When Everything Else Fails in an EW Saturated Environment – Old School Shortwave

( I wrote this opinion piece together with Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager)

The U.S. Army’s ability to employ high-frequency radio systems has atrophied significantly since the Cold War as the United States transitioned to counterinsurgency operations. Alarmingly, as hostile near-peer adversaries reemerge, it is necessary to re-establish HF alternatives should very-high frequency, ultra-high frequency or SATCOM come under attack. The Army must increase training to enhance its ability to utilize HF data and voice communication.

The Department of Defense’s focus over the last several years has primarily been Russian hybrid warfare and special forces. If there is a future armed conflict with Russia, it is anticipated ground forces will encounter the Russian army’s mechanized infantry and armor.

A potential future conflict with a capable near-peer adversary, such as Russia, is notable in that they have heavily invested in electromagnetic spectrum warfare and are highly capable of employing electronic warfare throughout their force structure. Electronic warfare elements deployed within theaters of operation threaten to degrade, disrupt or deny VHF, UHF and SATCOM communication. In this scenario, HF radio is a viable backup mode of communication.

The Russian doctrine favors rapid employment of nonlethal effects, such as electronic warfare, in order to paralyze and disrupt the enemy in the early hours of conflict. The Russian army has an inherited legacy from the Soviet Union and its integrated use of electronic warfare as a component of a greater campaign plan, enabling freedom of maneuver for combat forces. The rear echelons are postured to attack either utilizing a single envelopment, attacking the defending enemy from the rear, or a double envelopment, seeking to destroy the main enemy forces by unleashing the reserves. Ideally, a Russian motorized rifle regiment’s advanced guard battalion makes contact with the enemy and quickly engage on a broader front, identifying weaknesses permitting the regiment’s rear echelons to conduct flanking operations. These maneuvers are generally followed by another motorized regiment flanking, producing a double envelopment and destroying the defending forces.

Currently, the competency with HF radio systems within the U.S. Army is limited; however, there is a strong case to train and ensure readiness for the utilization of HF communication. Even in EMS-denied environments, HF radios can provide stable, beyond-line-of-sight communication permitting the ability to initiate a prompt global strike. While HF radio equipment is also vulnerable to electronic attack, it can be difficult to target due to near vertical incident skywave signal propagation. This propagation method provides the ability to reflect signals off the ionosphere in an EMS-contested environment, establishing communications beyond the line of sight. Due to the signal path, the ability to target an HF transmitter is much more difficult than transmissions from VHF and UHF radios that transmit line of sight ground waves.

The expense to attain an improved HF-readiness level is low in comparison to other Army needs, yet with a high return on investment. The equipment has already been fielded to maneuver units; the next step is Army leadership prioritizing soldier training and employment of the equipment in tactical environments. This will posture the U.S. Army in a state of higher readiness for future conflicts.

Dr. Jan Kallberg, Lt. Col. Stephen Hamilton and Capt. Kyle Hager are research scientists at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and assistant professors at the United States Military Academy.

Utilizing Cyber in Arctic Warfare

The change from a focus on counter-insurgency to near-peer and peer-conflicts has also introduced the likelihood, if there is a conflict, for a fight in colder and frigid conditions. The weather conditions in Korea and Eastern Europe are harsh during winter time, with increasing challenges the farther north the engagement is taking place. In traditional war theaters, the threats to your existence line up as follows: enemy, logistics, and climate. In a polar climate, it is reversed: climate, logistics, and the enemy.

An enemy will engage you and seek to take you on different occasions, but the climate will be ever-present. The battle for your own physical survival in staying warm, eating and seeking rest can create unit fatigue and lower the ability to fight within days, even for trained and able troops. The easiest way to envision how three feet of snow affects you is to think about your mobility walking in water up to your hip, so to compensate either you ski or use low ground pressure and wide-tracked vehicles, such as specialized small unit support vehicles.

The climate and the snow depth also affect equipment. Lethality in your regular weapons is lowered. Gunfire accuracy goes down as charges burn slower in an arctic subzero-degree environment. Mortar rounds are less effective than under normal conditions when the snow captures shrapnel. Any heat, either from weapons, vehicles or your body, will make the snow melt and then freeze to ice. If not cleaned, weapons will jam. In a near-peer or peer conflict, the time units are engaged is longer and the exposure to the climate can last months.

I say all this to set the stage. Arctic warfare takes place in an environment that often lacks roads, infrastructure, minimal logistics, and with snow and ice blocking mobility. The climate affects both you and the enemy; once you are comfortable in this environment, you can work on the enemy’s discomfort.

The unique opportunity for cyberattacks in an Arctic conflict is, in my opinion, the ability to destroy a small piece of a machine or waste electric energy.

First, the ability to replace and repair equipment is limited in an arctic environment — the logistic chain is weak and unreliable and there are no facilities that effectively can support needed repairs, so the whole machine is a loss. If a cyberattack destroys a fuel pump in a vehicle, the targeted vehicle could be out of service for a week or more before repaired. The vehicle might have to be abandoned as units continue to move over the landscape. Units that operate in the Arctic have a limited logistic trail and ability to carry spare parts and reserve equipment. A systematic attack on a set of equipment can paralyze the enemy.

Second, electric energy waste is extremely stressful for any unit targeted. The Arctic has no urban infrastructure and often no existing power line that can provide electric power to charge batteries and upkeep electronic equipment. If there are power lines, they are few and likely already targeted by long-range enemy patrols.

The winter does not have enough sun to provide enough energy for solar panels if the sun even gets above the horizon (if you get far enough north, the sun is for several months a theoretical concept). The batteries do not hold a charge when it gets colder (a battery that holds a 100-percent charge at 80 degrees Fahrenheit has its capacity halved to 50-percent at 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Generators demand fuel from a limited supply chain and not only generate a heat signature, but also noise. The Arctic night is clear, with no noise pollution, so a working generator can be pick up by a long-range skiing patrol from 500 yards, risking an ambush. The loss or intermittent ability to use electronics and signal equipment due to power issues reduces and degrades situation awareness, command and control, the ability to call for strikes, and blinds the targeted unit.

Arctic warfare is a fight with low margins for errors, where climate guarantees that small failures can turn nasty, and even limited success with arctic cyber operations can tip the scales in your favor.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Jan Kallberg is a research fellow/research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point. As a former Swedish reserve officer and light infantry company commander, Kallberg has personal experience facing Arctic conditions. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the United States Military Academy, or the Department of Defense.