When weighing U.S. military capabilities against those of peer competitors or regional troublemakers, we tend to look at the hard numbers first: personnel, ships, aircraft, tanks, etc. That’s easy; it’s what can be immediately seen and measured by the most casual observer of defense affairs. And even if the numbers aren’t in our favor in a specific instance, our platforms usually possess a qualitative advantage to offset a potential enemy’s numerical superiority. Such thinking was a comfort to U.S. defense planners during the Cold War and has continued into the current century, despite the dwindling resources and budget constraints of recent years.
But counting hardware isn’t enough anymore. It’s an old axiom that militaries always plan to fight the last war. America’s armed forces, and in particular the Sea Services, must avoid that trap and increase focus on the information environment if they are to be properly prepared for tomorrow’s conflicts. While earlier eras witnessed their arms races and flurries of dreadnought-building brinksmanship, today’s U.S. Navy finds itself in a “technical and tactical race” in which the level of instant communications, cyber factors, and high-tech capabilities keeps ramping up between ourselves and our possible adversaries. As Lieutenant Commanders DeVere Crooks and Mateo Robertaccio spell out, the naval clashes that may play out in the Information Age will be defined by whole new layers of unprecedented battlespace dynamics. The next war at sea will be nothing like what came before, and the challenge now is to train up for the techno-age’s rapidly emerging contingencies.
Commander John M. “Mike” Dahm, this year’s Information Dominance Essay Contest winner, echoes that sentiment. He examines the Joint Information Environment (JIE) concept, the Defense Department’s attempt to consolidate and standardize its information technology and networks. While this will reduce expenses and remove barriers to “trusted information sharing,” the author worries that it is “designed to address present-day cyber challenges.” He points out that the JIE’s data will be vulnerable as it traverses the physical battlespace, whether by satellites orbiting far above the Earth or undersea fiber-optic cables, and so far little has been done “to address significant concerns about the viability of U.S. military communications in a time of war against a high-end threat.”
Certainly with widely publicized security breaches continuing to make headlines, no one can assume their data is secure. The recent Office of Personnel Management hack illuminated major vulnerabilities in U.S. cyber security, many of which were identified before the hacking occurred. In this day and age, the question is not if a system will get hacked, but when. The Navy has recognized this by establishing Task Force Cyber Awakening, which has called for a paradigm shift from “cyber readiness” to “cyber resiliency.” “While cyber readiness provides the Navy with a sound defensive foundation, cyber resiliency accepts that at some point adversaries will defeat the defensive cyber measures in place, and thus seeks to limit an adversary’s freedom of action to degrade capability,” Lieutenant Commander Brian Evans and Pratik Joshi explain. Such a strategy would allow warfighting platforms to continue to support their missions in an acceptable manner after an attack. Task Force Cyber Awakening’s strategy addresses near-real-time situational awareness; firewalls; host-based security suites; C4I systems; hull, mechanical, and electrical; navigation; and weapon systems.
Proficiency in cyber security is not enough for the Navy to maintain its warfighting edge, however. It must be superior in multiple domains, including an invisible battlefield—the electromagnetic spectrum. Its “terrain can be visualized as the propagation path of an electromagnetic wave,” which is influenced by weather, sea-surface conditions, and topography, among other variables. The Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command can help the Navy master this venue and fulfill its Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMW) Campaign Plan, says Rear Admiral Tim Gallaudet. “An accurate knowledge of the atmosphere and an understanding of how current and future conditions impact EM propagation specific to that frequency and outputted energy are also critical to succeed in EMW.” To further develop these capabilities, Admiral Gallaudet recommends using unmanned aerial vehicles for atmospheric sensing, exploiting all available airborne platforms, and benefiting from programs that inform tactical decision aids.
At press time, we received the sad news that internationally acclaimed maritime artist and longtime friend of the U.S. Naval Institute Tom W. Freeman had passed away. We had been assembling a retrospective of Tom and his art for this issue for quite some time, and in fact he contributed a few quotes that added flavor to the rest of the story. We’re gratified that he had the opportunity to read and approve the draft of the article accompanying his art. To his wife Ann and the rest of the Freeman family, the Naval Institute sends its condolences and hopes that they know how many people in this world Tom has touched.
Paul Merzlak, Editor-in-Chief