Category Archives: Accelerated Warfare

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.

The time to act is before the attack


In my view, one of the major weaknesses in cyber defense planning is the perception that there is time to lead a cyber defense while under attack. It is likely that a major attack is automated and premeditated. If it is automated the systems will execute the attacks at computational speed. In that case, no political or military leadership would be able to lead of one simple reason – it has already happened before they react.

A premeditated attack is planned for a long time, maybe years, and if automated, the execution of a massive number of exploits will be limited to minutes. Therefore, the future cyber defense would rely on components of artificial intelligence that can assess, act, and mitigate at computational speed. Naturally, this is a development that does not happen overnight.

In an environment where the actual digital interchange occurs at computational speed, the only thing the government can do is to prepare, give guidelines, set rules of engagement, disseminate knowledge to ensure a cyber resilient society, and let the coders prepare the systems to survive in a degraded environment.

Another important factor is how these cyber defense measures can be reversed engineered and how visible they are in a pre-conflict probing wave of cyber attacks. If the preset cyber defense measures can be “measured up” early in a probing phase of a cyber conflict it is likely that the defense measures can through reverse engineering become a force multiplier for the future attacks – instead of bulwarks against the attacks.

So we enter the land of “damned if you do-damned if you don’t” because if we pre-stage the conflict with artificial intelligence supported decision systems that lead the cyber defense at the computational speed we are also vulnerable by being reverse engineered and the artificial intelligence becomes tangible stupidity.

We are in the early dawn of cyber conflicts, we can see the silhouettes of what is coming, but one thing becomes very clear – the time factor. Politicians and military leadership will have no factual impact on the actual events in real time in conflicts occurring at computational speed, so focus have then to be at the front end. The leadership is likely to have the highest impact by addressing what has to be done pre-conflict to ensure resilience when under attack.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Artificial Intelligence (AI): The risk of over-reliance on quantifiable data

The rise of interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning has a flip side. It might not be so smart if we fail to design the methods correctly. A question out there – can we compress the reality into measurable numbers? Artificial Intelligence relies on what can be measured and quantified, risking an over-reliance on measurable knowledge. The challenge with many other technical problems is that it all ends with humans that design and assess according to their own perceived reality. The designers’ bias, perceived reality, weltanschauung, and outlook – everything goes into the design. The limitations are not on the machine side; the humans are far more limiting. Even if the machines learn from a point forward, it is still a human that stake out the starting point and the initial landscape.

Quantifiable data has historically served America well; it was a part of the American boom after the Second World War when America was one of the first countries that took a scientific look on how to improve, streamline, and increase production utilizing fewer resources and manpower.

The numbers have also misled. The Vietnam-era SECDEF McNamara used the numbers to tell how to win the Vietnam War, which clearly indicated how to reach a decisive military victory – according to the numbers. In a Post-Vietnam book titled “The War Managers,” retired Army general Donald Kinnard visualize the almost bizarre world of seeking to fight the war through quantification and statistics. Kinnard, who later taught at the National Defense University, did a survey of the actual support for these methods and utilized fellow generals that had served in Vietnam as the respondents. These generals considered the concept of assessing the progress in the war by body counting as useless, and only two percent of the surveyed generals saw any value in this practice. Why were the Americans counting bodies? It is likely because it was quantifiable and measurable. It is a common error in research design that you seek out the variables that produce accessible quantifiable results and McNamara was at that time almost obsessed with numbers and the predictive power of numbers. McNamara is not the only one that relied overly on the numbers.

In 1939, the Nazi-German foreign minister Ribbentrop together with the German High Command studied and measured up the French-British ability to mobilize and the ability to start a war with a little-advanced warning. The Germans quantified assessment was that the Allies were unable to engage in a full-scale war on short notice and the Germans believed that the numbers were identical with the policy reality when politicians would understand their limits – and the Allies would not go to war over Poland. So Germany invaded Poland and started the Second World War. The quantifiable assessment was correct and lead to Dunkirk, but the grander assessment was off and underestimated the British and French will to take on the fight, which leads to at least 50 million dead, half of Europe behind the Soviet Iron Curtain and the destruction of their own regime. The British sentiment willing to fight the war to the end, the British ability to convince the US to provide resources to their effort, and the unfolding events thereafter were never captured in the data. The German assessment was a snapshot of the British and French war preparations in the summer of 1939 – nothing else.

Artificial Intelligence is as smart as the the numbers we feed it. Ad notam.

The potential failure is hidden in selecting, assessing, designing, and extracting the numbers to feed Artificial Intelligence. The risk for grave errors in decisionmaking, escalation, and avoidable human suffering and destruction, is embedded in our future use of Artifical Intelligence if we do not pay attention to the data that feed the algorithms. The data collection and aggregation is the weakest link in the future of machine-supported decisionmaking.

Jan Kallberg is a Research Scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an Assistant Professor the Department of Social Sciences (SOSH) at the United States Military Academy. 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.

The Death of the Cyber Generalist

I recommend reading Patrick Bell and my article from June 2018:

“The Department of Defense (DoD) must abandon its “up-or-out” promotion model for cyber forces. It should let competent officers hold their positions longer. Applying the outdated Defense Officer Personnel Management Act’s (DOPMA) staffing model to the cyber force is foolish, and makes it difficult to keep experienced, technically-proficient cyber officers in the military. DOPMA’s prescribed career paths entail officers’ attendance at a variety of schools, with several rotations through geographical areas and work domains. In the process, domain-specific knowledge that would allow officers to lead and understand the impact of their various choices in a technically complex and ever-changing environment evaporates. In a world of increasing complexity, shortened windows of opportunity to act, and constantly-changing technical environments, the generalist leaders that the DOPMA system yields may doom the military’s cyber force to failure.”

The link to the article: