Panel: Rise in Information Complicates Future Fight

Panel: Rise in Information Complicates Future Fight

Panel at AUSA Hot Topic
Photo by: AUSA/Luc Dunn

The Army will need to take a proactive, integrated approach to signature management to maintain the information advantage, senior cyber officials said during a panel discussion July 2 at a Hot Topic event hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army.

“The Army needs to ... understand the information that we are disclosing, ... the content and context of that information, [understand] how … we need ... to inform our commanders of what their risk is today and do forward-based denial planning integrated across echelon,” said Joseph Macri, program analyst in the threat systems management office within Program Executive Office-Simulation, Training and Instrumentation.

Signature management involves “managing emissions and observables that can reveal (or mislead about) force positions or intentions,” according to a Rand Corp. handbook for tactical operations in the information environment.

Recent attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels underscore the importance of signature management, said Col. Sean Heidgerken, public affairs director for U.S. Central Command.

“The system that was designed to make shipping more efficient [and] more safe … has got an inherent bug in it,” he said. “All of [shipping] relies on … data [that gives vessel location information]. It tells everyone exactly where you are with GPS. The Houthis are using that [to guide their drones and missiles].”

As operations and deception techniques become increasingly complex, signature management will become offensive instead of defensive.

“It's [a question of] what do we show the adversary and when do we show the adversary that,” Heidgerken said. The Army will ask itself questions like, “How do we place things [along the battlefield] that draw the adversary to place our commanders at a position of advantage?” and “How are we maintaining the advantage?” 

Drawing on lessons from the Cold War, the best information operations need to go beyond signature management, said Christopher Lowe, senior director of Department of Defense development at Oracle.

“Just confounding an adversary for a moment in time might give you a certain kind of advantage, but the reality is, you’ve got to do something about degrading [the adversary’s] ability to process information,” he said. “The boundary between what we used to think of as offense and defense begins to merge. The best defense is offense. The best offense … is protecting your own information flows.” 

As it prepares for future conflict, the Army will need to design its equipment with signature management in mind, Heidgerken said.

“As we look at these future acquisitions, and as we go into the design of what we think the Army needs to fight the next wars, we have to be thinking about it in those terms ahead of time,” he said. “I think right now, we're doing that as an … afterthought instead of putting that into the design process as we go forward.”