Cyber Defense

Air Force 'on the road' to predictive cyber algorithm

Just as adversaries change over time, so do combat environments. The struggle for the military is adjusting to these changes, be it from the state-on-state Cold War, to the counterterrorism missions against asymmetric enemies, to the upcoming challenges involving cyber operations, electronic warfare and anti-access/area denial. 

One way the Air Force’s Air Combat Command is looking toward the next battlefield is through “fusion warfare.” 

Fusion warfare is “an asymmetric decision advantage integrating and synchronizing multi-source, multi-domain information in the time and space of our choosing,” Maj. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, director of intelligence at the Air Combat Command, said today at an event hosted by the Mitchell Forum.

“The reason why we need fusion warfare is exactly to maintain our tactical edge.  And when I say our tactical edge, I mean the outer boundary of warfight – not just today, but specifically in 2035,” Jamieson said.  “By then, our competitors will probably be near-peer technologically and some will have advanced us technologically.” 

As the military adjusts to emerging threats, a primary challenge is integrating cyber operations into its practice. “Why we must act today is because our current tactics, techniques and procedures – those TTPs – are based off of lessons learned. Fifth-generation technology is going to increase the amount of data available,” Jamieson said. Current TTPs won’t keep pace in 2035 because they are based on “single input, not multi-source or multi-domain views,” she continued. 

The idea of multi-domain environments hastens the need for developing capabilities in a variety of disciplines – cyber included. But the emerging nature of cyber makes this challenging.  “We have a nascent understanding of the capability and effects of cyber. And we have a limited knowledge on how do we and when do we integrate these capabilities in our planning cycles. I would submit to you, I believe we are at the 1917 era of cyber in today’s environment,” Jamieson said, comparing current cyber capabilities to the use of aviation in World War I, which “exploded” in subsequent wars.

Jamieson said the Air Force is “on the road” toward developing greater cyber capabilities, potentially even an algorithm for predicting operations in cyberspace. “We haven’t wrung out the second and third order effects of the capabilities that we have [in cyber]. She said her office has been working with the RAND Corp. for the last year on a mathematical algorithm to predict and depict the effects of cyber weapons. “We’ve had one year of study, we had six cases that we evaluated – four were traditional cyber, two were electronic warfare. … We believe we have the start of an algorithm that will actually be able to look at being able to predict the effects of cyber capabilities.”

Just as with kinetic weapons systems, any new cyber capability will have to be tested. Munitions are tested so the military can understand their effectiveness, range, how many they might need for a particular mission and so on. In the non-kinetic realm, Jamieson said it has taken a lot of thought and mathematical numbers crunching to “isolate what variables do we need to consider in a non-kinetic environment. It is going to take rigorous testing.”

Despite not having a broad understanding of capabilities across the community, having the conversation is the first step, Lt. Col. Maurizio “Mo” Calabrese, chief of ACC intelligence directorate’s planning, programming and policy branch, said at the event. After that, an understanding of capabilities for planning and integration into the force can proceed.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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