NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
U.S. Cyber Command recently conducted large-scale digital war games that involved cyberattacks and defense against foreign strikes on critical infrastructure.
Cyber Command — led by Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, who is also director of the National Security Agency — said in a statement that the exercise “Cyber Flag” was “force-on-force” training, “fusing attack and defense across the full spectrum of military operations in a closed network environment.”
The drills were held Friday at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and sought to gauge military cybercapabilities that will be integrated with other war-fighting commands.
Future conflicts are expected to involve cyberattacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical grids and communications networks that can be hacked and shut down or ordered to conduct self-destructive operations.
Few details on exercise scenarios were disclosed, in fitting with Cyber Command’s NSA-like penchant for secrecy.
“This year’s scenario, devised by exercise planners, involved a simulated combined joint task force response to a notional regional crisis involving fictional state and nonstate actors conducting significant activity in cyberspace,” the command statement said.
A Cyber Command spokesman did not respond to a request for details on the exercise.
Adm. Rogers, according to the release, wants the Pentagon to build cyberwarfare capabilities “to generate military options for senior military leaders and decision-makers.”
Adm. Rogers “stressed that the U.S. cannot wait until a cyberspace crisis affects the nation or DOD’s ability to conduct military operations to develop partnerships, generate cybercapacity and capability and ensure coordination processes are in place for national or military response.”
“Cyber is a team effort, and given the resource constraints and capacity shortfalls, we need to partner in a way that optimizes operational outcomes,” the four-star admiral said. “This exercise is an incredible opportunity to strengthen our relationships with critical partners.”
The exercise involved joint and coalition cyberoperations with air, land and naval forces, which practiced identifying and defending cybernodes against imminent or observed threats.
Additionally, the forces practiced operating while under cyberattacks affecting military communications and command and control. The war games also were a rehearsal for “how a coalition will conduct command and control of cyberspace forces at the tactical and operational levels in response to a regional crisis.”
Specific participants were not identified, but they included Pentagon and other federal officials as well as allies in what the command said were “realistic scenarios against opposing forces.”
Among the forces that participated were the Cyber National Mission Force, which is trained to defend critical infrastructure against sophisticated cyberattacks, and the Cyber Protection Force, which is tasked with defending Pentagon networks.
“The exercise took place on a specially constructed closed network designed to simulate the DOD and allied information networks and adversary networks,” the statement said. “The event also featured an expert opposing force, which takes on the role of the adversary using a range of tactics and weapons to provide a realistic training environment.”
“The coalition exercise environment was vital to generating insights into how to achieve military objectives by conducting operations in and through cyberspace,” said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, Cybercom’s director of exercises and training.
“Push the envelope, experiment, and take advantage of this opportunity by embracing controlled failure for the learning potential it has,” Adm. Rogers was quoted as telling exercise participants.
CHINA-U.S. MILITARY ACCORD
As part of efforts to avoid a military conflict, Washington and Beijing agreed this week to two “confidence-building mechanisms” for military exercises and rules for air and naval encounters.
The United States also wants China to agree to provide notification of missile launches, currently among the Chinese military’s more secret activities.
Few details were disclosed about the military agreement reached during the summit meeting in Beijing Tuesday between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
White House and Pentagon spokesmen did not respond to requests for details about the agreement.
A White House fact sheet stated that the first confidence-building measure is a “Notification of Major Military Activities” that includes notification of policy and strategic developments, such as the release of China’s annual white papers on defense and the Pentagon’s annual report on the Chinese military.
The agreement also is said to outline “observation of military exercises and activities.”
Chinese officials told White House National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice in Beijing before the summit that Beijing wants the Pentagon to halt all U.S. surveillance flights of China.
On missile launch notification, “the United States will prioritize completing a mechanism for informing the other party of ballistic missile launches as an annex to the Notification of Major Military Activities mechanism,” the fact sheet said.
China has conducted several flight tests of long-range missiles in recent years — most of them carried out in secret with no notice from the Chinese government or military. In August, China also carried out a test of a new, hypersonic glide vehicle that U.S. intelligence agencies say will be armed with nuclear weapons and that can defeat U.S. missile defenses by maneuvering and traveling on the edge of space.
The most recent missile flight test took place in September with the launch of what U.S. officials said was a DF-31B — a new variant of the road-mobile DF-31A, one of several Chinese long-range nuclear missiles.
The no-notice flight tests are considered by officials to be destabilizing since U.S. intelligence agencies that closely monitor missile testing cannot know for certain if such launches are tests or firings of missiles with warheads.
All U.S. nuclear missile forces are prepared to counterattack in a status called “launch on warning,” meaning they can be fired on short notice when indications of an attack are confirmed.
Other recent Chinese missile flight tests, first disclosed by Inside the Ring in August, included the launch of DF-31A and CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Earlier tests of the DF-31A took place in July 2013, November 2013 and August 2012.
The second confidence-building measure is called “Rules of Behavior for the Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters,” aimed at defining terms of reference and rules of behavior for encounters between naval surface vessels.
China has initiated several dangerous naval and air encounters with U.S. forces. The first was the Dec. 5 attempt by China to stop the USS Cowpens, a guided missile cruiser in the South China Sea.
During the encounter, a Chinese navy amphibious ship sailed in front of the Cowpens and stopped within 100 yards of the warship, forcing the Cowpens to turn sharply to avoid a collision. The Pentagon protested the action.
On Aug. 19, a Chinese J-11 jet interceptor threatened a U.S. Navy P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft over the South China Sea by flying within 50 feet and doing a barrel roll over the P-8. The Pentagon called the encounter “very dangerous” and said similar intercepts would undermine military relations.
White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that “it’s incredibly important that we avoid inadvertent escalation and that we don’t find ourselves having an accidental circumstance lead into something that could precipitate conflict.”
WOMEN EYE RANGER SCHOOL
The Army announced Monday that it has taken the first steps toward training women at its Ranger school in Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of the push to integrate women into front-line combat units. Army spokeswoman Jennifer Gunn said 40 female candidates began a weeklong program Monday to become “observers” for what will potentially be a Ranger Course Assessment.
Ranger training at Fort Benning and two other facilities is considered one of the most rigorous military courses. The 61-day course is both physically and mentally demanding.
The course had been closed to women until September. A final decision on whether women will be allowed to join Ranger training is not expected until January.
The course’s strength requirements are expected to limit women in completing the course, as has occurred in similar Marine Corps training.
It is not clear what advice the observers will provide. However, one Army official said the observers’ role will be to “make sure the course is not harder or easier for women.”
“After completion of these five days of training, selected observers and advisers will go through a modified Ranger Instructor training program that will prepare them for a specifically assigned area, such as a mountain or swamp training environment,” the Army statement said. “After completing the modified training, these observers and advisers will observe two cycles of the Ranger Course prior to a possible Ranger Course Assessment in the spring of 2015.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.