From The Jaws of Victory

The final battle of Epipole showed the pitfalls of over-reliance on communications and single circuits. During the Athenian siege of Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War, the Syracusans countered the attempt of Athens to wall in the city by building a counter-wall past the projected path of Athenian battlements. The Syracusans had gained a critical blocking position, and Athenian General Demosthenes concocted a plan to dislodge the defenders. Athenian forces found themselves stalled during the daytime battles outside the counter-wall, when their enemies could easily observe and rally against them. General Demosthenes planned a night-time strike on the counter-wall. The well-organized night-time attack completely overwhelmed and nearly destroyed the first garrison. As the alarm was sounded, the Athenians rushed forward before allowing themselves to re-organize and re-identify. When the first real resistance was met, the ensuing disaster is worth citing in full:

IFF degrades to, “is this person stabbing me in the face?”

IFF degrades to, “is this person stabbing me in the face?”


“Although there was a bright moon they saw each other only as men do by moonlight, that is to say, they could distinguish the form of the body, but could not tell for certain whether it was a friend or an enemy. Both had great numbers of heavy infantry moving about in a small space. Some of the Athenians were already defeated, while others were coming up yet unconquered for their first attack. A large part also of the rest of their forces either had only just got up, or were still ascending, so that they did not know which way to march. Owing to the rout that had taken place all in front was now in confusion, and the noise made it difficult to distinguish anything. The victorious Syracusans and allies were cheering each other on with loud cries, by night the only possible means of communication, and meanwhile receiving all who came against them; while the Athenians were seeking for one another, taking all in front of them for enemies, even although they might be some of their now flying friends; and by constantly asking for the watchword, which was their only means of recognition, not only caused great confusion among themselves by asking all at once, but also made it known to the enemy, whose own they did not so readily discover, as the Syracusans were victorious and not scattered, and thus less easily mistaken. The result was that if the Athenians fell in with a party of the enemy that was weaker than they, it escaped them through knowing their watchword; while if they themselves failed to answer they were put to the sword. But what hurt them as much, or indeed more than anything else, was the singing of the paean, from the perplexity which it caused by being nearly the same on either side; the Argives and Corcyraeans and any other Dorian peoples in the army, struck terror into the Athenians whenever they raised their paean, no less than did the enemy.”

In Sicily, the simple task of a man not stabbing his own ally in the face with a sword was hard enough with only primodrial IFF and comms. In today’s higher-speed remote-control warfare and vulnerable high-tech comms in which seconds could mean life-or-death, the potential to accidentally destroy a friend, miss an enemy, or become isolated totally become even greater. When the enemy knows the “watch-words,” it becomes a certainty as paranoia and confusion set in.

The Offense Challenge

The defensive party often has the simpler fight. As illustrated in the excerpt and so aptly explained by the indomitable Chesty Puller, “”So they’ve got us surrounded, good! Now we can fire in any direction, those bastards won’t get away this time!” The US Navy, as the expeditionary power, will almost always have that offense-disadvantage; it has yet to fight an enemy that can attack the precious network of communications that creates such an unspeakable force multiplier in the field. When those operations begin and the network is attacked, the swarm of ships, missiles, and aircraft become a liability to itself, as were the Athenians as they cut apart their own brothers ahead of them.

Protecting Less with More

The solution to the communication weakness is to stay ahead of the offense-defense struggle through aggressive capital investment and divestment of use. As with the AEGIS response to ASM, cyber-warfare is far too fast for human operators. Our virtual-defense infrastructure may be significant, but it is slow, human, and defending far too many unnecessary and redundant communications. A response is a smarter investment in cyber-defense capital and a more disciplined use of our vital communications networks.

“We got the info via e-mail? Good! Bill, request a message. Susanne, request it be added to three status and SITREP messages. I’ll request voice reports on two different circuits. I’ll also need 6 of you to chat them every 3 minutes from your individual accounts. After that, we’ll send a powerpoint for them to update. Also, one of you be sure to forget this is high-side information and constantly ping them until they cave and email it from Gmail. Get to it, people!”

“We got the info via e-mail? Good! Bill, request a message. Susanne, request it be added to three status and SITREP messages. I’ll request voice reports on two different circuits. I’ll also need 6 of you to chat them every 3 minutes from your individual accounts. After that, we’ll send a powerpoint for them to update. Also, one of you be sure to forget this is high-side information and constantly ping them until they cave and email it from Gmail. Get to it, people!”

The divestment comes from bringing all communications into control, or more accurately bringing into control those using it. We are the Athenians screaming our watch-word at one another because no one bothered to re-organized before charging in. It boils down to paying attention and staying calm; what we have is seventeen sources pinging a ship for the same information that is held in 8 PowerPoint trackers, 2 messages, at least one call over the voice circuits, and 30 emails with at least half the lazy people asking for the information in the CC line. The sheer bandwidth of material that needs protection and monitoring could be decrease with a “ctrl-f” search of email and message traffic. It also leaves a veritable treasure-trove of information lying around in hundreds of different locations, making it easier to steal or detect. Better training not only in proper communications procedures/methods, but basic computer literacy, could solve this problem.

Unfortunately, people are not as good at defending us from cyber attack as John McClane might have you think.

Unfortunately, people are not as good at defending us from cyber attack as John McClane might have you think.

The speed of cyber-attacks only allows the “labor” side of the equation to be reactive; capital investment would concentrate more money in autonomous and innovative defensive programs: 10th Fleet’s AEGIS. Proactive patrol and detection can be done with greater advancements in adaptive self-modifying programs and programs that can learn or understand context are far more appropriate. Recent developments in computing systems point to more organic systems that could “live” in the systems they defend. Biological processors and organic computing allow for hardware that thinks and learns independently, potentially giving defensive networks the added advantage of an instinct and suspicion. The development of mutable indium antimonide magnetic processors mean that the circuit hardware of a device may now be as mutable as the software running it. Imagine the vast new horizons in the OODA loop of defensive cyber systems with hubs sporting the defensive animal instinct and the ability to re-wire their own hardware. The image painted is dramatic and far-off, but modest investment and staged introduction would serve as a better model than the dangerous possibility of a “human wave” mode of thinking. With better fluid cyber-defense systems guarding more disciplined communicators, the US Navy can guard its forces against Epipolaes.




Posted by LT Matthew Hipple in Cyber
Tags: ,

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/derrick.lau.75 Derrick Lau

    All digital computers are based on binary, so eventually the only thing a computer will ever know is 1 or 0. No matter how complex the defensive software or hardware appliances are, eventually a DoS attack will defeat them.

    So really the effectiveness of these proposed cyber-defense systems depends totally on the resources of the enemy. If it’s Al Qaeda, then it’s highly unlikely they will be able to hack enough systems in time to build enough parallel processing power to defeat the current US navy’s systems. If it’s China, then it’s an entirely different story.

    The US navy should not depend on cyber-defense systems; they should train to operate in conflict assuming the network is completely down.

    Essentially this means that before the US navy is to engage an enemy, they will most likely have to launch some sort of cyber-offensive themselves, like DoS attack or have a CIA agent sneak into an enemy data center to upload a virus before the actual physical confrontation begins.

    • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.hipple Matthew America Hipple

      If the network is completely down, we lose. Our war-fighting model is based on a networked joint force. If you think a force with no network is going up against a force supported by a continent-sized aircraft carrier/artillery battery, you are sorely mistaken.

      That said, it isn’t just China. It’s regional conflicts with the likes of Iran or North Korea who use what wealth and resources they have to use both in-house and out-contracted capabilities.

      It is ALSO about the steady-state threat, from the likes of GhostNet. This is arguably more important, because “to know one’s enemy” is almost as important as knowing oneself. If an opponent can glean enough information about you, they may not need to take down your network. D-Day wasn’t just a success of combined arms and grit, but of intelligence/counter-intelligence as well.

2014 Information Domination Essay Contest
7ads6x98y