Cyber in Arctic Warfare


The change from a focus on counter-insurgency to near-peer and peer conflicts also introduce the likelihood, if there is a conflict, of a fight in colder and frigid conditions. The weather conditions in Korea and Eastern Europe are harsh in wintertime, with increasing challenges the further north the engagement is taking place. I have personal experience facing Arctic conditions as a former Swedish reserve officer and light infantry company commander.

In traditional war, theaters have the threat to your existence line up as 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 meanwhile the climate will be ever-present. The battle for your 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 either you ski or use low-ground pressure and wide-tracked vehicles such as specialized Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV). The climate and the snow depth affect equipment. Lethality in your regular weapons is lowered. Gunfire accuracy decreases 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 from weapons, vehicles, or your body will melt the snow and then freeze to ice. If not cleaned, weapons will jam. In a near-peer or peer conflict, the time units are engaged longer, and the exposure to the climate can last months. I say this to set the stage. Arctic warfare occurs in an environment that often lacks roads, infrastructure, minimal logistics, and snow and ice blocking mobility.

The climate affects you and the enemy; once you are comfortable in this environment, you can work on the enemy’s discomfort.

The unique opportunity for cyber attacks in an Arctic conflict is, in my view, what either destroys a small piece of a machine or wastes 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 cyber attack destroys a fuel pump in a vehicle, the targeted vehicle could be out of service for a week or more before being 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 the ability to carry spare parts and reserve equipment. A systematic attack on a set of equipment can paralyze the enemy.
The second part, electric energy waste, is extremely stressful for any unit targeted. The Arctic area 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. The sun if you get far enough north 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 reduce and degrade situation awareness, command and control, ability to call for strikes, and blinds the targeted unit.
Arctic warfare is a fight with low margins for errors, the climate guarantees that small failures can turn nasty, and even limited success with Arctic cyber operations can tip the scales in our favor.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

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