The New Battlefield: Network-Centric Warfare

In the age of information, military strength lies in the ability of the military organization to adapt itself to the rapidly-changing enemy. Exclusive interview with Brig. Gen. Danny Bren, Commander of the Force Build-Up & Cyber Defense Divisions of the IDF C4I Directorate, toward his retirement

The Tzayad system (Photo: Elbit Systems)

The information revolution of recent years that had taken place in the business and technological sectors has entered the military world as well. The battlefield has become technology-based, warfare has become network-based and more recently – network-centric. In the IDF they call it tactical interoperability. Human soldiers, smart weapon systems, command & control systems, automatic 'spot-and-shoot' sentry systems and platforms at sea, in the air, on land and in outer space – all of these elements are connected in a single communication fabric that takes the operational capabilities of IDF to new heights of communication and coordination.

"Cyberspace is the space that links together computers, information, software and human activity. The common ground where technological infrastructures, user activities, information and processes meet creates a new reality," explains Brig. Gen.  Danny Bren, Commander of the Force Build-Up and Cyber Defense Divisions of the IDF C4I Directorate.

"In the last decade, the civilian sphere has experienced a revolution. The Internet evolved from a place where we obtained information to a place where we produce information. There is a latent layer to the production of information. It's not just what you produce directly, but what you produce indirectly as well. You have accessed a website? I will obtain your web surfing history so that I can determine what you are interested in and what you ignore. It is all a part of your digital identity."

Cyber Technology has Leveraging Potential as well as Destructive Potential

"The Internet has tremendous wealth of information based on a flattened knowledge community," says Brigadier-General Bren. "The social media flatten the knowledge, too. The hierarchical model of information production has been replaced by a decentralized, flattened model. Information crosses boundaries. It exists in an inter-state place. It is not clear what laws restrict it and to whom it applies.

"In the present era, 'the industrialists' are the parties that keep everyone's information: Amazon, Google, Microsoft or Facebook, for example. If tomorrow morning Google should change their search engine, they will affect the manner in which you would receive your information. They will affect the accessibility of the information. They can affect public opinion.

"Cyber technology has a leveraging side and a destructive side. You can spy on someone, disturb him or damage his process – that is the destructive side of cyber technology. Take Facebook for example. When they established it, they had not thought about cyber bullying. It is a destructive aspect no one had ever thought about. Mankind finds destructive uses for cyber technology. From a military perspective, network-centric warfare is the destructive side of cyber technology. Cyber defense is the leveraging side. It enables you to develop new capabilities."

Cyber Technology - a New Dimension of Warfare

"You can influence behavioral trends through cyber technology. It is known as Computer Network Influence (CNI)," says Brig. Gen. Bren. "Once you become dependent on cyber technology for maintaining your routine, you will also become very vulnerable. When you are vulnerable, there will always be someone out there who would exploit that, either in order to understand what you do or to disturb you. In the past, espionage was a difficult undertaking. Once you become dependent on cyber technology, you have placed your entire knowledge inside a computer and now it may be taken away remotely. It is yet another espionage infrastructure alongside the traditional one. But that is not the true potential of cyber technology. That is not the common meeting place of man, infrastructure and information – it is simply another way to collect information.

"The manner in which you leverage the infrastructure for your own benefit – that's cyber technology. Take Waze, for example. It provides you with real, live intelligence from the ground. It is a real-time command and control system that helps you manage your mission on the basis of data from the ground. The challenge in cyber technology is adapting to a changing reality. You see the influence on the press, on advertising and on marketing. If you fail to understand where the consumers are and how they consume the information – you will disappear. Any business organization that fails to adapt to the information revolution will go bankrupt in no time at all. The ability to change and adapt also depends on cooperation. Not a single organization today, anywhere in the world, can be responsible alone for the entire mission space, from end to end. Organizations capable of adapting and surviving are the ones that will manage to operate in an open, network-based manner.

"Look at what happened in the USA. America became vulnerable in cyberspace. While on land, at sea and in the air they fully dominate the space, in cyberspace they are facing a problem. For the past four years, the USA has been seeking ways to defend its citizens in cyberspace. They experienced the attacks against Sony Pictures and the Target chain, plus many other incidents – and there was no response. The great USA, with its immensely powerful deterrence, is unable to respond. They have no deterrence in cyberspace."

The cyber technology age has also changed the way the build-up and employment of the force are handled. For 40 years, the Yom-Kippur War of 1973 has shaped the force build-up of IDF, but despite the fact that it is one of the most advanced armed forces of the region, sometime in 2012-2013, IDF experienced an awakening followed by the realization that reality had changed. IDF had been established, prepared and trained to deal with states, and today they find themselves fighting non-state organizations. That means that even the manner in which the platforms are employed should change.

"One of the strongest organizations we face is Hezbollah, and all of a sudden they decided that they are now the defenders of Shi'ite Islam – not just of Lebanon," says Brig. Gen. Bren. "So they go out to fight in Syria, which transforms them from a defensive organization into an offensive organization. This changes Hezbollah as far as the IDF C4I is concerned – and it is a very rapid change. Admittedly, highly advanced C4I capabilities have been developed over the last decade, but the rate of change reflects a cycle of 18-36 months, and the enemy changes at a faster rate. When the enemy changes faster than you do – you are on the way to bankruptcy. If you are charged with defending the State of Israel – you will face a serious problem."

According to Brig. Gen. Bren, the need for a prompt change was the catalyst for the "Network IDF" program: "There is a difference between an organization operating in the web and an organization whose operations are network-based. Network IDF is a program that implements the concept of C4I as a shaping factor. The objective is to use C4I to enable IDF to change at least as fast as the rate at which the enemy changes.

"In 2012, as commander of the Lotem Unit, I had to learn from someone how to do it. I looked at Netflix. When was the last time Netflix had called you to ask when they could update a version? When did they ever ask you what platform you are running to provide you with an image? Or when to come over to provide you with training? The new applications we develop for the combat elements do not require advance training. You use them in the same way you open up applications using your Google Chrome browser at home. That is the very heart of the revolution.

"We decided to embark on a multi-layered program that begins with the people. A program that will take the military from a state where it develops systems according to the 'waterfall' concept, throw those systems away and develop new systems according to an agile concept – DevOps to the extreme. Only if we get there will we be able to adapt to the operational reality. Those who want to stop modernization cry out that cyber technology is dangerous. On the other hand – is it not dangerous to be irrelevant in the face of a changing reality?"

IDF Dropbox and an Internal Social Medium

"Both the previous Chief of Staff and the present one accepted the new concept and sanctioned the adaptations required. It is a complete operational process that includes intelligence, fire and C4I. The manner in which systems are developed should be changed," says Brig. Gen. Bren. "Returning the C4I home is only a part of the story. We mobilized a group of 15 majors to kick off the process. The objective was to change the development of software without developing almost anything on our own, and instead adopting whatever we can from the open source code community. The new technology which supports rapid change and the entire concept is cloud computing, so we have to take IDF to open source code and to the cloud."

IDF already have a military portal with an unclassified and a "secret" app store. Among other things, it includes an IDF Dropbox ("Tic Toc File Moving"), a military Wikipedia and a social medium designated "Yohannan". Even IAF had their home page transferred to the portal of the IDF C4I Directorate. The IDF Ground Arm and medical systems surf the web through SaaS. In order to support the new platform, the programming course has been adapted to the open infrastructure. Additionally, 3 Hackathons are held annually. The Hackathon held last February was devoted to the development of apps for the IDF Android-based smartphones.

Bren told us that in the IDF they place the emphasis on the user experience, too: "We developed a tool designated 'Yohannan the Stalker', which collects usage statistics from the user interface. It enables the system administrator to perform A/B testing on new features in operational systems. Another development is a system of on-line programming language courses. While in the past a commander had to actually send a programmer to attend the course and it cost IDF 7,000 ILS per trainee, today the programmer can take the course on line. The objective is to reach a situation where we no longer need outsourcing and have all of the knowledge we need in-house, in the military. We also work on an 'open university' operation and there will also be an IDF TED – all as part of the cloud.

"As far as operational systems are concerned, there are developments in the algo-trading world for more effective decision-making. The combat systems of IDF that are based on situational learning are a few years ahead of the rest of the world. In part, this progress may be attributed to the C4I Directorate, which is being run like a start-up company. We initiated group activity to develop start-up companies within the Lotem Unit. The configuration is the same as an investment fund. Each group is a start-up with a board of directors made up of officers of the division and reservists of the Lotem and Matzov (Code, Cypher & Security Center) units, some of whom are entrepreneurs in their civilian life. Once a month, this group presents a progress report. We have already completed four IDF start-up projects in this manner. Three of those projects matured into innovative solutions that already provide operational advantages."

C4I instead of Platforms

Brig. Gen. Bren explained that the ability of the military to advance on a constantly-changing battlefield is not based on risk management but on the real-time updating of the defensive layouts. "The intelligence that comes from data fusion must be adapted all the time," says Bren. "You need the ability to defend yourself against attacks of any type and from anywhere. Just like the USA and other modern countries, we, too, are vulnerable. The Chief of Staff established the IDF Cyber Warfare Arm for this purpose – to enable IDF to defend themselves while changing.

"In the world of force build-up and employment, we must be faster and see to it that the other side is forced to adapt itself to us rather than the other way around. In 2006 we did not win because of the fire element. The fire element is not a shaping factor. The objective is to shape your need to change, and through that the consciousness of the opponent on the other side. We cannot go on acquiring new platforms forever. The economy will kill us. So the question is whether, through such technologies as algo-trading, mobile and linking the advanced platforms to the network, it will be possible to create a broader effect using the existing platforms.

"Admittedly, there is a red line that restricts the size of the military and the number of platforms, but from that line onward, information technologies will empower the ability of the military to adapt to reality. There are places where the platforms are irrelevant. At those places, information technologies can replace the platforms."