Undoubtedly cyber is at the cornerstone of every aspect of military planning and operations, and this is reflected in the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s recent update to doctrine on countering air and missile threats.
Released April 21, 2017, the Joint Publication 3-01 “Countering Air and Missile Threats” updates the previous iteration that was published in March 2012. Among the updates in the new document is a discussion of “cyberspace operations support to countering air and missile threats.”
The new document notes that the counter-air mission integrates offensive and defensive operations to attain and maintain joint force commanders’ desired degrees of control of the air and protection through the elimination of enemy aircraft and missiles, both before and after launch.
“Counterair operations are conducted across the spectrum of conflict, using all means to ensure access and freedom of action,” the joint publication states. “These operations may use aircraft, [air-to-air missiles], surface to surface missiles (SSMs), [surface-to-air missiles], unmanned aircraft, artillery, ground forces, special operations, space operations, cyberspace operations (CO), [electronic warfare], and other capabilities to create the desired lethal and/or nonlethal effects.”
On the offensive side, the document notes that offensive counter-air operations are ones that destroy or neutralize enemy aircraft, missiles and launch platforms, as well as their supporting structures and systems before and after launch. The cyberspace mission is one of a bevy of assets and capabilities listed in the document that can be used to support offensive counter-air operations.
The New York Times reported in March that such measures, along with electronic attacks like electronic warfare, were leveraged in a covert campaign by the U.S. against North Korea’s missile program.
Under the effort, according to the report, the U.S. wanted to get to “left of launch” to disable missiles before liftoff. “Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced the program, saying that ‘cyberwarfare, directed energy and electronic attack,’ a reference to such things as malware, lasers and signal jamming, were all becoming important new adjuncts to the traditional ways of deflecting enemy strikes,” according to the article.
North Korea has seen two failed missile launches within the past month, however, it’s unclear — and officials have not provided insight — whether or not cyber or other so-called non-kinetic means played a role.
The joint publication also made reference to the assistance of cyber and electronic warfare in fighter escort. These the two capabilities might also be required to disrupt the effectiveness of enemy communications as well as information systems that support enemy acquisition, tracking and interception capabilities.
The report was sure to make a distinction between suppression of enemy air defenses, or SEAD — activities that neutralize, destroy or temporarily degrade surface-based enemy air defenses through destructive and/or disruptive means — and cyber and electronic warfare capabilities as additional capability sets apart from SEAD, despite similarities.