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Defense Technology Monitor - No. 7

Edited by Richard Harrison and Harrison Reiff
July 27, 2016

United States Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) is scrambling to meet the Pentagon's growing appetite for competency in cyber offensive and defensive missions. Part of CYBERCOM's approach is staffing; the combatant command aspires to enlist "6200 active-duty specialists" to fulfill its expanding mission set. But a large portion of the command's growing activities focus on developing training exercises to more effectively prepare for potential "live" operations in cyberspace. According to Eric Bassel, a director for SANS, which supports cyber training for the Army and Air Force, "in collective training we are still in our infancy... the exercises tend to fall short in many dimensions, as they do not integrate well into the bigger picture, lack realistic target environments, and do not allow commanders to select from both kinetic and non-kinetic options to achieve a mission." 

CYBERCOM hopes to create networks and environments where teams can run more realistic cyberattack simulations. The comparison is likened to SEAL Team Six running simulations in a replica of Osama Bin Laden's compound prior to their mission in 2011. This requires developing closed networks not connected to the Internet and replicating existing defense systems. The idea is to eventually integrate cyber defense operations with the rest of the Department of Defense and create multi-platform defense training. (
Military Times, June 5, 2016) 

In the aftermath of the December 2015 cyberattack on Ukraine's power grid, the problem of protecting U.S. electrical infrastructure from digital attack has become a growing area of focus for U.S. policymakers. During the December 2015 incident, the perpetrators - likely Russian hackers - disabled computer systems temporarily and shut off power for several hours, but inflicted no permanent damage. In and of itself, this isn't a problem; outages of short duration happen in the U.S. once in a while, and are relatively inconsequential. However, an attack lasting several days and months could be devastating. Fortunately, a cyberattack causing that level of disruption would be incredibly complex to design and conduct. 

Nevertheless, experts say, the U.S. grid faces other potentially catastrophic threats, including the "nine substation problem." There are 55,000 electrical substations in the United States, and 30 of them are characterized as "critical." If there was a physical attack that destroyed just nine substations it could shut down nationwide power for over a year-and-a-half. Security systems for these substations are largely lacking, and sometimes are nothing more than a chain link fence. This unique dilemma gives state and especially non-state actors the opportunity to cause large-scale damage to the U.S. economy and infrastructure. (
Tech Insider, June 9, 2016) 

Israel plans to up its ground game on the battlefield with a new unmanned land vehicle for combat operations. Israel Aerospace Industries has revealed a new RoBattle drone capable of autonomously completing missions, "including intelligence, surveillance and armed reconnaissance; convoy protection, decoy, and ambush and attack." The size of a small armored personnel carrier, the RoBattle can carry large payloads and more advanced electronic systems to complement ground operations by military forces. (
Globes, June 13, 2016) 

NATO has officially recognized cyberspace as a fourth domain in defense, on a par with land, sea, and air. The decision, made in Brussels in mid-June, will lead Alliance leaders and member states to further invest in, develop, train, and integrate their cyber defense and offensive abilities. Unfortunately, NATO is already playing catch-up in this regard, as Russia continues to advance its cyberwarfare capabilities and has demonstrated its proficiency in the use of cyber in recent conflicts with Ukraine, Georgia, and Estonia. NATO leadership will also discuss specific applications for offensive cyber operations, including whether they can be used to target adversary missiles and air defense platforms. (
Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2016) 

Board games are not all that artificial intelligence (AI) developers are attempting to master. Nick Ernest, a doctoral graduate and member of Psibernetix, a company financed the University of Cincinnati and Air Force Research Laboratory, has developed an AI that can out maneuver top Air Force pilots in simulation. Retired General "Geno" Lee ran multiple dogfight simulations against the aerial combat software named ALPHA and in each scenario he was shot down. As a former Air Force Battle Manager and adversary tactics instructor, General Lee has decades of experience fighting AI pilots and has flown or commanded thousands of flights and simulations. However, according to Lee, ALPHA is "the most aggressive, responsive, dynamic and credible A.I. I've seen to date." Using a type of fuzzy logic algorithm, the artificial intelligence can calculate and predict maneuvers 250 times faster than human pilots can blink. Such advanced AI can be put to good use in pilot training, but it has potential to dominate the battlefield if paired with a real drone in the future. (
Popular Science, June 27, 2016)