The newest combat domain is cyberspace, and Australia needs to do more to protect its digital borders and assets from threats.
As an arena of war, cyberspace is new, but the way war is executed in that arena is as old as war itself. There is attack, defence, deterrence and influence. The basics simply don’t change.
“These activities have been around since biblical times,” said Major General Marcus Thompson, an electrical engineer who now heads up Information Warfare Division in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) .
“What’s new, of course, is the conduct of these activities in cyberspace, in this relatively new operating domain. So a lot of what we do is adapting existing military tactics, techniques and procedures to this new war-fighting domain, and to the new technology that we have available to us.”
He might be an engineer, but Thompson sees his role as one of translation and interpretation. As a professional military officer who has deployed on many overseas operations and who commanded at every level from Troop to Brigade, Thompson said he now has the responsibility of ensuring everybody in his team understands each other’s needs.
“My role is two-way, helping engineers understand the requirements of the combat force and helping the combat force understand the capabilities that engineers bring,” he said.
“The other part is frameworks and systems. This is a key part of an engineer’s skillset, bringing some order to what can otherwise be a very complex space. I’m forever encouraging the technical staff to make the complex simple. We need to express complex terms, complex techniques and complex technology in ways that the audience understands. That’s especially important in Canberra.”
Speaking of understanding, what exactly is ‘information warfare’? It is the integration of technical and non-technical capabilities in the information environment, Thompson says. Technical capabilities include cybersecurity and electronic warfare. The non-technical side includes such areas as intelligence and information operations.
“When I talk about integrating those capabilities, it’s the synchronisation, the integration and the co-ordination of technical and non-technical information capabilities, but also the integration of those capabilities with other kinetic and non-kinetic effects to achieve a specific outcome,” he said.
“That outcome could be strategic, it could be operational, or it could be tactical. That outcome might end up being the delivery of a weapon system or, in my language, a ‘loud, orange effect’. It might also be to achieve some influence, without the requirement to deliver a weapon.”
The recognition of cyber as a war-fighting domain doesn’t mean it is a domain unto itself, completely separate from the land, air, sea and space domains. In fact, Thompson said most fighting goes on at the intersection of those domains.
“As an Army officer, I’ll often take the mickey out of my Air Force and Navy friends by saying, ‘I’m really glad you’re here, as it would be a long swim without you.’ But it really is a team effort. Everything from bombs delivered by fast jets to naval gunfire support to intelligence that might come from a submarine or an aircraft, all of that comes together to create success.”