The Complex

The Army is building cyber into its combat exercises

The Army has started incorporating cyber operations into exercises meant to prepare its heavy forces to fight major wars again after more than a decade of counterinsurgency, a three-star general revealed this week.

Until recently, "we had not thought through the process of how we could use cyber, or the network, from a weapons standpoint," said III Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell during a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington this week.

To address this, Campbell had representatives from U.S. Army Cyber Command embed with his commanders for the exercise, hosted by III Corps this summer, so that the traditional combat troops could learn how to use cyber in a conflict. (III Corps is a heavy combat formation of the U.S. Army consisting of numerous armor, cavalry and infantry divisions.)

"This was a Caspian Sea scenario against what I would classify as a near-peer adversary," said Campbell. This means that the friendly troops were fighting a nation with an advanced military, like Russia's.

In addition to throwing armor, artillery, and infantry at the enemy to defeat its forces, commanders got accustomed to thinking about how they would use cyber power in the campaign.

"I had to tell the staff, ‘Here's what I want to achieve as an example,' as we got ready to isolate Baku, in really the culminating operation for the exercise. I specifically said I want to target this [enemy] division to do this to it -- not ‘take it down', that's not a doctrinal term -- but to really impact its ability to command and control," said Campbell. "So we put together a [concept of operations] using [U.S. Army Cyber Command's] capabilities, [the Army cyber] team working to us to do that specific mission [taking out the enemy's command and control] and it was very successful."

What does very successful mean? The fake enemy's ability to command his forces and gather intelligence was degraded by about 40 percent because of Army cyber's efforts, according to Campbell.

"When [Army cyber commander Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez] talks about the network as a weapons system, in my opinion that was a great example," said Campbell.

He added that his operational planners had to learn how to collaborate with the cyber commanders to use cyber weapons.

"We met daily, in a targeting brief for an hour and there were specific focused targets on what we would do to the network and what we would do to our network," said Campbell. 

Friendly forces even used social media in an attempt to win the local population's support.

"I asked the team to leverage what we could from a social media standpoint . . . to try to get after the populace," said Campbell, who added that this use of social media to influence the outcome of a conflict was "bigger than public affairs."

While the exercise was a start, the Army must make relationships between more traditional units like III Corps and its divisions and cyber forces "habitual," according to Campbell, who noted that several upcoming Army exercises will incorporate cyber.

All of this comes as the Army seeks to develop a new generation of cyber weapons and is working to incorporate offensive cyber fire support into its operations.

In addition to building strong and resilient networks capable of operating while under attack, "we must also be ready when directed to conduct offensive operations to help achieve commanders intents and the objectives that they desire," said Lt. Gen. Hernandez during the same event at which Campbell spoke.

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