Leaked report reveals Russian battlefield cyber-weapons

The tactical dimension of cyber-warfare has not often been publically explored (credit: Government.ru)
The tactical dimension of cyber-warfare has not often been publically explored (credit: Government.ru)

A new report has presented some stark findings about the UK's cyber-readiness for modern war. A document, entitled Insights to “Training Smarter” Against a Hybrid Adversary, and seen by the Times aims to teach armed forces how to fight against a new kind of adversary.

Among its more shocking conclusions is that Russia ‘outguns' the UK army on the battlefield. Not only does Russia outspend the UK in defence by a little over £10 billion but has been preparing for an entirely different war. While UK forces have been training and investing in counter-insurgency, Russia has been preparing for war with NATO, and returning to the old state-on-state vision of warfare.

The report was written under the guidance of the UK army's head, General Sir Nick Carter, and sought to learn new lessons about Russian capability from its tactics in Ukraine, a conflict where proxy forces and cyber-warfare have played a marked role.

The report concludes, according to The Times, that Ukraine was a testing ground for Russian forces, in which they could hone “new methods of warfare as well as testing modern and prohibited weapons”.

Aside from its more stark revelations, the paper provides an intriguing look at the role of cyber in modern warfare.

The new threats that troops may face on the battlefield when facing Russian troops apparently include the spoofing of military GPS systems to misdirect soldiers on the battlefield, using devices within civilian vehicles to intercept communications and texting entire towns before an attack to sow panic and chaos. Furthermore, the report notes that UK troops can be targeted with social engineering over Facebook and Twitter and encourages them to leave laptops and phones behind.

Cyber-war is typically an asymmetric device, often bleeding into the realm of espionage as much as strategy. Its live tactical use on the battlefield is a major, if predictable, intervention in the field.

Ewan Lawson, a senior fellow for military influence at the Royal United Services Institute, told SCMagazineUK.com, “The use of offensive cyber capabilities on the battlefield as opposed to at the strategic level is inevitable given the network nature of armed forces. If ISIS for example is using Whatsapp for command and control, if you could interfere with that then you would be able to undermine their battlefield performance. This is not about breaking the encryption in order to read the messages but potentially being able to disrupt those messages through the integration of cyber and electronic warfare activities. Indeed, this is increasingly known in the West as CEMA or Cyber and ElectroMagnetic Activities.”

Lawson added, “The Russians have been adept at using their local conflicts to test and develop both the concepts and the capabilities. It is less clear that the UK or most other western nations (perhaps except the USA) are as advanced in their thinking or application.”