On the Precipice: The Future of Cyber & Intelligence with Vice Admiral Jan Tighe

Editor’s Note: The Defense community is only at the beginning of developing a common understanding and vision for multi-domain operations and strategies. Each military Service, Department, and Agency has a unique view of the concept’s potential and how to operationalize it. To help us understand the US Navy’s perspective, particularly as it pertains to cyber and information warfare, Vice Admiral Jan Tighe graciously shared her time to speak with OTH.


Over the Horizon (OTH): What is just over the horizon for the Navy’s intelligence and cyber communities?

Vice Admiral Jan Tighe (JT): I believe the Navy’s intelligence operations writ large and cyberspace operations, specifically, are on the precipice of being able to fully capitalize on the variety and velocity of data coming from both organic sensors and Open Source to create battlespace awareness and inform decision making in ways we never imagined in the past. Our migration to cloud-based architectures, both ashore and afloat, will enable analytic environments and battle management decision aids that reduce the dependency on our people for tasks that can be automated and free up our analysts to go further, faster in a human-machine teamed environment. For cyberspace operations, in particular, future defensive decisions will have to be made at machine speed, and be informed by a fulsome understanding of the network environment, evolving adversary tactics, techniques, and procedures combined with the use of Artificial Intelligence to minimize false positives.

OTH: The idea of more fluid and interlinked multi-domain operations is gaining increasing attention lately. It appears prominently in the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s Joint Operational Access Concept and underpins the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons, the successor to AirSea Battle. How is the Navy thinking about this and how are intelligence and cyber operations and strategies being shaped in response?

JT: One of the key drivers for multi-domain operations is the proliferation of sophisticated information technology that is widely available to individuals and non-state actors who can now directly challenge both our forces and our ideas. To address this new operational environment, the Navy is aggressively pursuing a multi-faced approach to maintain its technological edge. First, the recent update to the Navy’s Maritime Strategy, Revised Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century (CS-21R), created a new essential function that calls for the ability to maneuver, consistently project military force, and operate effectively in any domain. Second, the Chief of Naval Operation’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority calls for new fleet designs, to include both platforms and formations, to better meet today’s force demands. Third, the recently signed Fleet Design document articulates how the fleet must operate to fight and win in this new operational environment.

Central to these three efforts is the Navy’s mastery of the information component of combat power, which the Navy calls Information Warfare. For the Navy, Information Warfare is defined as the integrated employment of the Navy’s information-based capabilities (Communications, Networks, Intelligence, Oceanography, Meteorology, Cryptology, Electronic Warfare, Cyberspace Operations and Space) to degrade, deny, deceive, or destroy an enemy’s warfighting capabilities or to enhance the effectiveness of friendly operations across all domains. Information Warfare is built upon the three fundamental pillars of Assured Command and Control (C2), Battlespace Awareness, and Integrated Fires, in which intelligence and cyberspace operations are critical elements. These fundamental pillars provide capabilities that drive new information-enabled concepts such as Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare and Distributed Lethality. Creating the ability to maneuver within and across the IW pillars to guarantee freedom of action in all domains is our current Information Warfare focus.

OTH: A recent Foreign Affairs article described an emerging Age of Transparency in which secrecy will increasingly be an element of the past. Thinking about things like Wikileaks publishing volumes of state secrets or twitter and commercial imagery openly exposing covert movement of forces, how do you see this impacting the future of military operations?

JT: I think it is game changing. While I do believe there are plenty of key elements of national security which we will be able to keep secret, we will have to change the way we plan for and execute future military operations by either not relying on secrecy or by using deception more effectively/differently taking the transparency into account.

OTH: There has been considerable discussion on the necessity to reform acquisitions to make it faster, more innovative, and less costly, with particular focus on cyber technology. There’s a broad sense that industry now leads technology development at a speed that the Department of Defense is not agile enough to fully leverage. What does an effective future acquisitions construct look like to you and how might that change the relationship with industry?

JT: We must be able to iterate with industry faster and earlier than we have customarily. We need to be able to seek input in formulating our requirements well ahead of the draft Requests for Proposals. We also need to create a development and test environment that leverages cloud based architectures in order to more rapidly (and confidently) update, modernize, and customize our applications inside their actual environment with the end-user community fully embedded in that journey (DEVOPS).

OTH: How should cyber and intelligence operations fit into a strategy that counters threats presented by “gray zone” or hybrid warfare that combine elements of savvy information operations with obscured kinetic operations?

JT: The challenges presented by hybrid warfare are a stark reminder that we can no longer rely on our ability to dominate a warfare domain against adversaries that are making investments to negate our technological superiority in the battlespace. In this new operational environment, the new function in the Navy’s strategy, all-domain access, is dependent on Navy’s mastery of the information component of combat power and our concept of Information Warfare underpins this critical function.

Cyberspace and intelligence operations are key aspects of the Navy’s Information Warfare capabilities that can provide persistent surveillance of the maritime battlespace; provide tactical, operational, and strategic knowledge of an adversary’s capabilities and intentions; enable increased weapon range, effectiveness, and lethality; and integrate targeting and fire control capabilities to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic effects to counter an adversary’s hybrid warfare game plan.

We also realize that the challenges presented by hybrid warfare are representative of the advanced and complex nature of warfare in the future where our adversaries’ increased use of the information component significantly reduces our decision space and our actions become reactionary. Our Information Warfare capabilities fused with the promise from Artificial Intelligence, advanced analytics, automation and machine learning can significantly expand our decision space and the ability to determine the intentions of our adversaries with a higher degree of certainty.

OTH: We recently spoke with Dr. Jon Kimminau on the future of Big Data analytics. One of the things we discussed is how advanced analytics and the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) could impact the decision cycle. Do you see a future where advanced analytics and AI compresses the decision cycle so that the time between observe, orient, decide, and act is so reduced that it presents real challenges for decision makers to keep ahead. How should C4ISR be shaped to maintain advantage in this context?

JT: I believe that the point of advanced analytics and AI compression of the decision cycle is specifically to buy decision makers time and trade space. If implemented correctly, we do not create a situation where the decision maker cannot keep up. Additionally, for those defensive situations where decisions must be made at machine speed (cyber-attack, missile leaker at close range, ….), decision makers will make those decisions in advance and, based on the threat conditions, enable their execution when conditions are met.

OTH: A question we ask all guests: What is just over the horizon that you think the national security community should be discussing now?

JT: With globalization, our adversaries are better utilizing economic statecraft to pursue their national objectives and we have not fully recognized, much less developed, a whole-of-government strategy to mitigate the potential impact on our national security, including revitalizing our own abilities in this area.

Editor’s Note: If further interested in this last point on geoeconomics, definitely make sure to check out OTH’s conversation with Jen Harris, co-author of War by Other Means.

Vice Admiral Jan Tighe is Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence. Previous to this, she has served as Commander of Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet, President of the Naval Postgraduate School, and Deputy Director of Operations at US Cyber Command. Vice Admiral Tighe holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School.

This interview was conducted by Sean Atkins, Editor-in-Chief of Over the Horizon, in January 2017.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the US Government.

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