In his 1 March 2012 opening remarks to the House of Committee on Appropriations, Defense Subcommittee, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert addressed the tenets that have guided his decisions as a naval officer. In particular, “Warfighting First means the Navy must be ready to fight and win today, while building the ability to win tomorrow.” In 2009 the Navy took the very bold and forward-looking move to create the Information Dominance Corps (IDC), bringing together experts from the Navy’s key information-related fields. This initiative realigned the intelligence, information-warfare (IW), meteorology/oceanography, information professional (IP), and cyber-warfare engineers into one restricted-line cadre of officers. After three years, it is time to ask ourselves if this construct has accomplished its stated purpose and whether it provides the properly skilled individuals to achieve the CNO’s tenet of being able to win tomorrow. We believe this was an important first step, but the transformation must continue if we are to build and sustain a credible cyber capability.
Rather than artificially separating communities, we need to combine the right skills and talents into an unrestricted line community to produce the effects required to dominate in the cyber realm, the preeminent operational platform of the future. Restructuring to achieve this desirable blend of talent is necessary to meet the CNO’s Sailing Directions objective to “provide superior awareness and control when and where we need it.” Each of the current communities contributes valuable skills but only delivers a piece of what the aggregate requires and does not supply capability in the most effective, integrated manner for successful operations. Changes are needed to ensure we have an officer and enlisted corps aligned properly on all operational platforms and trained to meet future challenges.
The New Officer
How will an officer community evolve to revolutionize modern warfare and affect traditional warfighting lines of operation? In today’s era of technology-dependent actions, the professionals charged with functioning in the cyber domain must be trained to meet tomorrow’s threats. This domain includes the physical operational platform for information, from the end user’s computer through the network, radio frequency, space and unmanned- and autonomous-system transport pieces, to the information provider. It includes how that information is secured, organized, presented, and used for rapid and accurate decision making. To build the kind of force necessary to excel in the cybersphere, the Navy’s entire man, train, and equip paradigm must be revamped to produce a new kind of officer equipped for the task: a cyber-warfare officer.
Dominating in the cyber realm requires investing in the right set of skills. The community charged with this task must be cultivated like others in the Navy operating in more traditional warfighting contexts. It must have an accession plan that recruits the right talent and brings them in as ensigns. These officers would become proficient through multiple tours, expanding in operational scope and technical breadth. On par with existing warfighting communities, the cyber-warfare community would be part of the unrestricted line. To do less only pays lip service to the importance of cyber operations and the significant, revolutionary role they will play in any future conflict.
The cyber-warfighting domain changes at an unprecedented pace. Technological breakthroughs can be achieved in hours rather than years. The cost of entry into cyber operations for the adversary is minuscule and the technology used is ubiquitous. Our forces can be quickly outstripped of any technological operational advantage if we are not agile and predictive in addressing potential threats and capabilities from an integrated, holistic, total-warfighting perspective. Events are measured in milliseconds and a response is required in an even shorter time.
Demand for cyber-warfare skills is increasing, and competition for the limited talent pool of true experts and visionaries is intense. Industry is recruiting college graduates with these skills at a rate far outpacing supply—a trend that is expected to continue. All of these factors support the need for a dedicated, experienced, and well-trained cadre of professionals, from ensign to admiral, to combat present and future threats. This is not an area where a pick-up team can be successful. We must be able to attract and retain the right talent to be a formidable force.
The Right Mix
Having the right talent is the first step, and properly focusing that talent is the second. The set of core competencies the cyber community should focus on combines some traditional skills with those that are emerging and will be refined as the Navy’s mission in the cyber domain evolves. Agility is key, and developing adaptive thinkers is critical. Initially, ensuring expertise in the following competencies is essential for a credible cyber force:
• Computer network operations, including both the attack and defend aspects
• Signals intelligence, radio frequency communications, and combat systems
• Influence operations and knowledge management
• Unmanned and autonomous systems.
Computer network operations consist of computer network attack, defense, and exploitation. According to Joint Doctrine for Information Operations (Joint Pub 3-13), these functions are defined as:
• Computer network attack: Actions taken through computer networks to disrupt, deny, degrade, or destroy the information in computers and computer networks or the computers and networks themselves.
• Computer network defense: Actions taken through such networks to protect, monitor, analyze, detect, and respond to network attacks, intrusions, disruptions, or other unauthorized actions that would compromise or cripple defense information systems and networks. Joint Publication 6.0 (Joint Communications System) further outlines computer network defense as an aspect of network operations.
• Computer network exploitation: Enabling actions and intelligence collection via computer networks that exploit data gathered from target or enemy information systems or networks.
Traditionally, these functions and the skills to support them have been divided among different communities. But this artificial separation is based on the legacy-community structures and missions, and it is the problem with the way cyber operations function today. In the case of network operations, the best defenders and service providers are those who know how to exploit and attack a network’s potential vulnerabilities and understand the risks. The same group of officers needs expertise in all these areas.
Many similar fundamental skills are required to perform signals intelligence (communications and electronic intelligence) and to manage communications, combat systems, and the frequency spectrum. Knowledge of engineering and technology (for example, knowing how a signal or protocol was designed to work, understanding the relationship between signals and atmospherics, or how radio-frequency communications and systems operate) are key. Someone who understands all elements of the equation is much better poised to maximize friendly availability to these systems and deny the enemy use of their own.
On the combat-systems front, these assets are networked, and many also use their own signals and distinct portions of the frequency spectrum. Much of the same knowledge that the cyber-warfare officer needs to perform network operations, such as signals intelligence and spectrum management, would be employed for effective management of combat systems. This would also provide a solid basis for understanding enemy combat-systems capabilities and limitations. An officer with this background would be an indispensible member of any operational planning or targeting team.
Influence Operations and Knowledge Management
“Influence operations” includes elements of traditional psychological operations combined with strategic communication and knowledge management to apply information for operational advantages. The officer should be the expert in tactics for non-kinetic maneuver warfare to achieve objectives without kinetic fires. This involves an understanding of decision support, the human elements of adversaries’ thinking, language, and culture, and knowing how to use relevant information efficiently. It also involves learning how we assess key nodes for targeted influence operations and a new model for information battle-damage assessment resulting from non-kinetic strikes or activity. Additionally, knowledge managers and their understanding of data structures and human-machine interfaces will be critical to ensuring the tools and processes are in place for technology to assist with the heavy lifting that our brains do now.
Significant predictive computing power exists today, and the formulas used in modeling and simulations to predict environmental effects can be applied to accelerate warfighting decisions and improve the fidelity of information for operational forces.
Unmanned and Autonomous Systems (UxS)
In accordance with the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2009-2034 Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap, the Navy is increasingly employing aerial, surface, and subsurface unmanned vehicles, or UxS, for persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, signals intelligence, mine-warfare support, strike, and targeting operations, and undersea environmental sensing and mapping. Future versions also will include communications-relay capabilities.
However, in the Navy these UxS systems are being planned, developed, and operated by disparate groups without an overarching strategy to ensure they meet tactical and operational maritime requirements. While some UxSs are intended for kinetic strike, many are non-kinetic information nodes on the global information grid. The cadre working with the UxS drivers from the surface, air, and subsurface communities should take the lead in all aspects of UxS operations.
Cyber-warfare officers would plan and direct the operational integration of the information capabilities of Navy UxS platforms. As future UxSs are built as modular multimission platforms, the information-warfare commander—now known as the cyber-warfare commander—would work with the strike-warfare, surface, undersea, and air-warfare commanders to coordinate the strike package to be used. Together they would prioritize and execute UxS missions with the cyber-warfare commander taking the lead as the supported commander on all non-kinetic missions that could result in physical destruction. Actual operation of the UxS platforms would be done by trained officers and enlisted from each of the air, surface, and subsurface communities.
Developing and sustaining such officers is not without challenges. A properly developed career path and billet base, from ensign to admiral, would be necessary. The expertise brought by this community must reside on every traditional operational platform, including ships, submarines, special-warfare units, and air squadrons. Officers also would be instrumental on any operational-planning team and in key staff positions. The revised billet base would include opportunities to inject required expertise to ensure command-and-control and operational superiority are effectively executed. For example, the information-warfare commander billet afloat is filled now by many different designators from aviators to IP officers. Standardizing this billet and staffing it with qualified personnel from the cyber-warfare community would yield officers specifically trained in the relevant core competencies. They would combine elements of intelligence, communications, information warfare, influence operations, and oceanography in more effective ways than we do today. Additionally, the initial accession training and educational milestones would require revision to ensure that the modified technical and operational skills needed are inculcated at every level of instruction.
The cyber-warfare community would evolve from its historic support role to an operationally proactive and predictive role. Its officers would be forward-thinking, adaptive planners with superb technical skills, ideally suited to achieve advantages in a disruptive, rapidly changing battle space.
Evolution involves change. As Albert Einstein wrote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” As the Navy enters a new military age in which power is not measured by kilotons but by kilobytes, information and the ability to quickly obtain, analyze, manipulate, and correlate data will be the deciding factor for victory. By restructuring our existing officer corps to stay ahead of these challenges, we will be poised to excel in this challenging environment.
Captain Barrett is an Information Dominance Corps officer with 23 years of experience. She is the commanding officer of Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Atlantic.
Lieutenant Commander Castillo has been an Information Dominance Corps officer for 12 years.