For many of us, cyber warfare is about technology – coordinated systems attacking the computer networks of critical infrastructure, finance, government and the military. For Lieutenant-Colonel David Gosselin, it’s about people.

The Commandant of the Canadian Forces School of Communications and Electronics (CFSCE) is responsible for the development of officers and non-commissioned members with the requisite skills to meet the CF’s communications and electronics needs.

And as recent cyber attacks have demonstrated, those needs are rapidly expanding in scope and complexity.

The denial-of-service attacks that in 2007 crippled Estonia, one of the world’s most wired countries, were exceptionally well hidden, Undersecretary of Defence Lauri Almann recently admitted to a conference in Ottawa. Major allies Britain, France, Germany and the U.S., as well as Georgia, have all suffered hits to banking and government infrastructure – even the Pentagon has acknowledged its computers are probed hundreds of times each day.

That should come as no surprise. As a weapon system, cyber tools are relatively cheap to acquire and deploy. To effectively counter an attack requires a fighter capable not only of moving ones and zeros, but of understanding some of the far reaching second order effects and how to exploit them.

Last June, LCol Gosselin authored a campaign plan, “Transforming the Network Fight,” in an effort to change perception of the network fighter from a technician to a cyber warrior, armed with a unique set of skills and tactics for achieving unique effects in the joint battlespace.

“When operational commanders think about communications, networks, cyberspace, they often describe it as just a big cloud. They trust that the networks and the means of communication will work. What they forget is that it is actually people, with particular skill sets, equipped with specialized tools, and properly organized so that their actions can come together to make that ‘cloud’ happen.

“We’re saying, let’s step back and look at those professionals, and figure out what skills and aptitudes are necessary and how we can ‘modernize’ the training and education systems to make it happen. We haven’t done that for 20 or 30 years.”

Unique warriors
When you consider the numbers, it’s not hard to understand Gosselin’s concern: communications and electronics (C&E) trades – signals officers, air force C&E officers, signal operators, communication research operators, linemen, land and aerospace com systems technicians, and many trades with a Regular and Reserve component – comprise 6,000 to 7,000, almost ten percent of the CF.

Moreover, where establishing CIS (communication and information systems) was once the primary purpose of the community, other less recognized aspects have increased in importance – electronic warfare (EW), signals intelligence (SIGINT), computer network operations (CNO) and C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) – an overlap of specialties that has created a larger professional community, each affected by the others.

Though tasked with providing basic communications equipment – radios, laptops, BlackBerries –and networking that equipment into an “integrated command and control” capability, the C&E community is also expected to deliver effects with this complex weapon system in a recognized operational domain – cyberspace – now on par with land, air and sea. That duality, Gosselin believes, makes them unique.

“There is no other Corps or Branch that has to command themselves in order to enhance command for others. We provide the networks of people and equipment responsible to deliver unique effects that no other fighting force is equipped and skilled to do. So following the logic that we are dealing with a unique weapon system that can be used to deliver unique effects, in a unique battlespace – the electromagnetic (EM) / cyber battlespace – then we are operational commanders and warriors in our own right. That’s how I define a warrior: someone who understands the intricacies of their weapon system in service to others. This means that a warrior understands the capabilities and vulnerabilities of their weapon system, and is capable of executing a plan that ensures that they prevail and overcome any threat or limitation of the weapon system in service to society.

“People often say we’re technicians, we’re engineers – no, we are command centric war fighters. And the body of tactics that makes us unique is network operations in the EM/cyber battlespace. Hence, I’ll often make reference to network warriors or network operators as opposed to C&E operators, which seems to emphasize the technologies and not the people delivering on unique tactics.”

Unique skills
In June 2007, CFSCE was transferred from the Canadian Forces Support Training Group, under the direction of the Canadian Defence Academy, to the Army. Gosselin’s campaign plan is a first crack at articulating what now defines the network operator community. It’s also a call to institutionalize the doctrine and training of network ops, modernize the means and methods of training, and establish CFSCE as a world-class centre of excellence.

If network operators have a role across each of the military’s six operational domains – land, air, sea, space, cyber and cognitive – while still commanding their own, then what skill set is required? Gosselin is prone to sketching out ideas as he explains them, but what emerges on paper is a fighter with a broad range of capabilities.

Often confused with the concept of network-centric warfare (NCW), first articulated by the late Vice-Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, network operations addresses the people, skills and organizations at the heart of NCW.

Writ large, it encompasses three stages of increased complexity and desired effects. The first two – connecting systems to enhance interoperability, information sharing and decision-making; and maintaining command and control (C2) amongst various deployed platforms and headquarters – provide the basis for NCW: self-adjusting networks, increased situational awareness and horizontal information sharing, among others. The principles and practices of optimizing the use of the EM spectrum, electronic warfare, are central to both stages.

And both are encapsulated and necessary within the third stage of effects, cyber and computer network operations: the manipulation of perception and information, where “we see the emergence of a unique body of tactics and doctrine that will bring the people together, integrate command and control to exploit, optimize, deny throughout these six domains,” Gosselin argues.

That networked capability is also critical to the Army’s emerging concept of adaptive dispersed operations (ADO). Gosselin cautions that unless the “uniqueness” of the network operator is recognized and addressed, ADO is unlikely to occur.

“There is absolutely no way you could do ADO without having first enhanced your signals command ability; without network ops command there is no other command taking place.”

That starts with some fundamental changes to the way operators are trained. Every piece of electronic equipment in a battlespace carries a unique EM signature. Networking all those components may be technical in nature, but exploiting those connections, affecting the enemy’s perception of the integrity of his own network or his ability to attack yours, requires a broad strategic understanding.

“A lot of the Army’s training is based on a piece of equipment and an individual’s ability to work with that equipment. In network ops, it is never about the equipment. This is a major paradigm shift. But if you educate people to understand the principles of the desired effects, you can throw any technology at them and they’ll integrate it into their tactics. As the technology evolves, an individual who has learned the ability to adapt will always be able to deliver. Our focus must be on leadership, not the technology,” Gosselin contends.

“Ninety percent of the CF is on a physical plane – if I can’t see it, feel it, touch it, then I don’t think it exists. Electronic warfare is subtler. If something gets through that firewall do you turn everything off or let them continue to think they are attacking one place while you route them off somewhere else? We have to develop people who are thinking the net through in that manner. With cyberspace, we are dealing with perception. We have to have people with competencies in survivability in the physical plane, real-time systems management, who understand the EM spectrum and the diversity of effects.”

That has meant breaking down training stovepipes at the individual trade level in preference of one initial common trade, enhancing the quality of command and leadership development, integrating non-commission members and officers in training programs to emphasize the multidisciplinary nature of the task, and employing educational approaches normally reserved for officer training.

“We’re trying to develop command teams. That means the NCO has a unique contribution to the fight, and his ability to lead is unparalleled,” Gosselin says. “We want them to understand that at this rank, it’s not about the tool box, it’s about integrated C2 and the effects you want to have.”

As with the rest of the Army, qualified C&E trainers are at a premium. Gosselin, a student of martial arts, adheres to the principle judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano: “That which has been learned well by one generation can be passed on to a hundred.”

“Therein lies one of the key ingredients of the campaign plan,” he said. “If we can increase the quality of the 250 key trainers in the school, it will affect the 5000 students going through the school over the next three years.”

To make the plan a reality considerable investment in infrastructure, equipment and people is required. CFB Kingston, once slated for closure, is in need of significant upgrades. And with electromagnetic warfare a growth industry, and more training programs in development, “there is a need for a new deal for Kingston,” Gosselin said. He estimates building facilities and adding equipment could be done for between $60 million and $100 million over the next seven to 10 years.

More important, however, is investment in the plan itself. Nothing survives in the military without ongoing support. “It’s about continuity of effort,” he observes. “These are not merely concepts, they are already happening.”

Unique training
To establish itself as the CF Network Operations Centre of Excellence, CFSCE has invested close to one million dollars in the past year. In October, it opened the EM Battlespace Lab, a synthetic environment to provide network operators with the tools to test ideas.

“Since we don’t deploy on large collective exercises anymore, the Lab is an attempt to create an environment in which people can start exercising command,” Gosselin says. “They have to be able to deal with complexity, uncertainty in a unique domain and develop plans that work. In the past, commanders would have created a ‘network and EW plan’ and then would merely have dialogued it through with their instructor; they never would have been able to implement the actual plan and learn to adjust if it failed.

“The Lab will significantly change the way we train network ops command and leadership. It will emulate the network effects and emulate real systems. We’re developing EM warfare commanders. At some point in its evolution, it will connect with other CF labs in order to expose operational commanders to the full spectrum effects of modern warfare. Bringing a reality to training will demystify the ‘network cloud’ that is often neglected or assumed-out of many exercise events.”

He hopes the combination of a simulation lab and quality instructors, as well as lessons gained from network operators in theatres like Afghanistan, will start to ensure professional knowledge is institutionalized and experts are developed in ways they have not been before.

The broader national cyber security strategy is currently being developed by Public Safety Canada. It will have implications for the military, including what authority it has to prosecute targets abroad, to share information, and what role it will play in the protection of privately held critical infrastructure.

Though that policy will be critical to intergovernmental collaboration, Gosselin isn’t waiting to proceed. The skills to establish, maintain, manipulate and move CF networks are similar to those required to attack, exploit and deny others, he says. “The legal framework not withstanding, we still have to have people and teams that can work together and deliver those effects.”

So he will continue to push a plan that offers a holistic view of the network ops community in what is still a relatively untested domain. “In cyberspace, we are the predominant warrior. As such, we’ve got to understand how we integrate the operational functions and must lead in its development and delivery.”


Operator forum
The opening of the EM Battlespace Lab in October culminated the first Network Operations Symposium, a four-day event in Kingston that drew professionals across industry, academia and government to debate many aspects of the campaign plan.

Keynote speakers included Lieutenant-General Mike Jeffery (retired), who emphasized the people and social aspect of network operations; Dr. John Cowan, the past principal of RMC, who highlighted the importance of education amongst the NCM corps to address the complexities of network operations; and BGen John Turnbull and Peter Laneville, who explained many of the government and legal challenges of developing a CNO policy. All keynote presentations will be available on the CFSCE website and several will adapted for articles in Vanguard.