyond solely enabling adversaries, can also support the CNO’s vision for the Navy – especially one primed to rapidly integrate and learn. With the advent of new designs for antennas and Radio Frequency (RF) components, the evolution of Software Defined Radios (SDR), and more practical instantiations of Artificial Intelligence (AI), these technologies can now be innovatively combined to operationalize envisioned, but not yet fully realized, IW and EMW warfighting capabilities. The capability nexus formed by these swiftly maturing technologies affords the Navy an unparalleled opportunity to maintain cross-domain battlespace decision superiority while outpacing and seeding uncertainty within an adversary’s decision cycle. To achieve this, the Navy must leverage longstanding research investments and aggressively transition these technologies from Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) programs, Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) initiatives, Office of Naval Research (ONR) workbenches, and warfighting center laboratories into fully integrated naval systems. These transitions will provide warfighters the needed tools and decision aids to dynamically control their electromagnetic signatures, provide optimal and low probability of detection communications, deliver more effective Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities, revitalize signals intelligence collection, and engender greater freedom of action across the electromagnetic spectrum. This enabling electromagnetic superiority will present expanded opportunities for maritime commanders to seize sea control at times and places of their choosing.

Emerging Options and Tools in the Electromagnetic Domain 

Antennas and RF components accomplish many functions on a navy ship. These functions are traditionally performed by dedicated single-role RF apertures and components which operate radars, transmit or receive communications, establish tactical datalinks, collect adversary communication signals, and detect or electronically frustrate threat sensors. This stovepipe approach to accessing and influencing the electromagnetic spectrum has created warships bristling with single-purpose antennas awash in scarcely manageable electromagnetic interference (EMI) and subject to individualized, byzantine maintenance and logistic support tails. This situation is a contributing factor to the complexity of the Navy’s C5I architecture afloat, which VADM Kohler admitted requires a 50-person team at the cost of one million dollars to make a Carrier Strike Group fully effective prior to deployment.6 Also, when new capabilities are fielded, such as the F-35, existing systems are often not sufficiently adaptable to absorb their advanced capabilities. Marine Commandant General Robert Neller highlights this issue when lamenting the Marine Corps’ inability to benefit fully from the F-35’s sensors due to Navy amphibious ships being unable to optimally communicate with the aircraft.7 Additionally, shipboard antenna thickets create a significantly larger radar cross section (RCS), thus illuminating these ships to adversary active sensors. Finally, this collection of standalone systems complicates the ship’s ability to manage its electromagnetic emissions in order to hide from passive threat sensors and often the only option may be a tactically dissatisfying binary approach: gain battlespace awareness and communicate, or hide from the adversary.           

In contrast to this patchwork approach, more open architecture (OA) and dynamic phased array antennas combined with advanced element-level RF components are improving beamforming parameters. These include very low sidelobes and extended frequency range dynamics of RF system apertures as revealed by even superficial scans of Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) websites.8 Georgia Tech Research Institute’s agile aperture antenna technology exemplifies these burgeoning capabilities.These capabilities could enable various, low-RCS antenna arrays to perform and synchronize a multitude of electromagnetic functions – evidenced by the Zumwalt class destroyer’s smooth exterior. Separate antenna array elements could form directional, purposeful transmitting or receiving beams pointing to traditional satellites, CubeSats, Aquila-like aircraft, UAVs, or other warships while other array elements establish links or sense the environment.10 These various arrays and elements would be kept from interfering with each other by orchestrating their assigned tasks across temporal (transmission timing), spectral (frequency allocation or waveform selection), and spatial (which element and/or beam) dimensions, or some combination thereof.

For example, an antenna array on the forward part of the ship could switch duties with those on the aft, thus eliminating cut-out zones and distracting ship maneuvers such as steering a “chat-corpen,” which is slang for a ship heading that will maintain satellite communications (SATCOM). Adjustable transmission power and frequency settings combined with narrower beamforming options may offer additional satellite pointing opportunities or improved low-on-the-horizon aircraft communications, while reducing probability of detection or interception by an adversary. Low power, narrow horizontal beams designed for intra-strike group communications could also multi-statically search for surface contacts – referred to in academic journals as “radar-communication convergence.”11 A majority of shipboard spectrum access and sensing could be performed through a more standardized and harmonious set of advanced interconnected antenna arrays, despite the remaining need for distinct electromagnetic array systems such as Aegis or Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP), which are beyond near-term integration into this concept due to their highly specialized functions. Nevertheless, more capable and dynamic antenna arrays and RF components are a source of increased efficiency, greater operational agility, and a potential aperture to confuse adversaries while maximizing friendly communications and sensing.

A necessary complement to advanced antennas and RF components is the flexibility of SDRs and their associated digital signal processing (DSP) capabilities. SDRs can accomplish a wide variety of functions previously relegated to system-specific hardware by using devices such as field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) and more generalized, or even virtualized, computing platforms.12 Together these systems can generate, process, store, and share digital data about signals, either for transmission or upon reception. SDRs can generate waveforms electronically-molded for multiple purposes, allowing for backend DSP to differentiate the signal transmissions and, if combined with radar, reflected returns, maximizing the information recovery from each emitted electromagnetic field.

Evolving SDR performance is establishing the foundation for advanced capabilities such as cognitive radio or radar. “Cognitive” in this usage simply implies a capability designed to sense the electromagnetic environment and determine times and frequencies that are being underused, offering an opportunity for use by the system, which is also known as dynamic spectrum access.13 The concept was conceived as a way to achieve more efficient use of the commercial frequency spectrum, given its increasing congestion, but it also has obvious military applications. For example, if a frequency-hopping system was detected in an area, then a cognitive radio could hop to a different sequencing algorithm, or if a radar was sweeping the spectrum at a certain periodicity, a cognitive radar could sweep at a synchronized offset and use both returns for a more refined depiction of contacts in the area. There are even proposals where radar can work collaboratively with cellular signals to detect contacts with a low probability of interception.14 This could be a useful capability during stealthy naval littoral operations. Additionally, within the bounding parameters of the antenna arrays and RF hardware components, new waveform generation only requires a software update enabling an SDR to facilitate communications with new capabilities such as the F-35, a newly launched CubeSat, a friendly unmanned system, a newly arrived coalition partner, or a recently invented low probability of detection waveform designed to defeat the adversary’s latest sensing algorithm.

The more ambitious and final ingredient necessary to achieve improved IW and EMW capabilities is a form of AI designed for electromagnetic applications and decision support. It is obvious from the contributing authors to the recent ITU Journal special issue, The impact of Artificial Intelligence on communication networks and services that Chinese research and innovation is also trending in this direction.15 While SDRs are powerful tools, they could be improved by orders of magnitude through use of AI algorithms such as those derived from Game Theory and Bayesian mathematics.16 SDRs can perform DPS and waveform generation, but AI or machine learning algorithms can assist in orchestrating enhanced scanning and sensing, thus providing the right signals or portions of the spectrum at the right time to the SDRs for DSP and information extraction. In other words, AI could perform higher-level operations such as altering the application of DSP procedures and determining when and how best to sense and exploit underused, or purposefully below the noise floor, portions of the spectrum. AI could also link the myriad permutations of waveform possibilities to operational objectives such as prioritizing air defense electromagnetic sensor processing and EW protection during an engagement, minimizing adversary emission detection opportunities during a raid, or contributing to adversary uncertainty through deliberately misleading emissions during deceptive maneuvers. Together, these capabilities crowned with practical AI implementations could contribute toward easing many tedious, human-speed and error-prone activities used to achieve IW and EMW capabilities. These human errors include hurried and disjointedly setting emissions control, establishing overly static yet fragile communications plans, divining optimal radar configurations, or communicating haphazardly with coalition partners. Empowered with AI-enabled automation and decision aids, a more integrated and homogenous approach using advanced antenna arrays and SDRs to access and sense the spectrum would vastly improve electromagnetic freedom of action and decision superiority. Thus, if the Navy desires to seize sea control when and where she chooses, first establishing electromagnetic spectrum control is a warfighting prerequisite.


All worthwhile visions of the future confront challenges and resistance, and this one is no different. Legacy antennas, components, radios, and architecture litter numerous program offices, each with differing objectives. Therefore, the Navy must diligently work to coordinate deliberate whole-of-Navy modernization schemes that leverage open architecture, emphasize interoperability, and prioritize these technologies in pursuit of this vision’s goals. Beneficially, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division’s Real Time Spectrum Operations (RTSO) and ONR’s Integrated Topside initiative are laboring toward these ends.17 Also, various DARPA activities such as Signal Processing at RF (SPAR),  Shared Spectrum Access for Radar and Communications (SSPARC), and Communications Under Extreme RF Spectrum Conditions (CommEx), Advanced Wireless Network System (AWNS), and the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge (SC2) together create a rich portfolio of experience and opportunity awaiting renewed Navy focus and attention.18 Furthermore, it will be critical for the Navy to establish an ecosystem, either contracted as a service or as a core, in-house function, in support of continuous SDR software Development and Operations (DevOps) and AI algorithm development.19 This will enable the Navy to continually pace electromagnetic congestion and adversary competition.

Agilely designed, open architecture antenna arrays and RF components connected to dynamic SDRs and empowered by AI algorithms can revitalize and ingrain IW and EMW warfighting capabilities across the Navy to allow the force to confidently seize sea control and win in the future maritime battlespace. Collectively, these capabilities could bring about currently fanciful opportunities, such as a strike group secretly transiting at night through fishing grounds using radio communications imperceptibly different from the fishing trawlers. Such a strike group could employ both intra-strike group communications and surface search radar while receiving and sending intelligence via recently launched CubeSats transmitting on waveforms indistinguishable with area freighters’ Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) satellite communication links, thus remaining electromagnetically camouflaged while maintaining battlespace awareness and communications. Meanwhile, cognitively networked strike group assets could passively sense and target the adversary’s emissions, enabling distributed but converging fires from distant unmanned platforms across the area of operations. Electromagnetic control establishes the initial conditions for sea control.

Lofty tactics and operations will perform sub-optimally and be disrupted through electronic attack unless the Navy builds a solid foundation in electromagnetic freedom of action. Fortuitously, these technologies creatively combined will lay the keel of advanced naval warfighting upon which future naval success will be built, launching a powerful, tough, and confident Navy into the turbulent waters of great power competition to seize sea control when and where she chooses.

LCDR Damien Dodge is a U.S. Navy cryptologic warfare officer assigned to the staff of Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, NATO. He welcomes your comments at: damienadodge+essay@gmail.com. These views are his alone and do not necessarily represent any U.S. or Allied government or NATO department or agency.


[1] Joint Operating Environment 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World, Joint Staff, 14 July 2016, pp. 15-20. http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joe_2035_july16.pdf?ver=2017-12-28-162059-917

[2] Daniel R. Coats, “Worldwide Threat Assessment  of the  US Intelligence Community,” 11 May 2017,  https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/SSCI%20Unclassified%20SFR%20-%20Final.pdf  

and, Reuters, “Chinese quantum satellite sends ‘unbreakable’ code,” Reuters.com, 10 August 2017,  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-space-satellite/chinese-quantum-satellite-sends-unbreakable-code-idUSKBN1AQ0C9 and, Shelly Banjo and David Ramli, “Google to Open Beijing AI Center in Latest Expansion in China,” Bloomberg.com, 12 December 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-12-13/google-to-open-beijing-ai-center-in-latest-expansion-in-china

[3] GEN John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.), and Amir Husain, “On Hyperwar,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 143, no. 7 (July 2017), 30–37.

[4] A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Chief of Naval Operations Staff, Version 1.0 January 2016. Available at, http://www.navy.mil/cno/docs/cno_stg.pdf

[5] “The Future Navy,” 17 May 2017, http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/cno/Richardson/Resource/TheFutureNavy.pdf

[6] Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Navy Kludges Networks: $1M Per Carrier Strike Group, Per Deployment,” Breaking Defense, 12 February 2018, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/02/navy-kludges-networks-1m-per-carrier-strike-group-per-deployment/?_ga=2.90851354.1645113230.1518436630-2104563909.1489661725

[7] Mike Gruss, “Three tech problems the Navy and Marines are worried about,” C4ISRNET, 8 February 2018, available https://www.c4isrnet.com/show-reporter/afcea-west/2018/02/08/three-tech-problems-the-navy-and-marines-corps-are-worried-about/

[8] Examples include: James J. Komiak, Ryan S. Westafer, Nancy V. Saldanha, Randall Lapierre, and R. Todd Lee “Wideband Monolithic Tile for Reconfigurable Phased Arrays,” available http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1041386.pdf and Benjamin Rohrdantz, Karsten Kuhlmann, Alexander Stark, Alexander Geise, Arne Jacob, “Digital beamforming antenna array with polarisation multiplexing for mobile high-speed satellite terminals at Ka-band,” The Journal of Engineering, 2016, 2016, (6), p. 180-188, DOI: 10.1049/joe.2015.0163 IET Digital Library, http://digital-library.theiet.org/content/journals/10.1049/joe.2015.0163  and Darren J. Hartl, Jeffery W. Baur, Geoffrey J. Frank, Robyn Bradford, David Phillips, Thao Gibson, Daniel Rapking, Amrita Bal, and Gregory Huff, “Beamforming and Reconfiguration of A Structurally Embedded Vascular Antenna Array (Seva2) in Both Multi-Layer and Complex Curved Composites,” Air Force Research Laboratory, AFRL-RX-WP-JA-2017-0481, 20 October 2017, available http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1042385.pdf

[9] GTRI Agile Aperture Antenna Technology Is Tested On An Autonomous Ocean Vehicle … https://www.rfglobalnet.com/doc/gtri-agile-aperture-antenna-technology-autonomous-ocean-vehicle-0001

[10] Aquila is a Facebook project to develop a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) solar-powered UAV “that the company envisions one day will provide wireless network connectivity to parts of the world that lack traditional communication infrastructure.” Steven Moffitt and Evan Ladd, “Ensure COMMS: Tap Commercial Innovations for the Military,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 143, no. 12 (December 2017), 54-58.

[11] Bryan Paul, Alex R. Chiriyath, and Daniel W. Bliss, “Survey of RF Communications and Sensing Convergence Research,” IEEE Access, date of publication December 13, 2016, date of current version February 25, 2017, Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/ACCESS.2016.2639038 available http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=7782415

[12] Mike Lee, Mike Lucas, Robert Young, Robert Howell, Pavel Borodulin, Nabil El-Hinnawy, “RF FPGA for 0.4 to 18 GHz DoD Multi-function Systems,” Mar 2013, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a579506.pdf

[13] Helen Tang and Susan Watson, “Cognitive radio networks for tactical wireless Communications,” Defence Research and Development Canada, Scientific Report, DRDC-RDDC-2014-R185, December 2014, available http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1004297.pdf 

[14] Chenguang Shi, Sana Salous, Fei Wang, and Jianjiang Zhou, “Low probability of intercept-based adaptive radar waveform optimization in signal-dependent clutter for joint radar and cellular communication systems,” EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing, (2016) 2016:111, DOI 10.1186/s13634-016-0411-6, available https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5085998/ 

[15] ITU Journal, ICT Discoveries, First special issue on “The impact of Artificial Intelligence on communication networks and services,” Volume 1, No. 1, March 2018, available, https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-t/opb/tut/T-TUT-ITUJOURNAL-2018-P1-PDF-E.pdf

[16] Jan Oksanen, “Machine learning methods for spectrum exploration and exploitation,” Aalto University publication series, Doctoral Dissertations 169/2016, 21 June 2016 Unigrafia Oy, Helsinki, Finland, 2016, available

https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/bitstream/handle/123456789/21917/isbn9789526069814.pdf?sequence=1 and Helen Tang, et al.

[17] Gregory Tavik, James Alter, James Evins, Dharmesh Patel, Norman Thomas, Ronnie Stapleton, John Faulkner, Steve Hedges, Peter Moosbrugger, Wayne Hunter, Robert Normoyle, Michael Butler, Tim Kirk, William Mulqueen, Jerald Nespor, Douglas Carlson, Joseph Krycia, William Kennedy, Craig McCordic, and Michael Sarcione, “Integrated Topside (InTop) Joint Navy–Industry Open Architecture Study” Naval Research Laboratory, Sponsored by Office of Naval Research, 10 September 2010,  NRL/FR/5008–10-10,198 available http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA528790 and, John Joyce, “Navy Expands Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare for ‘Victory at Sea,’” U.S. Navy, 11/2/2017, Story Number: NNS171102-14, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=103165

[18] See DARPA research at https://www.darpa.mil/our-research and, Helen Tang, et al. and John Haystead, “Big Challenges Ahead as DOD Tries to Address EMSO Implementation,” Journal of Electronic Defense, February 2018 pp 22-25; and DARPA’s SC2 site https://spectrumcollaborationchallenge.com

[19] Possibly a sub-ecosystem within OPNAV’s Digital Warfare Office (DWO).

Featured Image: Operations Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Jones, from Victorville, Calif., stands watch in Combat Direction Center aboard the forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jennifer A. Villalovos/Released)

Beijing’s Views on Norms in Cyberspace and Cyber Warfare Strategy Pt. 2

By LCDR Jake Bebber USN

The following is a two-part series looking at PRC use of cyberspace operations in pursuit of its national strategies and the establishment of the Strategic Support Force. Part 1 considered the centrality of information operations and information war to the PRC’s approach toward its current struggle against the U.S. Part 2 looks at the PRC’s use of international norms and institutions in cyberspace, and possible U.S. responses.

Cyber-Enabled Public Opinion and Political Warfare

Many American planners are carefully considering scenarios such as China making a play to force the integration of Taiwan, seize the Senkaku Islands from Japan, or seize and project power from any and all claimed reefs and islands in the South China Sea. Under these scenarios we can expect preemptive strikes in the space and network domains in an attempt to “blind” or confuse American and allied understanding and establish a fait accompli. This will, in Chinese thinking, force the National Command Authority to consider a long and difficult campaign in order to eject Chinese forces, and the CCP is placing a bet that American decision makers will choose to reach a political accommodation that recognizes the new “facts on the ground” rather than risk a wider military and economic confrontation.

The role of public opinion warfare may be an integral component of future crisis and conflict in Asia. Well in advance of any potential confrontation, Chinese writing emphasizes the role of “political warfare” and “public opinion warfare” as an offensive deterrence strategy. China will seek to actively shape American, allied, and world opinion to legitimize any military action the CCP deems necessary. We might see cyber-enabled means to “incessantly disseminate false and confused information to the enemy side … through elaborate planning [in peacetime], and [thereby] interfere with and disrupt the enemy side’s perception, thinking, willpower and judgment, so that it will generate erroneous determination and measures.”1 China may try to leverage large populations of Chinese nationals and those of Chinese heritage living outside China as a way to influence other countries and generate new narratives that promote the PRC’s position. Consider, for example, how Chinese social media campaigns led to the boycotts of bananas from the Philippines when it seized Scarborough Reef, or similar campaigns against Japanese-made cars during its ongoing territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands. Most recently, Lotte Duty Free, a South Korean company, suffered distributed denial-of-service attacks from Chinese IP servers – almost certainly a response to South Korea’s recent decision to host the THAAD missile defense system.

It is also critical to recognize China’s understanding and leverage of the American political, information, and economic system. Over decades, China has intertwined its interests and money with American universities, research institutes, corporate institutions, media and entertainment, political lobbying, and special interest organizations. This has had the effect of co-opting a number of institutions and elite opinion makers who view any competition or conflict with China as, at best, detrimental to American interests, and at worst, as a hopeless cause, some going so far as to suggest that it is better for the U.S. to recognize Chinese primacy and hegemony, at least in Asia, if not worldwide. Either way, China will maximize attempts to use cyber-enabled means to shape American and world understanding so as to paint China as the “victim” in any scenario, being “forced” into action by American or Western “interference” or “provocation.”

What can the U.S. do to Enhance Network Resilience?

One of the most important ways that network resiliency can be addressed is by fundamentally changing the intellectual and conceptual approach to critical networks. Richard Harknett, the former scholar-in-residence at U.S. Cyber Command, has suggested a better approach. In a recent issue of the Journal of Information Warfare, he points out that cyberspace is not a deterrence space, but an offense-persistent environment. By that he means that it is an inherently active, iterative, and adaptive domain. Norms are not established by seeking to impose an understood order (such as at Bretton Woods) or through a “doctrine of restraint,” but rather through the regular and constant interactions between states and other actors.  Defense and resiliency are possible in this space, but attrition is not. Conflict here cannot be contained to “areas of hostility” or “military exclusion zones.” No steady state can exist here—every defense is a new opportunity for offense, and every offense generates a new defense.2

Second, the policy and legal approach to network resiliency must shift from a law enforcement paradigm to a national security paradigm. This paradigm is important because it affects the framework under which operations are conducted. The emphasis becomes one of active defense, adaptation, identification of vulnerabilities and systemic redundancy and resilience. A national security approach would also be better suited for mobilizing a whole-of-nation response in which the government, industry, and the population are engaged as active participants in network defense and resiliency. Important to this is the development of partnership mechanisms and professional networking that permit rapid sharing of information at the lowest level possible. Major telecommunications firms, which provide the infrastructure backbone of critical networks, require timely, actionable information in order to respond to malicious threats. Engagement with the private sector must be conducted in the same way they engage with each other – by developing personal trust and providing actionable information.

Network hardening must be coupled with the capabilities needed to rapidly reconstitute critical networks and the resiliency to fight through network attack. This includes the development of alternative command, control, and communication capabilities. In this regard, the military and government can look to industries such as online retail, online streaming, and online financial networks (among others) that operate under constant attack on an hourly basis while proving capable of providing on-demand service to customers without interruption. Some lessons might be learned here.    

Third, new operational concepts must emphasize persistent engagement over static defense. The United States must have the capacity to contest and counter the cyber capabilities of its adversaries and the intelligence capacity to anticipate vulnerabilities so we move away from a reactive approach to cyber incidents and instead position ourselves to find security through retaining the initiative across the spectrum of resiliency and active defensive and offensive cyber operations.

Congressional Action and Implementing a Whole-of-Government Approach

There are five “big hammers” that Congress and the federal government have at their disposal to effect large changes – these are known as the “Rishikof of Big 5” after Harvey Rishikof, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Law and National Security for the American Bar Association. These “hammers” include the tax code and budget, the regulatory code, insurance premiums, litigation, and international treaties. A comprehensive, whole-of-nation response to the challenge China represents to the American-led international system will require a mixture of these “big hammers.” No one change or alteration in Department of Defense policy toward cyberspace operations will have nearly the impact as these “hammers.”3

The tax code and budget, coupled with regulation, can be structured to incentivize network resiliency and security by default (cyber security built into software and hardware as a priority standard), not only among key critical infrastructure industries, but among the population as a whole to include the telecommunication Internet border gateways, small-to-medium sized Internet service providers, and information technology suppliers. Since the federal government, Defense Department, and Homeland Security rely largely on private industry and third-party suppliers for communications and information technology, this would have the attendant effect of improving the systems used by those supporting national security and homeland defense. The key question then is: how can Congress incentivize network resiliency and security standards, to include protecting the supply chain, most especially for those in industry who provide goods and services to the government?

If the tax code, budget, and regulation might provide some incentive (“carrots”), so too can they provide “sticks.” Litigation and insurance premiums can also provide similar effects, both to incentivize standards and practices and discourage poor cyber hygiene and lax network security practices. Again, Congress must balance the “carrots” and “sticks” within a national security framework.

Congress might also address law and policy which permits adversary states to leverage the American system to our detriment. Today, American universities and research institutions are training China’s future leaders in information technology, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, computer science, cryptology, directed energy and quantum mechanics. Most of these students will likely return to China to put their services to work for the Chinese government and military, designing systems to defeat us. American companies hire and train Chinese technology engineers, and have established research institutes in China.4 The American taxpayer is helping fund the growth and development of China’s military and strategic cyber forces as well as growth in China’s information technology industry.

Related specifically to the Department of Defense, Congress should work with the Department to identify ways in which the services man, train, and equip cyber mission forces. It will have to provide new tools that the services can leverage to identify and recruit talented men and women, and ensure that the nation can benefit long-term by setting up appropriate incentives to retain and promote the best and brightest. It will have to address an acquisition system structured around platforms and long-term programs of record. The current military is one where highly advanced systems have to be made to work with legacy systems and cobbled together with commercial, off-the-shelf technology. This is less than optimal and creates hidden vulnerabilities in these systems, risking cascading mission failure and putting lives in jeopardy.

Finally, Congress, the Department of Defense, and the broader intelligence and homeland security communities can work together to establish a center of excellence for the information and cyber domain that can provide the detailed system-of-systems analysis, analytic tools, and capability development necessary to operate and defend in this space. Such centers have been established in other domains, such as land (e.g., National Geospatial Intelligence Agency), sea (e.g., Office of Naval Intelligence) and air and space (e.g., National Air and Space Intelligence Center).


It is important to understand that this competition is not limited to “DOD versus PLA.” The U.S. must evaluate how it is postured as a nation is whether it is prepared fight and defend its information space, to include critical infrastructure, networks, strategic resources, economic arrangements, and the industries that mold and shape public understanding, attitude, and opinion. It must decide whether defense of the information space and the homeland is a matter of national security or one of law enforcement, because each path is governed by very different approaches to rules, roles, policies, and responses. Policymakers should consider how to best address the need to provide critical indications, warnings, threat detection, as well as the system-of-systems network intelligence required for the U.S. to develop the capabilities necessary to operate in and through cyberspace. For all other domains in which the U.S. operates, there is a lead intelligence agency devoted to that space (Office of Naval Intelligence for the maritime domain, National Air and Space Intelligence Center for the air and space domains, etc.).

It must always be remembered that for China, this is a zero-sum competition – there will be a distinct winner and loser. It intends to be that winner, and it believes that the longer it can mask the true nature of that competition and keep America wedded to its own view of the competition as a positive-sum game, it will enjoy significant leverage within the American-led system and retain strategic advantage. China is pursuing successfully, so far, a very clever strategy of working through the system the U.S. built in order to supplant it – and much of it is happening openly and in full view. This strategy can be countered in many ways, but first the U.S. must recognize its approach and decide to act.

LCDR Jake Bebber is a cryptologic warfare officer assigned to the staff of Carrier Strike Group 12. He previously served on the staff of U.S. Cyber Command from 2013 – 2017. LCDR Bebber holds a Ph.D. in public policy. He welcomes your comments at: jbebber@gmail.com. These views are his alone and do not necessarily represent any U.S. government department or agency.

1. Deal 2014.

2. Richard Harknett and Emily Goldman (2016) “The Search for Cyber Fundamentals.” Journal of Information Warfare. Vol. 15 No. 2.

3. Harvey Rishikof (2017) Personal communication, April 21.

4. See: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2013-03-28/chinese-hacking-is-made-in-the-u-s-a-

Featured Image: Nokia Security Center server room (Photo: Nokia)

Beijing’s Views on Norms in Cyberspace and Cyber Warfare Strategy Pt. 1

By LCDR Jake Bebber USN

The following is a two-part series looking at PRC use of cyberspace operations in pursuit of its national strategies and the establishment of the Strategic Support Force. Part 1 considers the centrality of information operations and information war to the PRC’s approach toward its current struggle against the U.S. Part 2 looks at the PRC’s use of international norms and institutions in cyberspace, and possible U.S. responses.


A recent article noted a marked shift in Chinese strategy a few short years ago which is only now being noticed. Newsweek author Jeff Stein wrote a passing reference to a CCP Politburo debate under the presidency of Hu Jintao in 2012 in which “Beijing’s leading economics and financial officials argued that China should avoid further antagonizing the United States, its top trading partner. But Beijing’s intelligence and military officials won the debate with arguments that China had arrived as a superpower and should pursue a more muscular campaign against the U.S.”1

The nature of this competition is slowly taking shape, and it is a much different struggle than the Cold War against the Soviet Union – however, with stakes no less important. This is a geoeconomic and geoinformational struggle. Both U.S. and PRC views on cyber warfare strategy, military cyber doctrine, and relevant norms and capabilities remain in the formative, conceptual, and empirical stages of understanding. There is an ongoing formulation of attempting to understand what cyberspace operations really are. While using similar language, each has different orientations and perspectives on cyberspace and information warfare, including limiting structures, which has led to different behaviors. However, the nature of cyberspace, from technological advancement and change, market shifts, evolving consumer preferences to inevitable compromises, means that while windows of opportunity will emerge, no one side should expect to enjoy permanent advantage. Thus, the term ‘struggle’ to capture the evolving U.S.-PRC competition.

The PRC recognized in the 1990s the centrality of information warfare and network operations to modern conflict. However, it has always understood the information space as blended and interrelated. Information is a strategic resource to be harvested and accumulated, while denied to the adversary. Information warfare supports all elements of comprehensive national power to include political warfare, legal warfare, diplomatic warfare, media warfare, economic warfare, and military warfare. It is critical to recognize that the PRC leverages the American system and its values legally (probably more so than illegally), to constrain the U.S. response, cloud American understanding, and co-opt key American institutions, allies, and assets. In many ways, the PRC approach being waged today is being hidden by their ability to work within and through our open liberal economic and political system, while supplemented with cyber-enabled covert action (such as the OPM hack).

To support their comprehensive campaign, the PRC is reforming and reorganizing the military wing of the Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), posturing it to fight and win in the information space. Most notably, it recently established the Strategic Support Force (SSF) as an umbrella entity for electronic, information, and cyber warfare. Critical for U.S. policymakers to understand is how the SSF will be integrated into the larger PLA force, how it will be employed in support of national and military objectives, and how it will be commanded and controlled. While much of this remains unanswered, some general observations can be made.

This reform postures the PLA to conduct “local wars under informationized conditions” in support of its historic mission to “secure dominance” in outer space and the electromagnetic domain. Network (or cyberspace) forces are now alongside electromagnetic, space, and psychological operations forces and better organized to conduct integrated operations jointly with air, land, and sea forces.2

This change presents an enormous challenge to the PLA. The establishment of the SSF disrupts traditional roles, relationships, and processes. It also disrupts power relationships within the PLA and between the PLA and the CCP. It challenges long-held organizational concepts, and is occurring in the midst of other landmark reforms, to include the establishment of new joint theater commands.3 However, if successful, it would improve information flows in support of joint operations and create a command and control organization that can develop standard operating procedures, tactics, techniques, procedures, advanced doctrine, associated training, along with driving research and development toward advanced capabilities.

While questions remain as to the exact composition of the Strategic Support Force, there seems to be some consensus that space, cyber, electronic warfare, and perhaps psychological operations forces will be centralized into a single “information warfare service.” Recent PLA writings indicate that network warfare forces will be charged with network attack and defense, space forces will focus on ISR and navigation, and electronic warfare forces will engage in jamming and disruption of adversary C4ISR. It seems likely that the PRC’s strategic information and intelligence support forces may fall under the new SSF. The PLA’s information warfare strategy calls for its information warfare forces to form into ad hoc “information operations groups” at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, and the establishment of the SSF will save time and enable better coordination and integration into joint forces. The SSF will be better postured to conduct intelligence preparation of the battlespace, war readiness and comprehensive planning for “information dominance.”4

The establishment of the SSF creates a form of information “defense in depth,” both for the PLA and Chinese society as a whole. The SSF enables the PLA to provide the CCP with “overlapping measures of electronic, psychological, and political deterrents.” It is reasonable to expect that there will be extensive coordination and cooperation among the PRC’s military, internal security, network security, “commercial” enterprises such as Huawei and ZTE, political party organizations, state controlled media both inside and outside China, and perhaps even mobilization of Chinese populations.

Chinese Information Warfare Concepts and Applications

Recent Chinese military writings have stressed the centrality of information to modern war and modern military operations. Paying close attention to the way the West – principally the U.S. – conducted the First Gulf War and operations in Kosovo and the Balkans in the 1990s, the PRC has been aggressively pursuing a modernization and reform program that has culminated in where they are today. Indeed, there is close resemblance to PLA and PRC aspirational writing from the 1990s to today’s force structure.

In many ways, the PLA understanding of modern war reflects the American understanding in so much as both refer to the centrality of information and the need to control the “network domain.” “Informatized War” and “Informatized Operations” occur within a multi-dimensional space – land, sea, air, space and the “network electromagnetic” or what Americans generally understand as “cyberspace.” The U.S. has long held that the control of the network domain provides a significant “first mover advantage,” and the PRC is well on the way toward building the capability for contesting control of the network domain. Its writings consistently hold that the PLA must degrade and destroy the adversary’s information support infrastructure to lessen its ability to respond or retaliate. This is especially necessary for “the weak to defeat the strong,” because most current writing still suggests that the PLA believes itself still inferior to American forces, though this perception is rapidly changing. Regardless, the PRC understanding of modern war supposes a strong incentive for aggressive action in the network domain immediately prior to the onset of hostilities.6 These operations are not restricted geographically, and we should expect to see full-scope network operations worldwide in pursuit of their interests, including in the American homeland.7

There are three components to a strategic first strike in the cyber domain. The first component is network reconnaissance to gain an understanding of critical adversary networks, identifying vulnerabilities, and manipulating adversary perception to obtain strategic advantage. Network forces are then postured to be able to conduct “system sabotage” at a time and place of the PRC’s choosing. When the time is right, such as a prelude to a Taiwan invasion or perhaps the establishment of an air defense identification zone over the South China Sea, the PRC will use system sabotage to render adversary information systems impotent, or to illuminate the adversary’s “strategic cyber geography” in order to establish a form of “offensive cyber deterrence.” The PRC could take action to expose its presence in critical government, military, or civilian networks and perhaps conduct some forms of attack in order to send a “warning shot across the bow” and give national decision-makers reason to pause and incentive to not intervene.8

Indeed, unlike the American perspective, which seeks to use cyberspace operations as a non-kinetic means to dissuade or deter potential adversaries in what Americans like to think of as “Phase 0,” the PLA has increasingly moved toward an operational construct that blends cyberspace operations with kinetic operations, creating a form of “cyber-kinetic strategic interaction.” The goal would be to blind, disrupt, or deceive adversary command and control and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems while almost simultaneously deploying its formidable conventional strike, ballistic missile, and maritime power projection forces. The PLA envisions this operational concept as “integrated network electronic warfare,” described by Michael Raska as the “coordinated use of cyber operations, electronic warfare, space control, and kinetic strikes designed to create ‘blind spots’ in an adversary’s C4ISR systems.”9 

The PLA has recently described this as a form of “network swarming attacks” and “multi-directional maneuvering attacks” conducted in all domains – space, cyberspace, ground, air, and sea. The Strategic Support Force has been designed to provide these integrated operations, employing electronic warfare, cyberspace operations, space and counter-space operations, military deception and psychological operations working jointly with long-range precision strike, ballistic missile forces and traditional conventional forces.

Essential to these concepts are China’s ability to achieve dominance over space-based information assets. PRC authors acknowledge this as critical to conducting joint operations and sustaining battlefield initiative. This includes not only the orbiting systems, but ground stations, tracking and telemetry control, and associated data systems. We can expect full-scope operations targeting all elements of America’s space-based information system enterprise.

Important to all of this is the necessity of preparatory operations that take place during “peacetime.” China understands that many of its cyberspace, network, electronic and space warfare capabilities will not be available unless it has gained access to and conducted extensive reconnaissance of key systems and pre-placed capabilities to achieve desired effects. We should expect that the PRC is actively attempting to penetrate and exploit key systems now in order to be able to deliver effects at a later date.

Chinese Understandings of Deterrence and International Law in Cyber Warfare

China recently released the “International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace.”10 Graham Webster at the Yale Law School made some recent observations. First, it emphasizes “internet sovereignty,” which is unsurprising, since the CCP has a vested interest in strictly controlling the information space within China, and between China and the rest of the world.  This concept of “internet sovereignty” should best be understood as the primacy of Chinese interests. China would consider threatening information sources outside of the political borders of China as legitimate targets for cyber exploitation and attack. In the minds of the CCP, the governance of cyberspace should recognize the sovereignty of states, so long as the Chinese state’s sovereignty is paramount over the rest of the world’s.

Second, the strategy suggests that “[t]he tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust.” This appears to be aimed squarely at the U.S., most likely the result of Edward Snowden’s actions. The U.S. seems to also be the target when the strategy refers to “interference in other countries’ internal affairs by abusing ICT and massive cyber surveillance activities,” and that “no country should pursue cyber hegemony.” Of course, the PRC has been shown to be one of the biggest sources of cyber-enabled intellectual property theft and exploitation, and China’s cyber surveillance and control regimes are legendary in scope. Immediately after decrying the “militarization” of cyberspace, the strategy calls for China to “expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities … to prevent major crisis, safeguard cyberspace security, and maintain national security and social stability.” These broad, sweeping terms would permit China to later claim that much of its activities that appear to violate its own stated principles in the strategy are indeed legitimate.

The strategy seeks to encourage a move away from multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet to multilateral decision-making among governments, preferably under the United Nations. This would certainly be in China’s interests, as China continues to hold great sway in the U.N., especially among the developing world. After all, China is rapidly expanding its geoeconomic and geoinformational programs, leveraging its state-owned enterprises to provide funding, resources, and informational infrastructure throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. As more countries become dependent on Chinese financing, development, and infrastructure, they will find it harder to oppose or object to governance regimes that favor Chinese interests.

Naturally, the strategy emphasizes domestic initiatives and a commitment to a strong, domestic high-tech industry. This would include the “Made in China 2025” plan, which has received a great deal of attention. The plan seeks to comprehensively upgrade and reform Chinese industry, with an emphasis on information technology.11

When considering deterrence in the Chinese understanding, it is important to remember that China approaches it from a different context than the United States. Jacqueline Deal noted that China’s basic outlook proceeds from the premise that the “natural state of world is one of conflict and competition, and the goal of strategy is to impose order through hierarchy.”12 While Americans understand deterrence as a rational calculation, the Chinese approach emphasizes the conscious manipulation of perceptions.

Indeed, the Chinese term weishe, which translates as “deterrence,” also embodies the idea of “coercion.” We might see examples of this understanding by China’s historic use of “teaching a lesson” to lesser powers. In the 20th Century, Chinese offensives against India and Vietnam – thought by many in the West to be an example of tragic misunderstanding and failed signaling of core interests – might be better thought of as attempts by China to secure its “rightful” place atop the regional hierarchy. It is a form of “lesson teaching” that has long-term deterrent effects down the road.

We can expect therefore that cyberspace would become one means among many that China will use in support of its “Three Warfares” (public opinion, media, legal) concept in support of its larger deterrent or compellence strategies. It will likely be much broader than the use of PLA SSF forces, and could include cyber-enabled economic strategies, financial leverage, and resource withholding.

LCDR Jake Bebber is a cryptologic warfare officer assigned to the staff of Carrier Strike Group 12. He previously served on the staff of U.S. Cyber Command from 2013 – 2017. LCDR Bebber holds a Ph.D. in public policy. He welcomes your comments at: jbebber@gmail.com. These views are his alone and do not necessarily represent any U.S. government department or agency.

1. Available at: http://www.newsweek.com/cia-chinese-moles-beijing-spies-577442

2. Dean Cheng (2017). Cyber Dragon: Inside China’s Information Warfare and Cyber Operations. Praeger Security International.

3. Cheng 2017.

4. John Costello and Peter Mattis (2016). “Electronic Warfare and the Renaissance of Chinese Information Operations.” in China’s Evolving Military Strategy (Joe McReynolds, editor). The Jamestown Foundation.

6. Joe McReynolds, et. Al. (2015) “TERMINE ELECTRON: Chinese Military Computer Network Warfare Theory and Practice.” Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis

7.  Barry D. Watts (2014) “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War.” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

8. Timothy L. Thomas (2013) “China’s Cyber Incursions.” Foreign Military Studies Office

9. See: http://www.atimes.com/article/chinas-evolving-cyber-warfare-strategies/

10. See: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2017-03/01/c_136094371.htm

11. See: https://www.csis.org/analysis/made-china-2025

12. Jacqueline N. Deal (2014). “Chinese Concepts of Deterrence and their Practical Implications for the United States.” Long Term Strategy Group.

Featured Image: The Center for Nanoscale Materials at the Advanced Photon Source. (Photo: Argonne National Laboratory)

Electronic Warfare’s Place in Distributed Lethality: Congressional Testimony

The following testimony published on Information Dissemination, and is shared with the author’s permission.

By Jon Solomon

Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee

Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces

Prepared Statement of Jonathan F. Solomon

Senior Systems and Technology Analyst, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc.

December 9th, 2015

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

Thank you Chairman Forbes and Ranking Member Courtney and all the members of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee for granting me the honor of testifying today and to submit this written statement for the record.

I am a former U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO), and served two Division Officer tours in destroyers while on active duty from 2000-2004. My two billets were perhaps the most tactically-intensive ones available to a junior SWO: Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer and AEGIS Fire Control Officer. As the young officer responsible for overseeing the maintenance and operation of my destroyers’ principal combat systems, I obtained an unparalleled foundational education in the tactics and technologies of modern naval warfare. In particular, I gained a fine appreciation for the difficulties of interpreting and then optimally acting upon the dynamic and often ambiguous “situational pictures” that were produced by the sensors I “owned.” I can attest to the fact that Clausewitz’s concepts of “fog” and “friction” remain alive and well in the 21st Century in spite of, and sometimes exacerbated by, our technological advancements.

My civilian job of the past eleven years at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. has been to provide programmatic and systems engineering support to various surface combat system acquisition programs within the portfolio of the Navy’s Program Executive Officer for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS). This work has provided me an opportunity to participate, however peripherally, in the development of some of the surface Navy’s future combat systems technologies. It has also enriched my understanding of the technical principles and considerations that affect combat systems performance; this is no small thing considering that I am not an engineer by education.

In recent years, and with the generous support and encouragement of Mr. Bryan McGrath, I’ve taken up a hobby of writing articles that connect my academic background in maritime strategy, naval history, naval technology, and deterrence theory with my professional experiences. One of my favorite topics concerns the challenges and opportunities surrounding the potential uses of electronic warfare in modern maritime operations. It’s a subject that I first encountered while on active duty, and later explored in great detail during my Masters thesis investigation of how advanced wide-area oceanic surveillance-reconnaissance-targeting systems were countered during the Cold War, and might be countered in the future.

Electronic warfare receives remarkably little attention in the ongoing debates over future operating concepts and the like. Granted, classification serves as a barrier with respect to specific capabilities and systems. But electronic warfare’s basic technical principles and effects are and have always been unclassified. I believe that much of the present unfamiliarity concerning electronic warfare stems from the fact that it’s been almost a quarter century since U.S. naval forces last had to be prepared to operate under conditions in which victory—not to mention survival—in battle hinged upon achieving temporary localized mastery of the electromagnetic spectrum over the adversary.

America’s chief strategic competitors intimately understand the importance of electronic warfare to fighting at sea. Soviet Cold War-era tactics for anti-ship attacks heavily leveraged what they termed “radio-electronic combat,” and there’s plenty of open source evidence available to suggest that this remains true in today’s Russian military as well.[i] The Chinese are no different with respect to how they conceive of fighting under “informatized conditions.”[ii] In a conflict against either of these two great powers, U.S. maritime forces’ sensors and communications pathways would assuredly be subjected to intense disruption, denial, and deception via jamming or other related tactics. Likewise, ill-disciplined electromagnetic transmissions by U.S. maritime forces in a combat zone might very well prove suicidal in that they could provide an adversary a bullseye for aiming its long-range weapons.

To their credit, the Navy’s seniormost leadership have gone to great lengths to stress the importance of electronic warfare in recent years, most notably in the new Maritime Strategy. They have even launched a new concept they call electromagnetic maneuver warfare, which appears geared towards exactly the kinds of capabilities I am about to outline. It is therefore quite likely that major elements of the U.S. Navy’s future surface warfare vision, Distributed Lethality, will take electronic warfare considerations into account. I would suggest that Distributed Lethality’s developers do so in three areas in particular: Command and Control (C2) doctrine, force-wide communications methods, and over-the-horizon targeting and counter-targeting measures.

First and foremost, Distributed Lethality’s C2 approach absolutely must be rooted in the doctrinal philosophy of “mission command.” Such doctrine entails a higher-echelon commander, whether he or she is the commander of a large maritime battleforce or the commander of a Surface Action Group (SAG) consisting of just a few warships, providing subordinate ship or group commanders with an outline of his or her intentions for how a mission is to be executed, then delegating extensive tactical decision-making authority to them to get the job done. This would be very different than the  Navy’s C2 culture of the past few decades in which higher-echelon commanders often strove to use a “common tactical picture” to exercise direct real-time control, sometimes from a considerable distance, over subordinate groups and ships. Such direct control will not be possible in contested areas in which communications using the electromagnetic spectrum are—unless concealed using some means—readily exploitable by an electronic warfare-savvy adversary. Perhaps the adversary might use noise or deceptive jamming, deceptive emissions, or decoy forces to confuse or manipulate the “common picture.” Or perhaps the adversary might attack the communications pathways directly with the aim of severing the voice and data connections between commanders and subordinates. An adept adversary might even use a unit or flagship’s insufficiently concealed radio frequency emissions to vector attacks. It should be clear, then, that the embrace of mission command doctrine by the Navy’s senior-most leadership on down to the deckplate level will be critical to U.S. Navy surface forces’ operational effectiveness if not survival in future high-end naval combat.

Let me now address the question of why a surface force must be able to retain some degree of voice and data communications even when operating deep within a contested zone. As I alluded earlier, I consider it highly counterproductive if not outright dangerous for a higher-echelon commander to attempt to exercise direct tactical control over subordinate assets in the field under opposed electromagnetic conditions. But that doesn’t mean that the subordinate assets should not share their sensor pictures with each other, or that those assets should not be able to spontaneously collaborate with each other as a battle unfolds, or that higher-echelon commanders should not be able to issue mission intentions and operational or tactical situation updates—or even exercise a veto over subordinates’ tactical decisions in extreme cases. A ship or an aircraft can, after all, only “see” on its own what is within the line of sight of its onboard sensors. If one ship or aircraft within some group detects a target of opportunity or an inbound threat, that information cannot be exploited to its fullest if the ship or aircraft in contact cannot pass what it knows to its partners in a timely manner with requisite details. In an age where large salvos of anti-ship missiles can cover hundreds—and in a few cases thousands—of miles in the tens of minutes, where actionable detections of “archers” and “arrows” can be extremely fleeting, and where only minutes may separate the moments in which each side first detects the other, the side that can best build and then act upon a tactical picture is, per legendary naval tactical theorist Wayne Hughes, the one most likely to fire first effectively and thus prevail.[iii]

This requires the use of varying forms of voice and data networking as tailored to specific tactical or operational C2purposes. A real-time tactical picture is often needed for coordinating defenses against an enemy attack. A very close to real-time tactical picture may be sufficient for coordinating attacks against adversary forces. Non-real time communications may be entirely adequate for a higher-echelon commander to convey mission guidance to subordinates.

But how to conceal these communications, or at least drastically lower the risk that they might be intercepted and exploited by an adversary? The most secure form of communications against electronic warfare is obviously human courier, and while this was used by the U.S. Navy on a number of occasions during the Cold War to promote security in the dissemination of multi-day operational and tactical plans, it is simply not practicable in the heat of an ongoing tactical engagement. Visible-band and infrared pathways present other options, as demonstrated by the varying forms of “flashing light” communications practiced over the centuries. For instance, a 21st Century flashing light that is based upon laser technologies would have the added advantage of being highly directional, as its power would be concentrated in a very narrow beam that an adversary would have to be very lucky to be in the right place at the right time to intercept. That said, visible-band and infrared systems’ effective ranges are fairly limited to begin with when used directly between ships, and even more so in inclement weather. This may be fine if a tactical situation allows for a SAG’s units to be operating in close proximity. However, if unit dispersal will often be the rule in contested zones in order to reduce the risk that an adversary’s discovery of one U.S. warship quickly results in detection of the rest of the SAG, then visible-band and infrared pathways can only offer partial solutions. A broader portfolio of communications options is consequently necessary.

It is commonly believed that the execution of strict Emissions Control (EMCON) in a combat zone in order to avoid detection (or pathway exploitation) by an adversary means that U.S. Navy warships would not be able to use any form of radiofrequency communications. This is not the case. Lower-frequency radios such as those that operate in the (awkwardly titled) High, Very High, and Ultra High Frequency (HF, VHF, and UHF) bands are very vulnerable because their transmission beams tend to be very wide. The wider a transmission beam, the greater the volume through which the beam will propagate, and in turn the greater the opportunity for an adversary’s signals intelligence collectors to be in the right place at the right time. In order to make lower-frequency radio communications highly-directional and thereby difficult for an adversary to intercept, a ship’s transmitting antennas would have to be far larger than is practical. At the Super High Frequency (SHF) band and above, though, transmission beamwidth using a practically-sized antenna becomes increasingly narrow and thus more difficult to intercept. This is why the Cold War-era U.S. Navy designed its Hawklink line-of-sight datalink connecting surface combatants and the SH-60B helicopter to use SHF; the latter could continually provide sonarbuoy, radar, or electronic support measures data to the former—and thereby serve as an anti-submarine “pouncer” or an anti-ship scout—with a relatively low risk of the signals being detected or exploited. In theory, the surface Navy might develop a portfolio of highly-directional line-of-sight communications systems that operate at SHF or Extremely High Frequency (EHF)/Millimeter-wave (MMW) bands in order to retain an all-weather voice and data communications capability even during strict EMCON. The Navy might also develop high-band communications packages that could be carried by manned or unmanned aircraft, and especially those that could be embarked aboard surface combatants, so that surface units could communicate securely over long-distances via these “middlemen.” Shipboard and airframe “real estate” for antennas is generally quite limited, though, so the tradeoff for establishing highly-directional communications may well be reduced overall communications “bandwidth” compared to what is possible when also using available communications systems that aren’t as directional. Nevertheless, this could be quite practicable in a doctrinal culture that embraces mission command and the spontaneous local tactical collaboration of ships and aircraft in a SAG.

High-directionality also means that a single antenna can only communicate with one other ship or aircraft at a time—and it must know where that partner is so that it can point its beam precisely. If a transmission is meant for receipt by other ships or aircraft, it must either be relayed via one or more “middleman” assets’ directional links to those units or it must be broadcast to them using less-directional pathways. Broadcast is perfectly acceptable as a one-way transmissions method if the broadcaster is either located in a relatively secure and defensible area or alternatively is relatively expendable.  An example of the former might be an airborne early warning aircraft protected by fighters or surface combatants broadcasting its radar picture to friendly forces (and performing as a local C2 post as well) using less-directional lower-frequency communications. An example of the latter might be Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) launchable by SAG ships to serve as communications broadcast nodes; a ship could uplink to the UAS using a highly-directional pathway and the UAS could then rebroadcast the data within a localized footprint. Higher-echelon commanders located in a battlespace’s rearward areas might also use broadcast to provide selected theater- and national-level sensor data, updated mission guidance, or other updated situational information to forward SAGs. By not responding to the broadcast, or by only responding to it via highly-directional pathways, receiving units in SAGs would gain important situational information while denying the adversary an easy means of locating them.

Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) radiofrequency communications techniques provide surface forces an additional tool that can be used at any frequency band, directional or not. By disguising waveforms to appear to be ambient radiofrequency noise or by using reduced transmission power levels and durations, an adversary’s signals intelligence apparatus might not be able to detect an LPI transmission even if it is positioned to do so. I would caution, though, that any given LPI “trick” might not have much operational longetivity. Signal processing technologies available on the global market may well reach a point, if they haven’t already, where a “trick” works only a handful of times—or maybe just once—and thereafter is recognized by an adversary. Many LPI techniques accordingly should be husbanded for use only when necessary in a crisis or wartime, and there should be a large enough “arsenal” of them to enable protracted campaigning.

Finally, I want to briefly discuss the importance of providing our surface force with an actionable over-the-horizon targeting picture while denying the same to adversaries. The U.S. Navy is clearly at a deficit relative to its competitors regarding anti-ship missile range. This is thankfully changing regardless of whether we’re talking about the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), a Tomahawk-derived system, or other possible solutions.

It should be noted, though, that a weapon’s range on its own is not a sufficient measure of its utility. This is especially important when comparing our arsenal to those possessed by potential adversaries. A weapon cannot be evaluated outside the context of the surveillance and reconnaissance apparatus that supports its employment.

In one of my earlier published works, I set up the following example regarding effective first strike/salvo range at the opening of a conflict:

Optimal first-strike range is not necessarily the same as the maximum physical reach of the longest-ranged weapon system effective against a given target type (i.e., the combined range of the firing platform and the weapon it carries). Rather, it is defined by trade-offs in surveillance and reconnaissance effectiveness…This means that a potential adversary with a weapon system that can reach distance D from the homeland’s border but can achieve timely and high-confidence peacetime cueing or targeting only within a radius of 0.75D has an optimal first-strike range of 0.75D…This does not reduce the dangers faced by the defender at distance D but does offer more flexibility in using force-level doctrine, posture, plans, and capabilities to manage risks.[iv]

Effective striking range is reduced further once a war breaks out and the belligerents take off their gloves with respect to each others’ surveillance and reconnaissance systems. The qualities and quantities of a force’s sensors, and the architecture and counter-detectability of the data pathways the force uses to relay its sensors’ “pictures” to “consumers” matter just as much as the range of the force’s weapons.[v] Under intense electronic warfare opposition, they arguably matter even more.

For a “shooter” to optimally employ long-range anti-ship weaponry, it must know with an acceptable degree of confidence that it is shooting at a valid and desirable target. Advanced weapons inventories, after all, are finite. It can take considerable time for a warship to travel from a combat zone to a rearward area where it can rearm; this adds considerable complexities to a SAG maintaining a high combat operational tempo. Nor are many advanced weapons quickly producible, and in fact it is far from clear that the stockpiles of some of these weapons could be replenished within the timespan of anything other than a protracted war. This places a heavy premium on not wasting scarce weapons against low-value targets or empty waterspace. As a result, in most cases over-the-horizon targeting requires more than just the detection of some contact out at sea using long-range radar, sonar, or signals collection and direction-finding systems. It requires being able to classify the contact with some confidence: for example, whether it is a commercial tanker or an aircraft carrier, a fishing boat or a frigate, a destroyer or a decoy. An electronic warfare-savvy defender can do much to make an attacker’s job of contact classification extraordinarily difficult in the absence of visual-range confirmation of what the longer-range sensors are “seeing.”

A U.S. Navy SAG would therefore benefit greatly from being able to embark or otherwise access low observable unmanned systems that can serve as over-the-horizon scouts. These scouts could be used not only for reconnaissance, but also for contact confirmation. They could report their findings back to a SAG via the highly-directional pathways I discussed earlier, perhaps via “middlemen” if needed.

Likewise, a U.S. Navy SAG would need to be able to degrade or deceive an adversary’s surveillance and reconnaissance efforts. There are plenty of non-technological options: speed and maneuver, clever use of weather for concealment, dispersal, and deceptive feints or demonstrations by other forces that distract from a “main effort” SAG’s thrust. Technological options employed by a SAG might include EMCON and deceptive emissions against the adversary’s signals intelligence collectors, and noise or deceptive jamming against the adversary’s active sensors. During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy developed some very advanced (and anecdotally effective) shipboard deception systems to fulfill these tasks against Soviet sensors. Unmanned systems might be particularly attractive candidates for performing offboard deception tasks and for parrying an adversary’s own scouts as well.

If deception is to be successful, a SAG must possess a high-confidence understanding of—and be able to exercise agile control over—its emissions. It must also possess a comprehensive picture of the ambient electromagnetic environment in its area of operations, partly so that it can blend in as best as possible, and partly to uncover the adversary’s own transient LPI emissions. This will place a premium on being able to network and fuse inputs from widely-dispersed shipboard and offboard signals collection sensors. Some of these sensors will be “organic” to a SAG, and some may need to be “inorganically” provided by other Navy, Joint, or Allied forces. Some will be manned, and other will likely be unmanned. This will also place a premium on developing advanced signal processing and emissions correlation capabilities.

We can begin to see, then, the kinds of operational and tactical possibilities such capabilities and competencies might provide U.S. Navy SAGs. A SAG might employ various deception and concealment measures to penetrate into the outer or middle sections of a hotly contested zone, perform some operational task(s) of up to several days duration, and then retire. Other naval or Joint forces might be further used to conduct deception and concealment actions that distract the adversary’s surveillance-reconnaissance resources (and maybe decision-makers’ attentions) from the area in which the SAG is operating, or perhaps from the SAG’s actions themselves, during key periods. And still other naval, Joint, and Allied forces might conduct a wide-ranging campaign of physical and electromagnetic attacks to temporarily disrupt if not permanently roll back the adversary’s surveillance-reconnaissance apparatus. Such efforts hold the potential of enticing an adversary to waste difficult-to-replace advanced weapons against “phantoms,” or perhaps distracting or confusing him to such an extent that he attacks ineffectively or not at all.

The tools and tactics I’ve outlined most definitely will not serve as “silver bullets” that shield our forces from painful losses. And there will always be some degree of risk and uncertainty involved in the use of these measures; it will be up to our force commanders to decide when conditions seem right for their use in support of a particular thrust. These measures should consequently be viewed as force-multipliers that grant us much better odds of perforating an adversary’s oceanic surveillance and reconnaissance systems temporarily and locally if used smartly, and thus better odds of operational and strategic successes.

With that, I look forward to your questions and the discussion that will follow. Thank you.

Jon Solomon is a Senior Systems and Technology Analyst at Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at jfsolo107@gmail.com. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency. These views have not been coordinated with, and are not offered in the interest of, Systems Planning and Analysis, Inc. or any of its customers.

[i] For example, see the sources referenced in my post “Advanced Russian Electronic Warfare Capabilities.” Information Dissemination blog, 16 September 2015,http://www.informationdissemination.net/2015/09/advanced-russian-electronic-warfare.html

[ii] For examples, see 1. John Costello. “Chinese Views on the Information “Center of Gravity”: Space, Cyber and Electronic Warfare.” Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Vol. 15, No. 8, 16 April 2015,http://www.jamestown.org/programs/chinabrief/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=43796&cHash=c0f286b0d4f15adfcf9817a93ae46363#.Vl4aL00o7cs; 2. “Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2015.” (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 07 April 2015), 33, 38.

[iii] CAPT Wayne P. Hughes Jr, USN (Ret). Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd ed. (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2000), 40-44.

[iv] Jonathan F. Solomon. “Maritime Deception and Concealment: Concepts for Defeating Wide-Area Oceanic Surveillance-Reconnaissance-Strike Networks.” Naval War College Review 66, No. 4 (Autumn 2013): 113-114.

[v] See my posts 1. “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition, Part II.” Information Dissemination blog, 22 October 2014, http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/10/21st-century-maritime-operations-under_22.html; and 2. “21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition, Part III.” Information Dissemination blog, 23 October 2014,http://www.informationdissemination.net/2014/10/21st-century-maritime-operations-under_23.html

Featured Image: Persian Gulf (Feb. 5, 2007) – Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Otto Delacruz identifies an air contact to Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Brent Watson standing watch in the ship’s helicopter direction center aboard USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua Valcarcel)