Expanding the Non-Kinetic Warfare Arsenal

By Captain Mickey Batson and Lieutenant Commander Matthew Labert, U.S. Navy

Defining Cyberspace

Debatably, it has become difficult to reach consensus on how to define cyberspace, because both cyber and cyberspace are contrived terms that originally tried to give name and substance to any number of interrelated information and communication systems. However, because of this artificiality, the definitions have morphed many times and in many ways such that their present forms are little more than a synonym for the IP-based technology.

Rear Admiral Sean Filipowski, former director for Electronic and Cyber Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, provided a great alternative to this popular view of cyberspace:

[W]hen I talk about cyber, I view it as more than e-mail and internet type activities on IP-based networks. Information moving through the RF in digital form, such as tactical data links, UAV control systems, and satellite-based communications, are also cyber in my book. My other point of clarification is about the electromagnetic spectrum [EMS] versus cyberspace. Some would argue these are separate and distinct. However I would submit that one is a physical domain, which is the electromagnetic spectrum, and that cyberspace is a man-made infrastructure that operates in part in the EMS. 1

DOD has given some credence to the larger idea of cyberspace operations. Popular military understanding of such operations attempts to draw parallels to some of the military principles of the more recognizable warfare domains (e.g., land, sea, air, space). 2 However, even with this acknowledgement of a larger idea of cyberspace operations, current understanding and practical usage still tends to focus on a conventional Internet-only view.

This wrongly relegates the EMS to being a small part of what makes modern networks possible, thus underestimating complexity and overlooking emerging opportunities. As a “manufactured environment,” one can aim to shape OCO through its physical pieces, although to master it one must also understand and account for the larger environment in which it exists and the underlying electromagnetic physics on which it relies. Although it is true that computer networks do help in navigating cyberspace, they are simply tools and not the environment itself. Fundamentally, we are talking about information/data traveling through the spectrum. Once we understand how technology influences and affects the information and its flow, then we can focus on tools and methods to create desired effects.

EW and Cyberspace Operations

To understand the broader idea of affecting information flow through the EMS, let us examine some common non-kinetic methodologies. No doubt there are non-kinetic tools that affect free space and other non-kinetic tools that affect wired networks. If one accepts the broader scope of cyberspace operations as being reliant on the EMS, the question becomes whether tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) can be used interchangeably to create similar effects in the expanded environment, leading to a converged non-kinetic warfare doctrine. If either EA TTPs or OCO TTPs are used to affect the flow of data/information, then regardless of the tool used or the doctrine followed, both have an effect on an adversary’s ability to make decisions.

EA and OCO share more than a commonality of battle space. The EMS and the underlying physics that govern it are fundamental to both EA and the widely excepted view of OCO.

For example, consider the following list of EA capabilities:

• manipulate[ing] their [adversary] radar to show false images 3

• [using]directed electromagnetic energy that, in short pulses, may permanently disable enemy computer circuitry 4

• confusing or misleading an adversary; manipulates the adversary’s decision loop, making it difficult to establish an accurate perception of objective reality 5

Looking through a different lens, one could consider the non-kinetic effects here equivalent to a “cyber effect.” Examine the list again in general terms of more traditionally accepted OCO effects to include just some common examples.

• inserting false data

• permanently erasing data

• causing irrevocable damage to a network system

• modifying routing tables/network addresses

• denial of service (DOS) and distributed denial of service (DDOS)

Certainly, there are technical and tactical differences in the employment of EA and OCO activities. However, if we begin to view the non-kinetic effects achievable using the entire non-kinetic arsenal, then arguably the United States will have a more comprehensive non-kinetic strategy.

Combined Strategy

There is an effort to adopt a strategy that capitalizes on a fully networked architecture capable of coordinating military operations throughout all warfare domains, including the electromagnetic environment. Furthermore, this strategy is supported by a doctrine that advocates “control of an adversary’s information flow and maintain[ing] dominance in the battle space.” The doctrine provides the impetus for information dominance as both a desired effect against an adversary and a means for achieving overall success. 6 As a foundation, the strategy and doctrine rely on the integration of cyberspace operations within the larger electromagnetic environment. Known as Integrated Network Electronic Warfare, this non-kinetic warfare is intended to be coordinated through a single governing authority at the highest levels of command. 7

However, this is not a U.S. strategy. In fact, the governance here is that of China. In contrast, U.S. cyberspace strategy is focused more on the widely accepted definition of cyber as a collection of wired networks and arguably overlooks the critical radio-frequency aspects of commercial and military mobile-communication systems.

Yes, cyberspace operations are included in our strategy hierarchies. Yes, there is a clear desire to be able to protect and defend our own use of cyberspace while at the same time being able to project power against an adversary’s use of cyberspace. However, the strategies fall short in addressing the EMS in which cyberspace operations are reliant. From context, many of the strategies hold to the wired-network view of cyberspace. The verbiage is flexible enough to permit a broader interpretation of cyberspace, which could include EA principles. The problem is the context of the strategies coupled with the popular view of cyberspace. Because of this wired-network view and ambiguous guidance, subsequent governance tends to focus on the more common view of cyberspace and overlooks the critical RF links used by commercial and military mobile networks.

Truly, without a better consensus of what cyberspace is, it is difficult for subordinate governance to establish the extent of cyberspace from the strategy documents alone. There is currently neither a joint services nor a Navy cyberspace-operations doctrine. However, a joint doctrine is forthcoming from U.S. Cyber Command. How this will scope cyberspace is still unclear, but now is the perfect time to embrace the larger view of cyberspace operations and EW as part of the discussion, more specifically, OCO and EA. The Army, which does have a cyberspace-operations doctrine, acknowledges that “competition over the use of the Electro-Magnetic Spectrum will increase, so cyberspace operations will require access to an increasingly wider range of the EMS for effective operations and, therefore, greater levels of support by EW techniques.” 8 This is a good start. But to benefit fully from an expanded non-kinetic arsenal, EA and OCO doctrines must converge. If joint doctrine fails to establish this foundation, then arguably we face the very real possibility of a period of disjointed and fragmented control.

Command Organization

It is important to examine the current command-and-control (C2) structure assigned to the OCO and EA missions. In June 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates directed that a subordinate unified command be established under U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) and be responsible for military operations in cyberspace. This resulted in the creation of U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM). 9 Although USCYBERCOM has OCO responsibilities, it is important to note that USSTRATCOM, through its subordinate Joint Information Operations Warfare Center, retains the responsibility for EW and by extension EA. While USCYBERCOM and USSTRATCOM continue to discover and attempt to better determine command and control of cyberspace operations, writ large we tend to use traditional terms such as COCOM, OPCON, and TACON along with block diagrams that push us into linear concepts—for an area that defies linearity.

In contrast, the Navy reorganized to better position itself for a converged information-dominance environment. This new organization, under the Deputy, Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6), administratively, and Fleet Cyber Command/Tenth Fleet, operationally, aligns the Navy’s information capabilities and info-centric communities and better positions the Navy to meet the challenges and threats of the information age. 10 In addition, the Navy has placed a single one-star admiral as the integration point for both electronic and cyber warfare within the N2/N6 organization. This means that in the OPNAV staff, EA and OCO are considered fundamentally linked as elements of non-kinetic warfare. However, challenges at the Fleet level persist with the remnants of EW, information operations, traditional communicator roles, and this new cyber focus. The question is what will be the organization, manning, roles, and responsibilities be, and can they work together? Instead of how will they work together?


Governance and command organizations go a long way in establishing lasting programs. But ultimately one must examine the acquisition process for procuring capabilities. By breaking down traditional stovepipes of authorities and acquisition (e.g., OCO and EA), DOD could capitalize on the ongoing technology convergence to acquire more effective, integrated, and affordable non-kinetic capabilities to support the combatant commanders.

The Joint Strategic Planning System construct results in the combination of governance and capability and ultimately apportions money to these unions. As discussed, the strategy hierarchies do express a need for an expanded range of military operations that include cyberspace. Their verbiage focuses on the conventional view of cyberspace operations; nevertheless, they do not prohibit a broader interpretation of cyberspace operations, which could include EW, specifically EA. By broadening the focus to consider the similarities between the conventional view of OCO and EA, the strategic direction could ultimately lead toward expanded non-kinetic capabilities and a better-aligned acquisition process.

The Navy divides its acquisition establishment into four systems commands (SYSCOMs), with each responsible for engineering, building, buying, and maintaining programs in their respective areas. However, electronic warfare, for example, is a part of a number of programs in at least three different SYSCOMs (i.e., NAVAIR, NAVSEA, and SPAWAR). Cyberspace operations are even more distributed. Most, if not all, programs embed a cyber element. So cyber procurement spans across all of the SYSCOMs as well as multiple directorates at OPNAV.

Consider the missions/descriptions of three SYSCOMs:

• Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR): the Navy’s designated technical authority and acquisition command for “command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [C4ISR]; business information technology (IT); and space systems.” 11

• Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA): NAVSEA’s focus is on ships, submarines, and combat systems . . . and establishing and enforcing technical authority in combat system design and operation.” 12

• Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR): the Navy’s focus on “naval aviation aircraft, weapons and systems.” 13

Arguably, these three descriptions alone highlight the need for better-defined electronic- and cyber-warfare acquisition. Without question, ships, aircraft, and C4ISR systems are dependent on cyberspace. Therefore, NAVAIR, NAVSEA, and SPAWAR must be concerned with how cyberspace influences their respective areas of responsibility. With each command working on its own piece of cyberspace, interoperability issues, duplicities, and inefficiencies are a real possibility.

Without a clear definition of an electronic-cyberspace capability (or a supporting electronic-cyberspace capability) and who is responsible for it, there is little integration oversight for capabilities that support larger programs. This lack of integration causes duplicity and incompatibility between the programs themselves, not to mention their underlying electronic-cyberspace capabilities (e.g., a ship’s radar may interfere with aircraft communications).

SPAWAR claims: “Our projects and programs will align with OPNAV requirements and the operational needs of FLTCYBERCOM [Fleet Cyber Command] / TENTH FLEET [U.S. 10th Fleet].” As more systems converge and become even more reliant on cyberspace (i.e., everything networked together) and SPAWAR is the systems command for the 10th Fleet (e.g., the Navy’s operational electronic-cyberspace warfare commander), then the ambiguities in the responsibilities of the other SYSCOMs and their relationship with SPAWAR (and even with other warfare commanders) will become less clear.

A study of peacetime doctrinal innovation between the World Wars reported “that innovation in military doctrine requires that a generation of officers schooled and committed to waging new forms of warfare develop over a period of up to twenty years.” 14 Cyberspace operations currently finds itself in a similar period of innovation. The ambiguity surrounding cyberspace operations, specifically OCO, and the interface with the EMS could prevent a seamless integration into a broader warfare concept. Until we fully address the technological convergence between RF to IP and RF to non-IP networks and its impact to both EA and OCO, our 20-year clock has not even started. If we are serious about improving non-kinetic warfare and its consideration as an alternative/complement to kinetic warfare, we need to make bold steps to address not just cyberspace operations, but how it interfaces with the EMS.

1. RADM Sean Filipowski, “Looking Forward for Maritime Spectrum Warfare,” Phoenix Challenge Conferences , San Diego, CA, 2011.

2. Gerry Gilmore, “Official Cites Value of Cyberspace to Warfighting Operations,” Defense Link , 8 April 2009, www.stratcom.mil/news/article/76/Official Cites Value of Cyberspace to Warfighting Operations.

3. C. Wilson, (20 March 2007), CRS Report for Congress Information Operations, Electronic Warfare, and Cyberwar: Capabilities and Related Policy Issues , www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL31787.pdf , p. 7.

4. Ibid.

5. Electronic Warfare , Joint Pub 3-13 (25 January 2007), 1, p. I-5.

6. B. Krekel, “Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation” (McLean, VA: Northrop Grumman Corporation Information Systems Sector, 9 October 2009), p. 7.

7. Ibid.

8. Cyberspace Operations Concept Capability Plan 2016-2028 (22 February 2010), TRADOC Pamphlet 525-7-8 , p. 9.

9. Robert Gates, “Establishment of a Subordinate Unified Command U.S. Cyber Command Under U.S Strategic Command for Military Cyberspace Operations,” Memorandum for Secretaries of the Military Departments, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Under Secretaries of Defense (Washington, D.C.: Secretary of Defense, 23 June 2009), p. 1.

10. Rhumb Lines , 2 October 2009, Navy Office of Information, www.navysna.org/newsgram/Rhumblines/June%20Updates/Rhumb%20Lines%20Infor... .

11. SPAWAR (n.d.), About Us , Team SPAWAR: www.public.navy.mil/spawar/Pages/AboutUs.aspx

12. NAVSEA. (n.d.). About NAVSEA , www.navsea.navy.mil/AboutNAVSEA.aspx

13. NAVAIR. (n.d.). About NAVAIR , www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.display&key=9E99EE24-2F3D-...

14. G. J. Rattray, Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace , (Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press, 2001), p. 181.

Captain Batson is an information-warfare officer currently assigned to the OPNAV Staff. He is the Cyber Warfare Branch head, N2/N6F31. He was commissioned through the University of Mississippi NROTC and holds an electrical engineering Ph.D. from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Lieutenant Commander Labert is an information professional currently assigned to the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Virginia. He is a Navy Cyber Federal Executive Fellow. He was commissioned through the U.S. Naval Academy and holds an information systems and operations master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.


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