The close coordination of tactical cyberwarfare and electronic warfare is imperative if both are to deliver useful effects on the battlefield.
Much cyberwarfare discussion focuses on the cyberattack threat to critical national infrastructure like power grids, financial systems and politico-military targets. Nonetheless, there is growing interest in how cyberattack could be deployed at the tactical level.
Armada previously reported Russian armed forces’ use of cyberwarfare following their 2014 invasion of Ukraine. X-Agent malware, believed to have been developed by Russia’s Fancy Bear cyber espionage group, infected Ukrainian artillery fire control software. The malware retrieved information on the location of Ukrainian artillery units. This was used by Russian Army counter-battery fire which destroyed up to 20 percent of the Ukrainian Army’s 2A18/D-30 122mm howitzer fleet. These figures were compiled by the International Institute of Strategic Studies London-based think tank.
Examples of tactical cyberwarfare are few and far between but interest in the subject is growing. Presentations at this year’s Association of Old Crows’ Electronic Warfare Europe exhibition, held in Montpellier, southern France between 11th and 12th May addressed this subject.
Cyberwarfare is increasingly bundled with Electronic Warfare (EW) in CEMA (Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities) approaches, underscored by the British Army’s 2018 CEMA Doctrine. While distinct missions, cyberwarfare and EW share commonalities: On the battlefield cyberattacks may depend on radio frequency transmissions to reach hostile computer systems. A hostile radio network maybe exploited to carry a cyber attack into a red force tactical Command and Control (C2) system.
EW Europe discussions noted that cyber effects can help multiple EW effects and vice versa. Red force troops could be targeted with cyber attacks on their C2 systems in one place and jamming elsewhere. This could trigger deception: Red force troops adjacent to those being jammed maybe lured into a false sense of security. As their communications are left untouched, they may not believe they are targeted, perhaps unaware their C2 systems are now subtly feeding them false information. A close coordination of tactical cyberwarfare and EW is imperative. Ignoring this risks unsynchronised effects and even electronic fratricide.
Combining cyberwarfare and EW effects enables the targeting of physical layers like radios and rugged computers. Communications networks and computer software can also be attacked. Cyber effects can convey false or demoralising information on red force networks.
As well as having a physical impact on the red force, coordinating cyberwarfare and EW should make the red force behave differently and to its detriment.
Combining cyberwarfare and EW may have similar outcomes to the battlefield interdiction efforts of artillery and airpower some distance from the frontline.
A cyberattack against computers controlling a transport hub like an airfield or port may prevent it operating efficiently, or at all. This could slow or stop the delivery of red force materiél into theatre to support planned or ongoing manoeuvre. The cyberattack could spread disinformation that there is nothing wrong at the transport centre and that it is functioning normally.
As a result, the red force continues to move materiél into the hub. This causes congestion as the hub cannot handle the traffic. Feedback cannot be sent up the red force chain of command explaining the situation as EW systems are jamming local civilian and military communications. As one presentation summarised “port infrastructure is rendered inoperable. Adversarial forces are delayed from disembarking (and the) fight can be fought on the terms of the friendly force”: All without a shot being fired.
Tactical cyberwarfare is a reality. Although cyberwarfare and EW have their unique attributes and missions, they need to coordinate to ensure maximum effect. Ignoring this invites chaos and possible electronic fratricide with devastating effects. At the same time, closely coordinating cyberwarfare and EW effects promises to have an impact well beyond the tactical edge.
by Dr. Thomas Withington