The Future of Warfighting: Cyber Enabling Convergence

Written by Stephen Fogarty

Why Cyber Is Crucial for Convergence

Some potential adversaries are fielding weapons systems that are challenging the U.S. joint force’s traditional weapons overmatch. But they also understand that a vital component of the overall U.S. qualitative edge is effective decision dominance. In response they have fielded an array of cyber, electronic warfare, military deception, and other information capabilities to attack, disrupt, and degrade our superior sensing, targeting, and decision-making capabilities. In a future conflict, the joint force will be contested simultaneously across all domains, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the information environment.

Commanders should be able to see themselves, see the adversary, and see all other relevant, actors, actions, and activities in the operations and information environments—all at mission-relevant speed. These “three sees” are dependent on secure and resilient networks and valid data and predictable data flows. To achieve convergence, the joint force should treat DOD networks and data as the foundational weapon system for an information-age military, remaining mindful that intelligence drives operations in all domains. Fleeting targets on the future battlefield will likely give joint force commanders and operators mere minutes or even seconds to make decisions and direct action. Latency induced by degraded networks, corrupted data sets, or deficient processes can be the difference between victory or defeat.

Cyber forces will play a vital role in achieving convergence. The speed and effectiveness of U.S. full-spectrum cyber operations has grown exponentially since 2016 when it took months to coordinate Operation Glowing Symphony—U.S. Cyber Command’s first large-scale operation to attack the global influence networks of ISIS. The lessons learned from this initial use of CYBERCOM’s authorities, processes, and capabilities established the foundation for future persistent cyber defensive, offensive, and information operations. The growing collaboration between cyber, special operations, and space, the “SOF-Space-Cyber Triad” will accelerate convergence.

Full-Spectrum Cyber Enables Convergence

1. Operate and defend

the networks, data, and weapon systems that enable joint force to see itself, see the adversary, and see the other relevant actors, actions, and activities in the operations and information environments at misson-relevant speed

2. Simultaneously attack

adversary networks, data, and weapon systems to disrupt adversary command and control and degrade their capacity to intergrate and synchronize multidomain capabilities

3. Synchronize and integrate

their efforts in conjunction with the intelligence community, the interagency, foreign partners, conventional forces, and increasingly with special operations and space forces

A Blueprint for Achieving Convergence

So how can DOD achieve the convergence it needs? The answer is the joint force should:

  • Accelerate its transition to a data-centric force
  • Transform its warfighting networks and infrastructure
  • Reimagine decision tools, processes, and training
  • Implement the Special Operations Forces (SOF), Space, and Cyber forces Triad

Accelerate the Transition to a Data-Centric Force

Data is a form of ammunition for an information-age military. DOD’s 2020 data strategy establishes the imperative to “transition the Joint Force to a data-centric organization that uses data at speed and scale for operational advantage and increased efficiency.”7 Successfully transitioning from a data strategy to specific outcomes is essential to accelerating convergence and adopting a data-first approach is key to success. Because DOD is so reliant on data for warfighting it should ensure data sets, algorithms, and the networks that assure data flow are protected with quantum-resistant encryption; robust access controls, scalable zero trust, and enterprise cross-domain solutions. DOD should leverage cyber forces’ deep technical knowledge and experience with large data sets to inform and accelerate efforts to adopt a data-first approach, prioritize application of AI and machine learning (ML) to solve the most important warfighting problems, and proactively conduct data preparation of the operating environment.  

  • DOD is awash in data from myriad sources of differing security classification, data types, and formats and therefore is challenged to share, normalize, and rapidly and accurately extract value from that data to drive decisions and action at the scale and speed required. Implementing a data-first approach is absolutely essential to successfully implementing JADC2.
  • DOD should proactively conduct data preparation of the operating environment. The 2022 U.S. National Security Strategy identifies and prioritizes urgent threats. This analysis should inform intelligence collection, weapon requirements, force development, and data requirements. Failure to proactively identify, collect, develop, and secure data sets and AI/ML algorithms required to enable key decisions and support joint targeting places the joint force at significant risk.
  • Without thoughtful application of AI/ML, the exponential increase in the velocity, variety, and volume of data on the future battlefield threatens to overwhelm decision processes and decision makers by inducing cognitive overload instead of enabling cognitive overmatch.
  • Internal disputes—about who produces, collects, or owns data, for instance—should not eclipse urgent efforts to provide commanders with what they need. Otherwise, the joint force might deny itself the ability to instantaneously attack fleeting targets across multiple domains.
  • DOD should achieve convergence of sensor data at mission-relevant speed while reducing cognitive load to the operator—and train and equip the operator with tools that empower decision making.

Transform Warfighting Networks and Infrastructure

DOD networks, operator infrastructure systems, and the data that flows across them are the foundational weapon system for an information-age military. Networks unite sensors, weapons, decision makers, and U.S. partners and enable shared awareness, decisions, and actions. Adversaries understand that the U.S. military’s decisive advantage is not only its weapons and tactics overmatch, but its ability to synchronize kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities globally at mission-relevant speed. In the future, adversary cyber, electronic warfare (EW), and kinetic operations will actively contest the use of the electromagnetic spectrum as well as traditional military and commercial networks and space capabilities. Cyber forces understand what is required to operate and defend warfighting and support networks and assure adequate data flows. DOD should transform how it designs, acquires, operates, and defends the networks and operator infrastructure that connect the joint force and U.S. partners. Also, DOD should develop viable primary, alternate, contingency, and emergency (PACE) communications plans to assure data flows for critical warfighting functions.

  • DOD networks are stovepiped by classification, service, functional, geographic, and disparate weapon systems considerations. All of this creates exceptional complexity, seams, expense, and operational risk. DOD should urgently transform how it designs, acquires, operates, and defends its foundational weapon system to operate in a denied, disrupted, intermittent and limited bandwidth (DDIL) operating environment. Significant efforts should be undertaken to secure weapon systems, industrial control systems, and the ever-increasing operational technology (OT) across DOD from kinetic and non-kinetic attack.
  • Our potential adversaries don’t discriminate between government, public infrastructure, and private industry as separate targets. To our adversaries, this target-rich environment is “one cyber battlespace.” DOD’s dependency on commercial infrastructure creates an imperative for fostering operational collaboration, focused innovation, and synchronizing offense and defense.8
  • In the meantime, the department should develop, and resource viable PACE communications plans to ensure critical data flows. Effectively integrating a variety of commercial technologies and leading practices to include more effective use of cloud compute and storage, software-defined networking, Kubernetes, 5G, and in the future, 6G technologies and the broad array of nanosatellite capabilities being deployed around the globe will immediately improve network resiliency and assured flow for critical data.

As DOD pursues its flagship effort to integrate all domains—Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2)—the department should include integrating the Joint Cyber Command and Control (JCC2) capability, which is intended to provide situational awareness, battle management, and cyber forces’ management for full-spectrum cyber operations. Consistent with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) vision for “mosaic warfare,” DOD should assess whether the joint force is making headway toward achieving a “kill web” that combines the power of a comprehensive network of sensors with a network of options to defeat battlefield targets.

Reimagine Decision Training, Tools, and Processes

DOD should reimagine its tools and processes to enable the joint force to achieve faster and better decisions and outcomes. Solving data and network challenges will have minimal effect if the joint force lacks the decision aids and the realistic training required to identify convergence opportunities and enable decisions and actions and assess effects rapidly and accurately. War in the future will remain a human endeavor and humans at all levels are under the increasing stress of persistent surveillance, increased weapons lethality, misinformation, disinformation, and having to process an exponential increase in data from countless sources to feed faster decision cycles. This underscores the need to enhance the cognitive abilities of U.S. forces. Achieving cognitive overmatch will require DOD to develop new processes, techniques, and tools to effectively employ AI, ML, and other decision aids. Cyberspace operations are inherently data centric and cyber forces should effectively leverage realistic simulations, digital mission rehearsals, and cyber ranges to build the sets and reps required to operate, defend, and attack at mission-relevant speed. Although the quality of education and training across the joint force is the best in the world, it currently fails to adequately replicate the complexity, scale, persistence, data flow, speed, and perhaps most importantly the cognitive overload of the future battlefield. To achieve convergence, DOD should reimagine joint force education and training, should change decision processes to mission-relevant speed, develop rapidly tailorable decision aids and visualization, and field hyper-realistic simulations and exercises.

  • The first step is to finalize the joint doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures for all domain operations and then build the realistic training to most effectively use networks and data to drive decision making, action, and assessments. Joint training should focus on realistic cross-domain, cross-service/partner and cross-functional synchronization and integration of joint/combined capabilities and should feature realistic all-domain-capable adversaries. The adage of a pint of sweat in training saves a gallon of blood in combat remains apropos. Education and training with foreign partners are especially important for reducing the friction that can arise from language and cultural differences.
  • The complexity inherent in convergence demands decision and visualizations aids that are truly joint, are threat informed, and allow the individual user to rapidly configure to support their decision making. These aids should be able to be trained in live, virtual, and constructive exercises and operations.
  • The decision processes that served us well over the last two decades of counterinsurgency should be changed and accelerated to meet the requirements of a more dynamic operations and information environment. Improvements should address the requirement for increased scale and speed combined with the complexity of multi-domains and multi-service/partners to achieve successful outcomes against multiple fleeting targets.

A combination of hyper-realistic live, virtual, and constructive training simulations and capabilities allowing multiple repetitions and the flexibility to change critical variables such as loss of critical capabilities due to kinetic or non-kinetic adversary actions. All domains should be represented and include multiple enemy courses of action, faithful models of adversary capabilities, and the challenges presented by culture, language, climate, and geography. The critical factor is the ability to train decision makers and those who are responsible for carrying out the actions that are directed. Ranges with emitters, hardware in the loop, and high-fidelity networks with realistic data sources are important to rehearse information operations, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum effects, deception, and actual kinetic and non-kinetic effects. Where possible actual AI and ML models should be trained and confirmed in these simulations.

Implement the SOF-Space-Cyber Triad

Special operations, space, and cyber forces share responsibility for conducting and supporting kinetic and non-kinetic operations in all domains, operating in contested or denied areas, and conducting or supporting information operations. The SOF-space-cyber triad is a new doctrine that integrates and synchronizes the capabilities and operations of these forces. From gray zone operations short of conflict to large-scale contingency operations, each of the forces may conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), direct action, and enable foreign partners. SOF may provide access for cyber forces to defend forward, while cyber forces may provide capabilities for SOF to access non-permissive or denied areas, or space forces could enable SOF and cyber forces with access or intelligence of special communications capabilities. The integration of these forces provides the joint force with a broad menu of asymmetric capabilities. DOD should prioritize resourcing the triad, accelerate operational use cases, and develop the special technologies and training required to fully optimize the triad.

  • DOD should resource SOF, space, and cyber forces to effectively operate together—and with the joint force as a whole—using common tools and technology.
  • DOD should develop policies and operational use cases for employment of the full range of capabilities inherent to the triad. SOF, space, and cyber capabilities can access denied areas through other domains to conduct intelligence, influence, and effects operations. The triad enables the joint force to fight the close fight, provide support from sanctuary, and project influence at the tactical to global level.
  • DOD should develop and resource special technologies and training capabilities such as digital ranges, hyper-realistic simulations, and covert communications. These are required to train and develop an operational force capable of conducting multidomain operations utilizing unique SOF/space/cyber capabilities. These forces should be trained to operate in both integrated and independent scenarios across the spectrum of permissive/non-permissive and contested/non-contested environments.

On the future battlefield, achieving effective “convergence” of non-kinetic and kinetic capabilities across all domains faster and more effectively than peer and near-peer adversaries possessing robust all domain capabilities will be the single most important capability and asymmetric advantage for the U.S. and its allies.

Our potential adversaries will actively contest the joint force across all domains and the information environment throughout the operational continuum.

Cyber forces will play a leading role in creating convergence. They operate and defend joint force networks, data, and weapon systems enabling the joint force to achieve convergence. At the same time, they will attack adversary systems to degrade and disrupt their ability to effectively integrate and synchronize all domain capabilities.

The SOF-Space-Cyber Triad provides a wide range of integrated operational capabilities to create asymmetric advantage for the joint force. 

If deterrence fails, winning the first fight matters, and DOD should accelerate the necessary changes to organizations, culture, processes, and capabilities that ensure the joint force wins decisively on the future battlefield against any adversary—anywhere.

  1.   National Intelligence Council – “The Future of the Battlefield “ , April 2021, 1
  2.  TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, “The US Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028”, December 2018, 20.
  3.  US DoD 2022 National Defense Strategy,  October 2022.
  4. US DoD - Joint All Domain Command and Control Summary,  March 2022, 2.
  5. TRADOC PAM 525-92 The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of War, October 2019, 7.
  6. US DOD, Military and Security Developments Involving the Peoples Republic of China 2022, Annual Report to Congress 2022, November 2022, V.IV and 33.
  7. DOD Data Strategy, September 2020, 2.
  8. Brad Mediary, “Why the US must view cyberspace as one battlespace”, The Hill, 30 December 2022.


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