The New Triad

It's time to found a U.S. Cyber Force.

Throughout the long decades of my military career, the backbone of U.S. national security was the "strategic triad" of delivery systems for nuclear weapons: ballistic-missile submarines and their associated nuclear-tipped missiles, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles operated from silos deep in the earth, and long-range manned bombers, which could deliver nuclear bombs and eventually nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

America's reliance on this Cold War triad continues through the present day, though the systems have changed somewhat as a result of both advances in technology and changes in treaty limits, most recently reflected in the New START treaty.

As we sail more deeply into the turbulent 21st century, however, there is another triad that bears considering that will be a critical part of U.S. security in the decades to come. This new triad will be far less abstract and hidden-away than the Cold War strategic triad and much more frequently employed -- often in kinetic ways.

This "New Triad" consists of special operations forces, unmanned vehicles, and cybercapabilities. Each has an important individual role to play, but taken together, the sum of their impacts will be far greater than that of each of the parts when used alone.

First, consider special operations forces, or SOF. They have become a tool of choice in a wide variety of actions in today's world, from the spectacular mission that finally killed Osama bin Laden to training African partners to thwart the brutal Lord's Resistance Army in Africa, and from helping Colombian forces fight the FARC insurgency in Latin America to providing security for disaster relief operations in Pakistan.

Today's SOF are capable of operating across the entire spectrum of operations, from soft power and training to the ultimate "red dots on foreheads" missions epitomized by the killing of bin Laden and popularized by film and television.

Because they are trained in languages, cultural mores, high-tech communications, medicine, concealment, and many other discrete skills, they can operate in the widest imaginable variety of geographical settings. They are also small in number, highly motivated, and relatively cost-effective. They are generally precision-guided in their approach, can limit collateral damage, and blend in when needed.

The second capability in the New Triad is unmanned vehicles and sensors. This branch of the triad includes not only the airborne attack "drones" that are endlessly debated at the moment, but unmanned surveillance vehicles in the air, on the ground, and on the ocean's surface. They also operate at depth in the world's oceans, both in the water column and on the ocean's floor. For example, the use of "underwater drones" might someday allow attacks on enemy shipping or ports, as well as the exploitation of underwater fiber-optic cables deep on the ocean floor. This could one day provide a rich environment for intelligence collection, "blinding" communication pathways, and the conduct of cyberoperations.

While expensive, such systems have the obvious advantage of not requiring the most costly component of all: people. Also, without people operating them, they can perform in far harsher environments and hold a higher degree of political deniability for covert and clandestine operations. And they are highly accurate, are largely networked together via overhead systems, and can provide direct feeds to conventional and special operations forces.

Finally, and potentially most powerfully, there is the world of offensive cybercapability that is just beginning to emerge. This part of the New Triad has the potential to operate with devastating effect, possibly able to paralyze an opponent's electric grid, transportation network, financial centers, energy supplies, and the like.

Cybersystems can also collect information and intelligence, manipulate enemy navigation and operational systems, and perform in clandestine and unattributable ways. Although expensive to design and create, they become quite cost-effective to operate over time.

Several points emerge as we consider the potential of this New Triad.

First, these are all key investment areas for creating security. A dollar spent in these three segments is generally more efficient and -- most importantly -- has a vastly higher chance of being put to use than many other defense investments, including strategic nuclear ones. There is simply no serious question that we will be repeatedly using the components of the New Triad "early and often" as the coming decades unfold.

Second, the Defense Department needs to think through how each of these parts of the New Triad will be managed in the procurement, oversight, personnel, and operational senses. For example, it is probably time to consolidate the myriad cyberforces owned and operated by the separate services and other parts of the Defense Department and merge them into a single organization, much as was done with today's U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida.

Today, each of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and each of the combatant commands (Pacific Command, European Command, Central Command, etc.) have significant cyber-efforts under way. We need to consolidate them significantly to achieve unity of effort. This means their procurement, command/control, acquisition, and manning will gradually come under a single commander, probably the newly created Cyber Command, headed at present by Gen. Keith Alexander.

Frankly, putting the military side of the nation's cybercapability under Cyber Command is at best an interim solution. Ultimately, we need to create a separate cyberservice, just as we have an Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Just as we finally grasped that the skies were a new domain and created the U.S. Air Force over 60 years ago, it will soon be time to see that cyber is, in fact, a permanent new domain that requires a U.S. Cyber Force. Beginning now to think seriously about this will be part of the implementation of the New Triad.

And let's face it: A new cyberservice will need more than a new style of uniform. It will probably need, for example, a very different personnel system. The type of young woman or man who is deeply engaged in the world of cyber probably isn't looking for a "high and tight" haircut, eight weeks of boot camp, and a long, slow crawl up a largely seniority-based system for promotion. A U.S. Cyber Force will require a large civilian component and will need to be instinctively oriented toward working with the interagency process and the private sector -- not baseline competencies in today's Defense Department, despite some improvement over the past decade.

Third, we should be actively exploring how to create synergies between the branches of this New Triad. We are, of course, already doing so in an ad hoc way. But as the capabilities of each branch expand, there needs to be a conscious effort, overseen by the Pentagon's top brass. In a well-meaning way, each of the services will try to retain as much control as they can over all three of these capabilities -- but if we are to realize the power of combining them operationally, we will need to rise above individual service priorities. We have done this somewhat in the world of special forces, but we need to move further in this direction.

Fourth, our research and development teams, especially the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the other laboratories in the department, should work together on the abilities of all three of these areas to enhance them individually and, more importantly, to think about how they can be fused effectively. For example, a project that connects offensive cybersoftware with insertion via special operations or drones would probably be highly useful.

Fifth, the component commanders -- both geographical and functional -- should consider how to draw on the capabilities of the New Triad in their area of responsibility. How can U.S. Transportation Command use unmanned vehicles in delivery systems? What does U.S. Special Operations Command do to use cyber- and unmanned vehicles? In Europe, a highly cyber-oriented part of the world, does U.S. European Command support Cyber Command in convening expert civilian panels to discuss private-public collaboration? At each of the commands, there will be ways these capabilities can be employed both singly and together, both unilaterally and in concert with allies and partners. Learning how to fit them together will be an important operational task, the surface of which we are only just beginning to scratch.

Sixth, the policy and defense intellectual community needs to think through the strategic impact of these systems. The current beginnings of a debate about offensive cyberoperations are a good example. Is there a "deterrent theory" that will apply to cyber as it does to nuclear forces? In the world of unmanned vehicles, the legalities and norms related to so-called "targeted killings" will need to be established. Special forces are a more mature domain in this regard, but to the degree that they are used in conjunction with the other two legs of the New Triad, policy questions concerning their use on clandestine and covert missions should be fully considered.

Finally, we must get the interagency balance right in operating this New Triad. All three of its elements -- and especially cyber -- will be tools for the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, and other interagency actors. Competition among the departments and agencies for a limited pool of talented cyberpersonnel is already intense. Balancing the civilian and military sides of all three capabilities will be crucial to their most efficient procurement and use over time.

None of this is to say that the traditional nuclear triad is no longer relevant or important, or that conventional forces -- from aircraft carriers to tanks to advanced fighters to infantry battalions -- won't be useful tools of U.S. security policy. But it seems increasingly clear that the capabilities represented by the New Triad will be frequently used indeed, and we need to spend more time and resources ensuring that they are ready for the inevitable and frequent calls for fire that they will continue to receive.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Lancaster

National Security

Breaking the Kill Chain

How to keep America in the game when our enemies are trying to shut us out.

Our military services and national security leaders are consumed right now with reductions to defense budgets. Whether from years of continuing resolutions, sequestration, or just less funding in general, our military will have to adjust to getting fewer dollars to protect our nation's security interests. At the same time, the world continues to present challenges to U.S. interests, including instability in North Africa and the Middle East, regular provocations from Iran and North Korea, and territorial disputes between China and its neighbors. Our military will need an affordable and effective approach to counter coercion and assure access to places where conflict is most likely and consequential.

The caps established in 2011 by the Budget Control Act place defense spending at the same level as the early 2000s. This level of funding was sufficient to organize, train, and equip a force able to defeat Saddam Hussein's military, deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan, and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. But our fiscal situation is different today. Personnel and infrastructure maintenance costs have risen by double-digit percentages since 2003 as our services took on new missions, such as defending allies from ballistic missiles and countering piracy and illicit trafficking. Meanwhile, our competitors are more capable than a decade ago thanks to proliferation of weapons and other military technology. Less funding will compel us to reprioritize our efforts and make some hard choices with respect to the size and shape of our forces. This does not mean we will be unable to address our nation's security needs, but we will need to focus our investments and operations on our most important interests.

The Defense Strategic Guidance issued in January 2012 assessed our security environment and fiscal circumstances following the first set of BCA-imposed budget reductions. Although we are reevaluating that strategy in light of potential additional cuts imposed by sequestration, one of the most significant challenges the strategy identified remains a concern: the dedicated effort by some nations and groups to prevent access to parts of the "global commons" -- those areas of the air, sea, cyberspace, and space that no one "owns," but upon which we all depend. These "anti-access" strategies employ military capabilities, geography, diplomatic pressure, and international law to impede the free use of ungoverned spaces. The Air-Sea Battle concept -- which disrupts the so-called "kill chains" of our potential adversaries -- is our services' approach to negate these efforts.

A new form of coercion

Nations seeking to intimidate their neighbors are turning to anti-access strategies because they are cost-effective. Merely threatening to close key maritime crossroads such as the Strait of Hormuz or demonstrating the ability to cut off a country from cyberspace or international airspace can be an effective tool for regional and international coercion. Similarly, these capabilities can be applied to prevent or slow U.S. or allied assistance from arriving in time to stop or repel an attack -- providing an aggressor much greater leverage over neighbors who depend on allies for security.

Three well-known developments made this shift in our competitors' strategy possible. One, the world economy has become more interconnected, so impediments at air or maritime chokepoints have a much faster global impact. Two, technological advances in sensing and precision have spurred the development of more lethal air defenses and anti-ship cruise missiles; cheaper, more integrated surveillance systems; and new weapons, such as anti-ship ballistic missiles. Improvements in automation have made these systems easier to use while proliferation has put them in the hands of a range of potential new adversaries. And three, the American way of projecting force changed from placing bases and garrisons close to potential battlefields to a more expeditionary strategy whereby a smaller overseas presence is supported by forces that can surge into the area from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

In history there are numerous examples of anti-access capabilities and strategies. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox," used aircraft, gun emplacements, and mines during World War II to disrupt access to France during the D-Day landings at Normandy. Mines were used in the Arabian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq "tanker war" of the 1980s to hinder the passage of both countries' oil. Serbian forces and Saddam Hussein each employed Cold War-era air defenses in an attempt to deter intervention by NATO and a U.S.-led coalition respectively. Anti-access strategies have always been employed to increase the cost of intervention beyond an acceptable level and show potential victims of aggression that help is not likely to come. Today, however, anti-access capabilities have much greater range and lethality. And they are typically employed as part of an overall strategy in peacetime alongside legal, diplomatic, and geographic means to deny access even before a conflict occurs.

Anti-access strategies also undermine our ability to stabilize crises. Suppose an aggressor threatens to attack a country within range of its anti-access military capabilities. If we cannot reliably defeat the aggressor's array of cruise and ballistic missiles, submarines, aircraft, etc. and project power, U.S. forces will be less able to move into the area to interdict attacks, reassure our allies, and defuse potential hostilities.

The Air-Sea Battle concept

The Air-Sea Battle concept, approved by the secretary of defense in 2011, is designed to assure access, defeat anti-access capabilities, and provide more options to national leaders and military commanders. Air-Sea Battle is one of the operational concepts nested within the overarching Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) -- the Joint Force's approach to defeating threats to access. Air-Sea Battle is not focused on one specific adversary, since the anti-access capabilities it is intended to defeat are proliferating and, with automation, becoming easier to use. U.S. forces need a credible means to assure access when needed to help deter aggression by a range of potential adversaries, to assure allies, and to provide escalation control and crisis stability.

Some examples of where Air-Sea Battle may apply include the Arabian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, where a favorable location provides Iran the ability to threaten the production and passage of almost 20 percent of the world's oil. If Iran can demonstrate or credibly assert that it can prevent or slow a U.S. response to its aggression, it is more able to coerce its neighbors or the international community. In the eastern Mediterranean, the government of Syria has deployed an array of modern anti-air missile systems to raise the costs of outside intervention in its ongoing civil war. And in the Pacific, North Korea has already demonstrated its willingness to employ anti-access capabilities with the sinking in 2010 of the South Korean ship, Cheonan.

Air-Sea Battle is not a military strategy; it isn't about countering an invasion; it isn't a plan for U.S. forces to conduct an assault. Air-Sea Battle is a concept for defeating threats to access and enabling follow-on operations, which could include military activities as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response. For example, in the last several years, improved integration between naval and air forces helped us respond to floods in Pakistan and to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Normally, operational concepts are developed by commanders to carry out a specific set of actions in their area of responsibility. In contrast, the military services are using JOAC and Air-Sea Battle to guide their efforts to organize, train, and equip forces provided to operational commanders. Further, we are integrating these concepts into the tactics and procedures we develop to operate with our allies. This is similar to the effort in the 1980s to implement the "Air-Land" Battle concept and associated NATO concepts to defeat Soviet aggression in Central Europe. That effort resulted in programs such as the JSTARS radar aircraft that we still use to track targets on land. And while Air-Land Battle was focused on a singular threat and region, the idea of using a specific operational concept to guide investment is the same approach we are taking with Air-Sea Battle.

Breaking the "kill chain"

Air-Sea Battle defeats threats to access by, first, disrupting an adversary's command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems; second, destroying adversary weapons launchers (including aircraft, ships, and missile sites); and finally, defeating the weapons an adversary launches.

This approach exploits the fact that, to attack our forces, an adversary must complete a sequence of actions, commonly referred to as a "kill chain." For example, surveillance systems locate U.S. forces, communications networks relay targeting information to weapons launchers, weapons are launched, and then they must hone in on U.S. forces. Each of these steps is vulnerable to interdiction or disruption, and because each step must work, our forces can focus on the weakest links in the chain, not each and every one. For example, strikes against installations deep inland are not necessarily required in Air-Sea Battle because adversary C4ISR may be vulnerable to disruption, weapons can be deceived or interdicted, and adversary ships and aircraft can be destroyed.

U.S. forces need not employ "symmetrical" approaches to counter each threat -- shooting missiles down with missiles, sinking submarines with other submarines, etc. Instead, as described in the JOAC and Air-Sea Battle, we will operate across domains. For example, we will defeat missiles with electronic warfare, disrupt surveillance systems with electromagnetic or cyberattacks, and defeat air threats with submarines. This is "networked, integrated attack" and it will require a force that is designed for -- and that regularly practices -- these kinds of operations.

Building a truly "joint" force

Conducting operations across domains requires rapid and tight coordination between air, ground, and naval forces -- a level of integration well beyond today's efforts to merely pre-plan and deconflict actions between services. This integration can't be achieved effectively and efficiently on an ad hoc basis. Forces must be "pre-integrated" -- before the fight begins. This compels us to work more closely as we develop and prepare our forces.

Today, for example, instructors from the Navy's "Top Gun" school routinely train with their counterparts at the Air Force Weapons School. As part of Air-Sea Battle we are pursuing this type of inter-service cooperation between all the services, as well as within each branch of each service. Just as in tactical aviation, we are expanding our doctrine integration to include additional areas of collaboration -- such as Army air-defense forces and Marine reconnaissance units. With the doctrine, procedures, investment, and training included in Air-Sea Battle's initiatives, we are moving from cooperation toward integration across domains. To foster integration we are directing an intensified approach to building common procedures, complementary budgets, combined exercises, and joint war games.

An essential prerequisite for cross-domain operations is communication and data links that connect sensors, decision-makers, and shooters armed with kinetic, electromagnetic, and cyber weapons. Our investments, guided by the Air-Sea Battle concept, are building increasingly robust networks able to communicate between each service's platforms, even in a contested electromagnetic environment. Part of this effort is focused on the systems and procedures for Joint Tactical Networking to connect today's aircraft and ships with new 5th generation aircraft, such as the F-35 and F-22.

Two recent tests advanced our efforts to promote Joint Tactical Networking. In the first, an Air Force F-22 provided updated targeting information to a Navy submarine-launched Tomahawk missile. Similarly, in September 2012 an Army Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) ashore successfully guided a U.S. Navy SM-6 surface-to-air missile to intercept an incoming cruise missile, demonstrating the ability to extend the range of an Aegis-equipped ship to well beyond the horizon and over land. These examples show how integrating capabilities from multiple services and domains combine to provide greater range and more options for commanders.

We cannot forget, however, that the enemy gets a vote. Electromagnetic jammers and decoys are becoming less expensive and easier to obtain, and they can emit more complex signals. Our communication networks will need to be resilient and redundant. We are investing together in new waveforms that are resistant to jamming while also building systems that can back up traditional satellite communications. Through the FY 2013 Air-Sea Battle Implementation Master Plan, our services will continue to pursue communication network improvements through technology development, war games, and the operational alignment of our Air and Maritime Operations Centers around the world.

By improving our integration, we improve our combined capability to assure access without expensive new investments. A more efficient and effective force will provide a starting point for evaluating how and where we should address potential reductions in future defense budgets.

Keeping up the momentum

We continue to implement the Air-Sea Battle concept in three main ways: compelling institutional change, fostering conceptual alignment, and promoting programmatic collaboration.

Compelling institutional change. The Air-Sea Battle concept establishes a "new normal" for integration between services so they are able to conduct successful cross-domain operations. This approach will require breaking down traditional service and community paradigms. Each of our services and each of the communities (e.g., fighters, bombers, submarines, surface ships, satellites, cyber operators, patrol aircraft, etc.) within our services have decades of established tactics, procedures, and traditions that may not align with each other. We will have to eliminate some of these differences to become a more integrated force able to operate across domains. For example, fighter aircraft may be used as surveillance platforms to support submarines attacking air defenses, or submarines may operate remotely-piloted aircraft to support Marine special forces attacking a radar.

This change will take sustained effort. We established a joint Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) with representatives from each service to lead day-to-day implementation of the concept. The ASBO sponsors war games and simulations, assists with service-level doctrinal changes, and advises on budget decisions. Most recently, in December, the ASBO hosted 150 personnel from all four services for the 2012 Air-Sea Battle Implementation Working Group. Representatives from U.S. Central and Pacific Commands, as well as their supporting components, played prominent roles during the discussions. The working group made significant progress in solidifying the habitual relationships Air-Sea Battle will require between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

Fostering conceptual alignment. The ASBO promotes incorporation of Air-Sea Battle concept elements in service concepts and assures the Air-Sea Battle effort stays consistent with and supports the overarching Joint Operational Access Concept. For example, Air-Sea Battle was incorporated into each of the services' war games during 2012. The Marine Corps' Expeditionary Warrior (March), Army's Unified Quest (June), Navy's Global (August), and Air Force's Unified Engagement (December) included objectives that explored Air-Sea Battle as a way to meet anti-access challenges. The Air-Sea Battle focus increased with each successive game, culminating with Unified Engagement 12, a "table-top" wargame including about 300 participants from a dozen nations. This was the first Air-Sea Battle war game to include participation by our treaty allies. Allied participation will remain a priority going forward, with the intent of influencing multinational military concepts, tactics, and doctrine.

Promoting programmatic collaboration. The ASBO assesses service programs and budgets and recommends specific solutions to address Joint Force shortfalls against anti-access challenges. To most efficiently deliver solutions, the ASBO's specific programmatic recommendations are coordinated between the services. Starting with the FY 2010 budget, application of the Air-Sea Battle concept has resulted in tangible investments to deliver the integrated, cross-domain capabilities required to defeat modern threats to access. Over the past two years these investments included the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile; Navy electronic warfare systems, such as Ship Signals Exploitation Equipment; and new data links for our fighters.

As part of its assessments, the ASBO is identifying redundancies across the services that can be eliminated. These efforts will be important as our resources become more constrained. For example, in the FY 2013 budget our services proposed reductions in Global Hawk unmanned vehicles, Air Force strike fighters, and Navy surface combatants. We will use the Air-Sea Battle concept to help integrate our force further and maintain our capability in the face of smaller budgets.

A challenge we can't ignore

Some will argue the United States can afford to retrench and "reset" following more than a decade of war, with decreasing resources and without an existential threat such as the Soviet Union. We don't have that luxury. Anti-access threats erode confidence in the freedom of the global commons that underpins our global economy. Nations are fielding and directly threatening their neighbors with anti-access systems. And potential aggressors are using these capabilities to assert that they can slow or prevent a U.S. response in order to undermine confidence in U.S. security guarantees.

The United States must sustain its capability to assure access when needed to counter these trends. Our services will continue to increase the integration of our training and improve our coordination in developing doctrine, operating concepts, new capabilities, and investment plans. We will need, however, the support of our partners in Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure this integration is implemented in our budgets and strategies. Through our combined efforts, Air-Sea Battle will assure continued U.S. freedom of action and with it our ability to deter aggression, maintain regional stability, dampen crisis, and assure our allies and partners.