Using Cyber to Accelerate US Decision Loop—and Slow the Enemy’s

USAF Lt. Gen. Brad Shwedo, director for command, control, communications, and computers/cyber and chief information officer for the Joint Staff, delivers an AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies lecture in Arlington, Va., on June 6, 2019. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

Cyberspace is both a tool and a domain in modern warfare, playing a critical role in helping the US and allies make more rapid decisions—while at the same time enabling capabilities designed to bog down the enemy’s decision-making processes, according to USAF Lt. Gen. Brad Shwedo, director for command, control, communications, and computers/cyber and chief information officer for the Joint Staff.

“Future fights are going to be over information—and who is going to be able to take that information, digest it, and rapidly apply it to the battlefield,” Shwedo said at an AFA Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies lecture June 6. The US military should stop seeing information as a commodity and instead view it as a warfighting realm, just like land or air.

Shwedo used the classic military example of the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide, and act. The US should drive investment and development in capabilities that make the US military faster and be more resilient and, concurrently, that can stretch out adversaries’ OODA loops and “insert errors, make their decision making long and lethargic.”

In future multi-domain operations, the ability to communicate and coordinate effects will add to the US advantage.

Meanwhile, the global threat continues to evolve, driving the services’ investment decisions. For example, Shwedo said relying on a single airframe for ground surveillance, battle management, and command and control can make the military susceptible to advanced threats. The Air Force’s decision not to make a one-for-one replacement of its Joint STARS program is driven by the understanding that surface to air missile threats against JSTARS would leave the military blind. But by replacing it with a multi-domain solution, using sensors on Global Hawks and possibly swarming drones, and then combining that with signals intelligence, ground sensors, and space sensors, the Air Force would have a better, more resilient system, and one better suited to rapid decision making.

“If you lose one of those, it’s not a big deal, because you can flex to another capability,” he said. “But most importantly, when you have multi-domain sources of intelligence, bad guys can hide in one realm, but they can’t hide in all.”

Al Qaida and ISIS fighters can hide under a tarp to avoid overhead surveillance, “But when you add SIGINT, HUMINT, MASINT—all of those other things—in a constructive apparatus—they can’t hide in all of them,” said Shwedo, referring to signals intelligence, human intelligence, and measurement and signature intelligence, all of which are common means of gathering insight about an adversary. “[The enemy] may have a tarp, but underneath that tarp, there’s a screaming target going, ‘That’s where your bad guy is.’”

The collection and dissemination of this information, and the decision-making that follows, is global and needs to be instantaneous and secure, he said. The service Secretaries and Chiefs recognize these issues and are on board, he said, and Congress has been proactive in providing authorities and investment to help the services ratchet up for higher-end fights and less-permissive environments in the future.