The Inherent Vulnerabilities of Technology: Insights from the National Training Center’s Opposing Force

του Σχη John D. Rosenberger

Εξ αφορμής ενός διαλόγου στο Εν Κρυπτώ, αναδημοσιεύουμε ένα κείμενο του αμερικανού συνταγματάρχη  John D. Rosenberger.

Εθνικό Κέντρο Εκπαίδευσης του Αμερικανικού Στρατού

Η αξία του άρθρου έγκειται στη βασική θέση που διατυπώνει ο Rosenberger, και η οποία βασίζεται στην έμπρακτη εμπειρία του από τη θέση του στο Εθνικό Κέντρο Εκπαιδεύσεως του Αμερικανικού Στρατού. Το αμερικανικό NTC αποτελεί ένα κέντρ το οποίο έχει σαν αποστολή να εκπαιδεύει ρεαλιστικά μεγάλα συγκροτήματα συνδυασμένων όπλων, διαθέτοντας για το σκοπό αυτό εγκαταστάσεις που κάνουν δυνατή τη ρεαλιστική προσομοίωση βολών σε ελεύθερα τακτικά παίγνια μεγάλης έκτασης, καθώς και οργανικές δυνάμεις απεικόνισης, οι οποίες είναι εξοπλισμένες με υλικό ανατολικής, κυρίως προελεύσεως, και πάντως πολύ υποδεέστερο του αμερικανικού.

Η εμπειρία δείχνει ότι κατά τη διεξαγωγή των ελεύθερων τακτικών παιγνίων, οι δυνάμεις απεικόνισης κατά κανόνα υπερισχύουν των εκπαιδευόμενων δυνάμεων. Αυτό οφείλεται στη μακρά εμπειρία τους, αλλά η μακρά εμπειρία χρησιμεύει ώστε να μετατρέπεται σε συγκεκριμένα πλεονεκτήματα έναντι των άπειρων μονάδων. Ένα από τα πλεονεκτήματα αυτά, το οποίο αναλύεται στο άρθρο, είναι η ικανότητα της OPFOR να εξουδετερώνει τα τεχνολογικά πλεονεκτήματα που έχουν οι εκπαιδευόμενες μονάδες, κυρίως στους τομείς των αισθητήρων και των επικοινωνιών.

Χρειάζεται ιδιαίτερη προσοχή στο να μην αντλήσει κανείς λανθασμένα συμπεράσματα από το κείμενο. Το συμπέρασμα δε μπορεί να είναι, απλοϊκά, ότι η τεχνολογία δεν έχει ιδιαίτερη σημασία, ή ότι μπορεί, σε κάθε περίπτωση, να εξουδετερωθεί. Πιο ρεαλιστικά θα ήταν τα παρακάτω πρόχειρα συμπεράσματα:

1.  Τα τεχνολογικά πλεονεκτήματα που προσφέρει προηγμένος εξοπλισμός μπορούν σε μεγάλο βαθμό να εξουδετερωθούν, υπό την προϋπόθεση ότι υπάρχουν εκτενείς πληροφορίες για την ύπαρξη των μέσων, τον τρόπο λειτουργίας τους καθώς και τις τακτικές χρήσεις τους.

2. Με δεδομένη την ύπαρξη των πληροφοριών αυτών (που είναι προφανές με ποιους τρόπους μπορούν να αποκτηθούν…) απαιτείται εξαντλητική τεχνική και τακτική ανάλυση τους, ώστε να αναπτυχθούν τεχνικά αντίμετρα (συχνά απλά, αλλά καθόλου προφανή) και τακτικές αντιμετώπισής τους.

3. Η ανάπτυξη αντιμέτρων και τακτικών δεν είναι απλή υπόθεση. Η ανάπτυξη τεχνικών αντιμέτρων απαιτεί πολύ υψηλότερο επίπεδο τεχνικής εκζήτησης από ένα στρατό από αυτό που θα απαιτούσε απλώς η επιτυχής χρήση προηγμένων μέσων, όπως και ικανότητα και ανησυχία σε θέματα τακτικής, για την αναζήτηση και επινόηση τακτικών λύσεων.

4.  Η απλή εξεύρεση τεχνικών και τακτικών αντιμετώπισης των μέσων υψηλής τεχνολογίας σε κεντρικό επίπεδο δεν έχει ιδιαίτερη σημασία, αν αυτές δεν αφομοιωθούν σε ευρεία κλίμακα από τις επιχειρησιακές δυνάμεις. Και η αφομοίωση δε μπορεί, προφανώς, να γίνει με απλή ενημέρωση, αλλά με εντατική εξάσκηση, όχι απλώς τεχνική αλλά και τακτική.

5. Τα ίδια τα προηγμένα τεχνολογικά μέσα δεν αποτελούν πανάκεια. Δεν αρκεί η δυνατότητα χρήσης τους για να αποδώσουν αποτελέσματα, αλλά και η οργανική αφομοίωσή τους σε επίπεδο τακτικής. Ακόμη και τότε, ένας ικανός αντίπαλος θα επιδιώκει και θα μπορεί να τα εξουδετερώσει. Τα τεχνικά μέσα δεν παρέχουν από μόνα τους, αυτομάτως, κανένα αποφασισστικό πλεονέκτημα: παρέχουν απλώς, λίγο μεγαλύτερα περιθώρια για λύσεις τακτικής. Κι αν ο αντίπαλος είναι τεχνικώς ικανός, τα περιθώρια είναι μικρότερα, και η ανάγκη για την έμφαση στην τακτική για την αξιοποίησή τους πολύ μεγαλύτερη.

Ακολουθεί το κείμενο του Rosenberger, δυστυχώς στα αγγλικά. Ζητούμε συγγνώμη για το αμετάφραστο του κειμένου.

Introduction

To the 2,500 troopers of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Opposing Force (OPFOR) at the U.S. Army’s National Training Center (NTC), it came as no surprise to watch the 3rd Serbian Army march back into Serbia virtually unscathed by the relentless attacks of NATO air power during the Kosovo conflict this past year. Moreover, it came as no surprise to see the Serbian Army employ a wide variety of physical and electronic deception techniques, remain tactically well-dispersed, and hide their combat systems in the infrastructure of cities and villages to preserve their combat power.

This is old news to the combined-arms team of the NTC’s Opposing Force. These same Serbian adaptations have been learned and employed successfully by the OPFOR at the NTC since 1994-adaptive countermeasures critical to preserving combat capability at the tactical level of war against the impressive array of intelligence collection and attack technologies employed by America’s joint team. Moreover, this is only one of several insights the OPFOR can provide into the limitations and vulnerabilities of the current warfighting technology that underpins America’s style of warfare in the 21st Century.

In the past six years, the NTC OPFOR has exposed many limitations and vulnerabilities inherent to the warfighting technologies our joint services are currently pursuing. Moreover, they’ve learned to defeat them just like any adaptive and savvy opponent will do-just as the Serbian Army did this past year. In my view, these vulnerabilities that we have exposed are compelling, not simply to make smarter technological investments in the years ahead, but equally important, ensure we do not forfeit combat effectiveness, the ability to deter, or the ability to quickly defeat our enemies at both the operational and tactical levels of war in the years ahead.

To begin with, we have learned that active and passive force protection measures are vital to preserving combat power against asymmetric technologies, asymmetric in this case meaning some technological capability that provides a decisive advantage over an opponent in combat. For example, cruise missiles, laser-guided bombs, satellite reconnaissance systems, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles have provided us an asymmetric combat advantage over all our opponents this past decade.

In response to these capabilities, we have learned that thermal deception, vehicle and unit dispersion, decoys of all types, camouflage, concealment, and electronic deception are vital means and ways to protect and preserve our ground combat power. Furthermore, the OPFOR has learned that air power and overhead intelligence acquisition systems have significant limitations and are inherently vulnerable to deception-even in desert and mountainous terrain. And by extension, even more so in densely forested areas and jungles, not to mention complex and urban terrain.

Take fixed-wing attack aircraft. It is not difficult to survive against the existing suite of joint close air support aircraft (F-16, F-18, A-10, and equivalents), attacking at altitudes above 15,000 feet, even in the desert. Given the target acquisition capability and the speed in which these aircraft fly, target acquisition and target recognition at these altitudes is difficult at best. We have learned that if we limit our movement, don’t create dust clouds, remain tactically dispersed, use camouflage, and employ decoy equipment, we will absorb few losses to fixed wing attack above 15,000 feet-the same methodology of force protection the Serbian Army and para-military forces employed in the dense forests, cities, and villages in Kosovo.

By using a combination of these force protection techniques, the effectiveness of high-altitude, fixed-wing attack against ground forces can be limited and thereby endured. Moreover, this ability to eliminate the effectiveness of high-altitude fixed-wing attack, in turn, places an even higher value on overhead target acquisition platforms like satellites, JSTARS, and unmanned aerial vehicles. And as we have learned, these overhead intelligence collection systems-the operators and analysts-are inherently easy to deceive.

Take reconnaissance satellites in low earth orbit. Given our experience, it takes about 18 hours to complete the targeting process using these sensors-from acquisition, to imagery analysis, to integration into the ATO, to effective attack. Consequently, we’ve learned to move critical combat systems every 10-12 hours to protect them and keep them in the fight. Frequent survivability moves, in small packets of vehicles are an essential technique to employ to preserve combat power.

Or take JSTARS.

This impressive Air Force reconnaissance system, providing both Moving Target Indicator data and Synthetic Aperture Radar images, is able to acquire and track moving vehicles within a 10,000 sq/nm area, depending on weather and terrain conditions. Under the right conditions, this formidable capability can provide commanders at many levels a near-real time appreciation of the enemy’s size, strength, composition, movements, or the array of forces throughout a Joint Forces Commander’s battlespace. Mountainous terrain and weather degrade its capability, but it still remains an invaluable instrument of war for both tactical and operational commanders. However, we have learned how to deceive the operators and analysts behind the JSTAR screens, and leverage them to set conditions for success.

Since JSTARS cannot reliably acquire and define the composition and types of vehicles in a column of vehicles, the OPFOR routinely organizes battalion-size truck columns, perhaps led by 2-3 armored vehicles, all dragging 20-30 ft. lengths of concertina wire. This column, easily acquired by JSTARS, is then employed along an expected route of march towards the enemy. This imaginative technique is aimed at deceiving the enemy commander as to our intended point of attack or main effort. Being told that this is an armored column by his JSTAR data analyst, the enemy commander will typically react and shift targeting assets, or his mobile reserves to interdict the advance. This technique in offensive operations can be used to create a weakness in the enemy’s defense permitting rapid penetration and exploitation. Employment of this technique has set conditions for OPFOR tactical success several times in the past.

The other technique that works to defeat JSTARS is infiltration-the movement and concentration of a large mobile organization by moving it in small packets of vehicles along multiple routes, seemingly without any pattern-concentrating forces over time.

The Serbs used similar techniques to preclude effective air attacks against their ground combat forces and deceive NATO forces of their actual strength, disposition, and location. Even more ingenious, they used the appreciation of this vulnerability to lure NATO attack aircraft, cued by JSTARS, into attacking organized columns of civilian vehicles, then exploiting the scenes of carnage via the international media-information warfare at its best, designed to attack the solidarity of the NATO coalition.

In short, against a savvy opponent, JSTARS acquisitions have little intelligence value to tactical and operational commanders unless the data or images are confirmed quickly by another real-time imagery system such as a UAV, AFAC, or a well-trained reconnaissance team that has the capability and optical resolution to discern the exact composition and type of vehicles acquired.

The same goes for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In response to the presence of UAVs on the battlefield, we have developed several techniques to deceive and defeat its capabilities. We use a combination of physical and thermal decoys to deceive the UAV pilots and image analysts, and thereby nullify the effects of indirect fires while preserving our actual combat systems and crews.

For example, we will construct deception fighting positions and in them place tank decoys made of fiberglass turrets, gun tubes made out of steel/PCV pipe, and other materials to create a realistic physical image. Furthermore, we cut 55 gallon barrels in half, and place them where the engine compartment of the tank is located, then we fill them with burning charcoal to create a realistic thermal signature. Flying at an altitude of 2000-5000 feet, and looking through the narrow field of view to achieve resolution, a UAV image analyst, unless very experienced, cannot tell it’s a decoy. From these altitudes, they look just like tanks. We also use vehicular decoys made of fabric and wood frames, just like the Serbs employed. They work.

Finally, we have become adept at conducting air defense ambushes to destroy UAVs. We place actual unmanned, usually inoperable combat equipment, such as an armor or air defense system, into a position where the enemy would expect to find them. We will throw in a blanket of smoke to attract their attention and really draw them in. We ring this equipment with multiple organic air defense radar and missile systems, camouflaged well with engines cold. Basically, we lure UAVs into an area. Once we visually or acoustically acquire the UAVs-which can be easily acquired by their sound-and determine they are within range, we unmask and fire. Using this technique, we routinely destroy 50%-75% of UAVs employed against us during the course of an NTC training exercise. In case you’re wondering, we employ systems that accurately replicate ZSU-23-4s, SA-18s, SA-8s, and SA-9s. By the way, the hand-held, shoulder-fired S-18 air defense missile is our most effective ADA system against both rotary wing and UAV capabilities.

Vulnerabilities of Information and Communications Systems

Another important lesson we’ve learned is this. The key to defeating forces equipped with sophisticated collection, targeting, and situational awareness technologies is to quickly gain information dominance in the initial phase of the operation. We have learned that if we focus reconnaissance assets and lethal/non-lethal fires to acquire and destroy or disrupt the enemy’s ability to move information across the battlefield, then we can quickly level the playing field, negate this asymmetric advantage, and thereby set conditions for success. Against the Army’s current situational awareness, information, and communications systems, fielded or in development, it is not a difficult task given the capabilities we possess.

Take the Army Tactical Command and Control System (ATCCS), a suite of 5 different software systems (MCS, ASAS, AFATADS, FAADC3, and CSSCS), designed to provide critical combat information to commanders and staffs at brigade, division, and corps level.

These information systems, in various stages of development, employ a line-of-sight communications system called the Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) system, as the means to move information across the battlefield between commanders and staffs from battalion to corps level.

Based upon mission requirements, the MSE system operates at multiple frequency ranges from tactical VHF to SHF ranges above 15 GHz using a digital communications signal. We have learned that the electronic signature is a relatively easy target to acquire and jam, using a technique we call dual harmonic jamming. Basically, the MSE signal frequencies lie above our ability to jam with the systems we have, but we have learned that by taking 2 jammers and jamming 1/3 of the primary carrier wave and 1/2 of the primary carrier wave frequency simultaneously, the combination of these attacks affects 5/6 of the carrier wave therefore most of the transmission is not received. No MSE transmission, then no ATTCS-no ATTCS, then no situational awareness from brigade to corps level.

Furthermore, because it is a stationary, line-of-sight system, the MSE system is limited in its positioning to easily predictable terrain locations and the node centers present a large physical signature. They can be easily acquired by aerial and ground reconnaissance teams and have very little security, if any, surrounding these sites. They will be one of the first set of targets we attack.

In short, destroy the brigade MSE node complex with indirect fires or direct attack, and you stop the flow of information and sustainment of both friendly and enemy situational awareness. In other words, by attacking this vulnerability, the OPFOR has learned how to level the playing field very quickly and eliminate its opponent’s asymmetric information advantage.

Or take the Army’s Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below system, FBCB2, the Army’s flagship information technology designed to create common situational awareness between crews, leaders, and units on the battlefield below brigade level-a «tactical internet» for the Army’s combined-arms team.

FBCB2, the Army’s tactical internet currently in development, employs two line-of-site communications systems as a means to move digital information across the battlefield between computer systems mounted in combat vehicles and headquarters. More specifically, the situational awareness information created by computer software, internal to crews and platoons, is carried on a backbone of the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS SIP), operating in the VHF band.

At platoon leader/platoon sergeant level and above-all the way up to the brigade commander-the situational awareness information is carried on a backbone of the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System (EPLRS), a UHF radio. Both operate in the frequency-hopping mode.

Of the two radios, EPLRS is the primary means of moving data across the battlefield and creating icons on computer screens that reflect the current location of every combat vehicle/crew on the battlefield. In other words, it is the principal means of creating both friendly and enemy situational awareness throughout a brigade task force. Information is transmitted via data transmissions through a network of stationary base stations-5 per division and 1 per brigade-positioned on high ground within a division’s area of operations. Furthermore, it has an embedded relay system. This provides a jam-resistant, robust, high-speed, high-volume communications network to multiple, simultaneous users. In fact, the OPFOR’s current legacy IEW systems are unable to electronically acquire and locate these systems on the battlefield. Of note, however, some current commercial off-the-shelf electronic warfare systems have the capability to track and capture the limited hop-set group of frequencies in EPLRS, and through the use of wide-band barrage jamming techniques and multiple jamming systems, transmissions can be blocked or severely disrupted.

However, the OPFOR has learned to attack EPLRS’s principal vulnerability, the physical signature of the EPLRS base station; a group of vehicles, antennas, and generators normally co-located with MSE node sites adjacent to the brigade tactical operations center. The location of these stationary, and relatively immobile communication node centers is easy to predict, given a line-of-site analysis within an area of operations. There are a limited number of accessible positions where comprehensive line of sight communications can be established and sustained.

Find the MSE communication sites and you’ll find the EPLRS base station. Accordingly, the OPFOR tasks both its division and regimental reconnaissance teams to find these large, easily identifiable communication sites during the reconnaissance phase of an operation, then we attack these sites with accurate long-range artillery, rockets, or fixed-wing assets during the first phase of offensive or defensive operations-to include persistent and non-persistent chemical strikes. This stops the flow of digits, quickly levels the playing field, and eliminates the asymmetric advantage afforded by the technology. As a side note, the JSTARS downlink, the Common Ground Station, is also co-located with the brigade tactical operations center. Successful attack of this complex will also eliminate JSTARS feed to the brigade commander.

The second piece of the system, the SINCGARS tactical VHF radio, is a line-of-sight radio easily disrupted by hills and mountainous terrain, unless continually supported by multiple aerial or ground retransmission stations positioned within the brigade’s area of operations. Furthermore, it is even more limited, if not ineffective, when fighting in cities; a lesson painfully-learned by the Russians in Grozny, Chechnya in 1996 and again this past year. While they struggled to maintain FM communications to control operations, the Chechnyans used cellular telephones and commercial satellite communications to coordinate their defensive operations within the city.

Although invulnerable to our current electronic warfare systems, the OPFOR has discovered that the range of the SINCGARS radio is cut almost in half when placed in the frequency-hopping mode. Consequently, in order to sustain communications, operators will switch to single-channel mode to extend the range of the radio and re-establish communications. A SINCGARS radio, passing digital packets of information in the single-channel mode, is the easiest communications signature to acquire, locate, and jam with our current suite of jammers. We can quickly block the transmission.

Although we have not been permitted to jam FBCB2 yet, we have become very adept at acquiring and jamming similar information systems employed by our Army’s fire support team-TACFIRE, IFSAS, and AFATADS-thereby precluding the execution of fire support during battle. It follows then, that our FBCB2 system, when fielded, will be similarly vulnerable to disruption. Furthermore, there are available commercial off-the-shelf systems that can capture and track the SINCGARS hop-set, thereby making the system vulnerable to disruption by barrage jamming, using multiple jammers. If you can disrupt transmissions through barrage jamming, then the SINCGARS radio loses system synchronization. Once synchronization has been lost, the operator is required to re-enter the net in the single channel mode, a mode easy for us to acquire, locate, and attack. Equally important, disrupting synchronization stops the flow of situational awareness information from the computer system.

On the ominous horizon, we foresee the proliferation of GPS jammers-small, effective, and inexpensive jammers that will block GPS signals eliminating GPS navigation and precision guidance capabilities within an extensive area of operations. For $40,000 today you can buy an effective lightweight, portable GPS jammer from the Russian firm AviaConversia – in fact they make four different variants. These GPS jammers have an output power of 4-8 watts-making them very tough to acquire-and can effectively block GPS signals out to ranges of 150-200 kilometers, depending on terrain, even more if mounted on a UAV. I understand that business is picking up.

By the way, the SINCGARS radios supporting FBCB2 depend on GPS signals to sustain synchronization and sustain situational awareness. Take out GPS signals-no SINCGARS-no SINCGARS-no FBCB2 or situational awareness internal to platoons and companies.

For a joint force that has become GPS-dependent for its style of warfare and effectiveness, this is a classic asymmetrical response that will level the playing field, perhaps eliminating the dominating capabilities our technology has provided us the past decade. We plan to introduce GPS jammers in our Opposing forces in the near future. It’s increasingly clear that we learn-or re-learn-how to fight without GPS capability.

Finally, the we have learned that there is no substitute for well-trained ground reconnaissance teams in warfighting at the tactical level of war. Despite all the intelligence and information technology provided to our brigade task force commanders over the pasts 6 years, the OPFOR regimental commanders, using 1960s-1970s technology and unaided by any overhead reconnaissance systems, have always had better, near-perfect information about the strength, composition, location, and disposition of their opponents. Their opponents, on the other hand, have remained and continue to remain relatively blind despite the bloom of technology.

This ability to see the battlefield better than their opponents, despite the introduction of sophisticated technologies, is provided by our division and regimental reconnaissance teams, undoubtedly some of the best trained tactical reconnaissance teams in the world. The indisputable fact is that well-trained observers (reconnaissance teams) in sufficient number to establish observation throughout the depths of the battlefield, armed with effective, secure communications, easily offset the supposed asymmetric advantages of overhead reconnaissance platforms in the business of close combat at brigade level and below. Moreover, from a practical perspective, overhead reconnaissance platforms cannot classify a bridge and determine if it will support the movement of forces, find and determine feasible fording sites across rivers or streams, find minefields or bypasses, or provide any accurate information about enemy strength and dispositions within cities, the most likely battlefields in our future.

Conclusion

In conclusion-if the insights provided in this presentation cause you to question the direction, design, and investments we’ve made in trying to create information dominance at the tactical level of war, that’s good. If these insights foster a change in your perspective about the practical value and utility of technology by exposing its limitations and vulnerabilities, that’s good, too. If it drives our joint team to pursue more prudent technological investments in the future, or drives the creation of better organizations, equipment, doctrine, tactics, and techniques for employing technology in the future, that’s even better. If it convinces you that we should keep teaching our Soldiers and marines how to read a map and navigate with compass in hand, or keep teaching artillerymen how to survey their firing positions, or teach our staffs what to do when the screens go blank, that’s icing on-the-cake.

Finally, if it convinces you that our Opposing Forces at our combat training centers can provide critical insights into the limitations and vulnerabilities of technology, informing our judgment to ensure we wisely adapt and dominate our threats in the 21st Century, then my objective has been accomplished. One thing is for certain. If we ignore the lessons and successful countermeasures our Opposing Forces have made and continue to make against technology, then we ignore the work of these great Soldiers at our peril. Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you today.

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