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Everything You Need to Know: How the Army Is Preparing for War with Russia and China

Russian sensors were able to detect electronic signatures emanating from radio antennas and dismounted communication technologies used by soldiers in combat. This dynamic led the exercise to address the overlap between EW and cyber defenses, underscoring the need to design EW hardware so that it can quickly embrace new software upgrades and patches needed to respond to new threats.

China is known for its repeated cyberattacks against U.S. networks and databases that house specs for emerging weapons systems. Several years ago, a Congressional report on China’s military modernization made reference to Chinese intrusions and cyber-theft of sensitive U.S. weapons systems and platforms, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Many analysts have made the observation that China’s emerging 5th-generation stealth fighters, such as its J-20 and J-30, seem to exhibit characteristics and contours similar to the F-35.

“We were looking to find operational gaps and pass those along to industry by putting capability into the hands of soldiers to help inform our doctrine and operational concepts,” said Maj. Gen. John Morrison, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, Fort Gordon.

While many specifics of future high-tech attacks are not expected to be known currently, the emphasis of the training was to prepare for the fast pace of technological change and be ready for adaptations to be made by potential adversaries, such as Russia or China.

Participants in the exercise experimented with more than 40 capabilities geared toward responding to attacks from near-peer adversaries, Morrison said.

“We want to defend networks and provide the operational edge with an ability to detect new attacks and remediate those attacks in a rapid fashion. Today, it may take hours. We are trying to get that down into the realm of minutes,” Lt. Col. Stephen Roberts, Cyber Quest 2017 officer in charge.

For the first time for the Army, the training included a specified synthesis between cyber and electronic warfare attacks, as the two are often intertwined, Morrison explained.

The current EW and cyber attack environment was a specific focus of the exercise, but the possibility of Russian hacking is very much on the radar. Russian electronic warfare tactics used during the invasion of Ukraine were, without question, noticed around the world.

These attacks demonstrated an improved ability for EW technologies to locate and jam enemy radio signals with greater effect and at longer distances.

Russian sensors were able to detect electronic signatures emanating from radio antennas and dismounted communication technologies used by soldiers in combat. This dynamic led the exercise to address the overlap between EW and cyber defenses, underscoring the need to design EW hardware so that it can quickly embrace new software upgrades and patches needed to respond to new threats.

China is known for its repeated cyberattacks against U.S. networks and databases that house specs for emerging weapons systems. Several years ago, a Congressional report on China’s military modernization made reference to Chinese intrusions and cyber-theft of sensitive U.S. weapons systems and platforms, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Many analysts have made the observation that China’s emerging 5th-generation stealth fighters, such as its J-20 and J-30, seem to exhibit characteristics and contours similar to the F-35.

Despite its best effort to anticipate characteristics expected to be part of future attacks, the Cyber Quest exercise was challenged to pinpoint methods likely to be employed by adversaries in coming years. The emphasis of the simulations was instead focused on adapting to the pace of technological change and fast-changing strategies likely to be leveraged by cyber intruders.

The Army referred to one of these challenges as a difficulty presented by big data; with an increasingly huge volume of data moving through networks, it can be harder to discern anomalies and identify problems amid a high-flow of information, Morrison added.

For instance, phishing tactics, network IP protocol intrusions and denial of service attacks are likely to morph into new forms and employ unanticipated techniques. As a result, soldiers are training to expect the unexpected and envision more disguised attacks requiring a wider range of methods and technologies needed to detect anomalies.

“One of the changes in the training relates to when we look at malware. We are no longer looking at general rule-based analysis but on a pattern of life to trigger awareness of a problem,” said Col. Steven Rehn, TRADOC Capabilities Manager-Cyber.

While some of the tactics employed by soldiers in the exercise were not available for discussion, Morrison did emphasize that the effort included a directed strategy to leverage various technical innovations introduced by industry partners.

“Some of the vendors were looking to incorporate new capabilities, so we knew that we would, of course, see some failures,” Roberts said.

“Having capabilities in the hands of soldiers allows industry developers to immediate receive soldier feedback.”

Given the pace of technical change, one solution being pursued by Army cyber experts is to pursue rapid prototyping to shorten, condense or speed up the technical development process, and utilize open architecture to allow new technology to quickly integrate with existing systems.

“Rapid prototyping is the only way we will stay at pace in this critical domain,” he said.

Army cyber experts expect to use more automation as well as AI in an offensive and defensive capacity. Defensively, cyber soldiers will seek to identify enemy automation aimed at confusing or penetrating networks.

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