Most observers seem to agree that future conflicts around the world will involve greater use of electronic and cyber warfare. A new document published this month, titled The U.S. Army Concept for Cyberspace and Electronic Warfare Operations 2025-2040, offers some insight into how military planners are currently looking at this issue.
“This document describes how the Army will operate in and through cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum and will fully integrate cyberspace, electronic warfare (EW), and electromagnetic spectrum operations as part of joint combined arms operations to meet future operational environment challenges,” it notes.
“The new Army publication is intended to promote development of cyber capabilities, to foster integration with other military functions, to shape recruitment, and to guide technology development and acquisition,” writes Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News. “It addresses defense against cyber threats as well as offensive cyber activities. Proliferation of cyber threats is eroding the benefits of US superiority in conventional military power, the document said.”
Cyber warfare is typically much cheaper than more conventional “kinetic” operations, and, as the new Army planning document notes, it offers distinct advantages in certain circumstances. “Cyberspace and [electronic warfare] operations provide commanders the ability to conduct simultaneous, linked maneuver in and through multiple domains, and to engage adversaries and populations where they live and operate. Cyberspace and [electronic warfare] operations provide commanders a full range of physical and virtual, as well as kinetic and non-kinetic, capabilities tailored into combinations that enhance the combat power of maneuver elements conducting joint combined operations.”
The document “applies to all Department of the Army activities” involving cyberspace or the electromagnetic spectrum and “should also serve as the primary cyberspace reference for war games, experimentation, and innovation aimed at maintaining the U.S. Army as the preeminent ground force in the world,” it notes.
The Army publication “proposes a combined arms team approach as the conceptual foundation for the Army’s future conduct of cyberspace operations,” it notes. “This approach employs organic and expeditionary cyberspace and EW operations augmentation forces and capabilities from and into numerous locations and domains, presenting multiple dilemmas to an enemy, limiting enemy options, while avoiding their strengths.”
Given the time frame it covers, some of the document’s assertions seem somewhat speculative, though statements as generic as noting that the future electronic warfare operational environment “will be more unpredictable, complex, and potentially dangerous than today,” seem hard to disagree with. “Continued urbanization and widespread access to social media will increase operational complexity. Army Soldiers, leaders and commanders may become overwhelmed with information and face multiple dilemmas, across multiple operational domains, in shorter periods,” it notes.
The proliferation of “smart” devices will impact cyberwarfare, as “every device presents a potential vulnerability,” the document notes, but also presents opportunities. “Difficulty and untimely attribution of attacks in cyberspace, as well as the legal ambiguities of attacks in cyberspace, will complicate reactions to attacks both inside and outside of cyberspace.”
The internet is also an equalizer in many ways — providing new advantages to non-state actors or others who might become engaged in an asymmetric conflict with the U.S. government.
“The spread of mobile technologies, especially in developing nations, will dramatically increase the number of people able to access and share information rapidly,” according to the document. “Adversaries conduct sophisticated influence operations and leverage cyberspace as a force multiplier in the information environment. They use propaganda and disinformation through social media to affect public perception, sway public opinion, and catalyze protests and violence in ways that popular movements once took months or years to build. Cyberspace also provides adversaries an effective and inexpensive means for recruitment, propaganda, training, command, and control.”
As America moves towards greater use of “autonomous” weapons systems, a danger exists that in such systems the “decision-making algorithm may be hijacked and the artificial intelligence corrupted, posing a danger to Army forces and technologies,” the document states.
“Many effects of cyberspace operations require considerable legal and policy review,” the document notes. While some of the military tactics it describes sound like something out of science fiction, it’s not clear from the context that it’s talking about technologies that are still two decades away. “Army forces use electromagnetic energy, directed-energy, and anti-radiation weapons to attack the enemy, while simultaneously protecting Soldiers, facilities, and equipment from adverse effects of enemy use of the [electromagnetic spectrum],” it states.
“The Army faces a complex and challenging environment where the expanding distribution of cyberspace and [electromagnetic spectrum] technologies will continue to narrow the combat power advantage that the Army has had over potential adversaries,” the document concludes. “The proliferation of cyberspace weapons and [electromagnetic spectrum] capabilities are a growing threat against a cyberspace dependent Army force that relies heavily on digital technologies. These future challenges require a full range of cyberspace and EW operations capabilities to provide commanders the ability to adapt to rapidly changing missions, conduct decentralized operations over wide areas, maintain operational freedom of maneuver, exercise mission command, and gain and maintain the initiative in cyberspace and the EMS during joint combined arms operations.”