Cognitive Force Protection – How to protect troops from an assault in the cognitive domain

(Co-written with COL Hamilton)

Jan Kallberg and Col. Stephen Hamilton

Great power competition will require force protection for our minds, as hostile near-peer powers will seek to influence U.S. troops. Influence campaigns can undermine the American will to fight, and the injection of misinformation into a cohesive fighting force are threats equal to any other hostile and enemy action by adversaries and terrorists. Maintaining the will to fight is key to mission success.

Influence operations and disinformation campaigns are increasingly becoming a threat to the force. We have to treat influence operations and cognitive attacks as serious as any violent threat in force protection. Force protection is defined by Army Doctrine Publication No. 3-37, derived from JP 3-0: “Protection is the preservation of the effectiveness and survivability of mission-related military and nonmilitary personnel, equipment, facilities, information, and infrastructure deployed or located within or outside the boundaries of a given operational area.” Therefore, protecting the cognitive space is an integral part of force protection.

History shows that preserving the will to fight has ensured mission success in achieving national security goals. France in 1940 had more tanks and significant military means to engage the Germans; however, France still lost. A large part of the explanation of why France was unable to defend itself in 1940 resides with defeatism. This including an unwillingness to fight, which was a result of a decade-long erosion of the French soldiers’ will in the cognitive realm.

In the 1930s, France was political chaos, swinging from right-wing parties, communists, socialists, authoritarian fascists, political violence and cleavage, and the perception of a unified France worth fighting for diminished. Inspired by Stalin’s Soviet Union, the communists fueled French defeatism with propaganda, agitation and influence campaigns to pave the way for a communist revolution. Nazi Germany weakened the French to enable German expansion. Under a persistent cognitive attack from two authoritarian ideologies, the bulk of the French Army fell into defeatism. The French disaster of 1940 is one of several historical examples where manipulated perception of reality prevailed over reality itself. It would be a naive assessment to assume that the American will is a natural law unaffected by the environment. Historically, the American will to defend freedom has always been strong; however, the information environment has changed. Therefore, this cognitive space must be maintained, reignited and shared when the weaponized information presented may threaten it.

In the Battle of the Bulge, the conflict between good and evil was open and visible. There was no competing narrative. The goal of the campaign was easily understood, with clear boundaries between friendly and enemy activity. Today, seven decades later, we face competing tailored narratives, digital manipulation of media, an unprecedented complex information environment, and a fast-moving, scattered situational picture.

Our adversaries will and already are exploiting the fact that we as a democracy do not tell our forces what to think. Our only framework is loyalty to the Constitution and the American people. As a democracy, we expect our soldiers to support the Constitution and the mission. Our force has their democratic and constitutional right to think whatever they find worthwhile to consider.

In order to fight influence operations, we would typically control what information is presented to the force. However, we cannot tell our force what to read and not read due to First Amendment rights. While this may not have caused issues in the past, social media has presented an opportunity for our adversaries to present a plethora of information that is meant to persuade our force.

In addition, there is too much information flowing in multiple directions to have centralized quality control or fact checking. The vetting of information must occur at the individual level, and we need to enable the force’s access to high-quality news outlets. This doesn’t require any larger investment. The Army currently funds access to training and course material for education purposes. Extending these online resources to provide every member of the force online access to a handful of quality news organizations costs little but creates a culture of reading fact-checked news. More importantly, the news that is not funded by click baiting is more likely to be less sensational since its funding source comes from dedicated readers interested in actual news that matters.

In a democracy, cognitive force protection is to learn, train and enable the individual to see the demarcation between truth and disinformation. As servants of our republic and people, leaders of character can educate their unit on assessing and validating the information. As first initial steps, we must work toward this idea and provide tools to protect our force from an assault in the cognitive domain.

Jan Kallberg is a research scientist at the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy. Col. Stephen Hamilton is the chief of staff at the institute and a professor at the academy. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, the U.S. Military Academy or the Defense Department.

 

 

If Communist China loses a future war, entropy could be imminent

What happens if China engages in a great power conflict and loses? Will the Chinese Communist Party’s control over the society survive a horrifying defeat?
People’s Liberation Army PLA last fought a massive scale war during the invasion of Vietnam in 1979, which was a failed operation to punish Vietnam for toppling the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia. Since 1979, the PLA has been engaged in shelling Vietnam at different occasions and involved in other border skirmishes, but not fought a full-scale war. In the last decades, China increased its defense spending and modernized its military, including advanced air defenses and cruise missiles, fielded advanced military hardware, and built a high-sea navy from scratch; there is significant uncertainty of how the Chinese military will perform.

Modern warfare is integration, joint operations, command, control, intelligence, and the ability to understand and execute the ongoing, all-domain fight. War is a complex machinery, with low margins of error, and can have devastating outcomes if not prepared. It does not matter if you are against or for the U.S. military operations the last three decades, fact is that the prolonged conflict and engagement have made the U.S. experienced. The Chinese inexperience, in combination with unrealistic expansionistic ambitions, can be the downfall of the regime. Dry swimmers maybe train the basics, but they are never great swimmers.

Although it may look like a creative strategy for China to harvest trade secrets and intellectual property as well as put developing countries in debt to gain influence, I would question how rational the Chinese apparatus is. The repeated visualization of the Han nationalistic cult appears as a strength, the youth are rallying behind the Xi Jinping regime, but it is also a significant weakness. The weakness is blatantly visible in the Chinese need for surveillance and population control to maintain stability: surveillance and repression that is so encompassing in the daily life of the Chinese population that German DDR security services appear to have been amateurs. All chauvinist cults will implode over time because the unrealistic assumptions add up, and so will the sum of all delusional ideological decisions. Winston Churchill knew after Nazi-Germany declared war on the United States in December of 1941 that the Allies will prevail and win the war. Nazi-Germany did not have the GDP or manpower to sustain the war on two fronts, but the Nazis did not care because they were irrational and driven by hateful ideology. Nazi-Germany had just months before they invaded the massive Soviet Union, to create lebensraum and feed an urge to reestablish German-Austrian dominance in Eastern Europe. The Nazis unilaterally declared war on the United States. The rationale for the declaration of war was ideology, a worldview that demanded expansion and conflict, even if Germany was strategically inferior and eventually lost the war.

The Chinese belief that they can be a global authoritarian hegemony is likely on the same journey. China is today driven by their flavor or expansionist ideology that seek conflict, without being strategically able. It is worth noting that not a single major country is their allies. The Chinese supremacist propaganda works in peacetime, holding massive rallies and hailing Mao Zedong military genius, and they sing, dance, and wave red banner, but will that grip hold if PLA loses? In case of a failed military campaign, is the Chinese population, with the one-child policy, ready for casualties, humiliation, and failure?
Will the authoritarian grip with social equity, facial recognition, informers, digital surveillance, and an army that peace-time function is primarily crowd control, survive a crushing defeat? If the regime loses the grip, the wrath of the masses is like unleashed from decades of repression.

A country of the size of China, with a history of cleavages and civil wars, that has a suppressed diverse population and socio-economic disparity can be catapulted into Balkanization after a defeat. In the past, China has had long periods of internal fragmentation and weak central government.

The United States reacts differently to failure. The United States is as a country far more resilient than we might assume watching the daily news. If the United States loses a war, the President gets the blame, but there will still be a presidential library in his/her name. There is no revolution.

There is an assumption lingering over today’s public debate that China has a strong hand, advanced artificial intelligence, the latest technology, and is an uber-able superpower. I am not convinced. During the last decade, the countries in the Indo-Pacific region that seeks to hinder the Chinese expansion of control, influence, and dominance have formed stronger relationships increasingly. The strategic scale is in the democratic countries’ favor. If China still driven by ideology pursues conflict at a large scale it is likely the end of the Communist dictatorship.

In my personal view, we should pay more attention to the humanitarian risks, the ripple effects, and the dangers of nukes in a civil war, in case the Chinese regime implodes after a failed future war.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

What is the rationale behind election interference?

Any attempt to interfere with democratic elections, and the peaceful transition of power that is the result of these elections, is an attack on the country itself as it seeks to destabilize and undermine the core societal functions and constitutional framework. We all agree on the severity of these attempts and that it is a real, ongoing concern for our democratic republic. That is all good, and democracies have to safeguard the integrity of their electoral processes.

But what is less discussed is why the main perpetrator — Russia, according to media — is seeking to interfere with the U.S. election. What is the Russian rationale behind these information operations targeting the electoral system?

The Russian information operations in the fault lines of American society, seeking to make America more divisive and weakened, has a more evident rationale. These operations seek to expand cleavages, misunderstandings, and conflicts within the population. That can affect military recruiting, national obedience in a national emergency, and have long-term effects on trust and confidence in the society. So seeking to attack the American cognitive space, in pursuit of split and division in this democratic republic, has a more obvious goal. But what is the Russian return on investment for the electoral operations?

Even if the Russians had such an impact that candidate X won instead of candidate Y, the American commitment to defense and fundamental outlook on the world order has been fairly stable through different administrations and changes in Congress.

Naturally, one explanation is that Russia, as an authoritarian country with a democratic deficit, wants to portray functional democracies as having their issues and that liberal democracy is a failing and flawed concept. In a democracy, if the electoral system is unable to ensure the integrity of the elections, then the legitimacy of the government will be questioned. The question is if that is the Russian endgame.

In my view, there is more to the story than Russians just trying to interfere with the U.S. to create a narrative that democracy doesn’t work, specially tailored for the Russian domestic population so they will not threaten the current regime. The average Russian is no free-ranging political scientist, thinking about the underpinnings of legitimacy for their government, democratic models, and the importance of constitutional mechanisms. The Russian population is made up of the descendants of those who survived the communist terror, so by default, they are not so quick to ask questions about governmental legitimacy. There is opposition within Russia, and a fraction of the population would like to see a regime change in the Kremlin, like many others. But in a Russian context, regime change doesn’t automatically mean a public urge for liberal democracy.

Let me present another explanation to the Russian electoral interference, which might co-exist with the first explanation, and it is related to how we perceive Russia.

The Russian information operations stir up a sentiment that the Russians are able to change the direction of our society. If the Russians are ready to strike the homeland, then they are a major threat. Only superpowers are major threats to the continental United States.

So instead of seeing Russia for what it is, a country with significant domestic issues and reliant on massive extraction of natural resources to sell to a world market that buys from the lowest bidder, we overestimate their ability. Russia has failed the last decades to advance their ability to produce and manufacture competitive products, but the information operations make us believe that Russia is a potent superpower.

The nuclear arsenal makes Russia a superpower per se. Still, it cannot be effectively visualized for a foreign public, nor can it impact a national sentiment in a foreign country, especially when the Western societies in 2020 almost seem to have forgotten that nukes exist. Nukes are no longer “practical” tools to project superpower status.

If the Russians stir up our politicians’ beliefs that the Russians are a significant adversary, and that gives Russia bargaining power and geopolitical consideration, it appears more logical as a Russian goal.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

NDU Publication: China’s Strategic Support Force: A Force for a New Era

NDU Press just published:

http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/1651760/chinas-strategic-support-force-a-force-for-a-new-era/

From the Executive Summary:

“In late 2015, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initiated reforms that have brought dramatic changes to its structure, model of warfighting, and organizational culture, including the creation of a Strategic Support Force (SSF) that centralizes most PLA space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities. The reforms come at an inflection point as the PLA seeks to pivot from land-based territorial defense to extended power projection to protect Chinese interests in the “strategic frontiers” of space, cyberspace, and the far seas. Understanding the new strategic roles of the SSF is essential to understanding how the PLA plans to fight and win informationized wars and how it will conduct information operations.”

 

The Fight for Spectrum

An EC-130H Compass Call aircraft is parked at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 12, 2014. The aircraft is configured to execute worldwide information warfare tactics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Released)

Spectrum sounds to many ears like old-fashioned, Cold War jamming, crude brute electromagnetic overkill. In reality though, the military needs access to spectrum and more of it.

Smart defense systems need to communicate, navigate, identify, and target. It does not matter how cyber secure our platforms are if we are denied access to electromagnetic spectrum. Every modern high tech weapon system is a dud without access to spectrum. The loss of spectrum will evaporate the American military might.

Today, though, other voices are becoming stronger, desiring to commercialize military spectrum. Why does the military need an abundance of spectrum, these voices ask. It could be commercialized and create so much joy with annoying social media and stuff that does not matter beyond one of your lifetime minutes.

It is a relevant question. We as an entrepreneurial and “take action” society see the opportunity to utilize parts of the military spectrum to launch wireless services and free up spectrum space for all these apps and the Internet of Things that is just around the corner of the digital development of our society and civilization. In the eyes of the entrepreneurs and their backers, the military sits on the unutilized spectrum that could put be good use – and there could be a financial harvest of the military electromagnetic wasteland.

The military needs spectrum in the same way the football player needs green grass to plan and execute his run. If we limit the military access to necessary spectrum it will, to extend the football metaphor, be just a stack of players not moving or be able to win. Our military will not be able to operate effectively.

The electromagnetic space is no wasteland, it is a space ready to be utilized, at computational speed, and it serves as a deterrent in the same way as the ICBM in the silo. It exists, it can be utilized, and our adversaries understand. The military needs its electromagnetic space to ensure that they can operate in a degraded environment when our adversaries seek to limit the American might through electronic warfare, we should be able to fully operate and execute our operations to the extent of our abilities.

We invite people to talk about others to talk about justice, democracy, and freedom, to improve the world, but I think it is time for us to talk to our fellow man about electromagnetic spectrum because the bulwark against oppression and totalitarian regimes depends on access.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

/I originally wrote this as an opinion text for c4isrnet.com in 2015. Its relevance has increased with the shifted focus on peer and near-peer adversaries.