From the Crows' Nest

Effective communication and decision-making are critical for success in multi-domain operations (MDO) in today's fast-paced world.  While in Germany attending AOC Europe, Host Ken Miller took the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Thomas Withington, newsletter editor for Armada International, who shares the most important lessons we've learned in achieving multi-domain integration.

Ken and Dr. Withington discuss the crucial need for network resiliency in NATO's multi-domain integration, the all-of-government approach necessary for cybersecurity and vulnerability management, and navigating the landscape of multi-domain operations and their inherent difficulties. 

Creators & Guests

Ken Miller
Cassidy Butler
Laura Krebs
Reese Clutter

What is From the Crows' Nest?

This podcast features interviews, analysis, and discussions covering leading issues of the day related to electromagnetic spectrum operations (EMSO). Topics include current events and news worldwide, US Congress and the annual defense budget, and military news from the US and allied countries. We also bring you closer to Association of Old Crow events and provide a forum to dive deeper into policy issues impacting our community.

Ken Miller (00:10):
Welcome to From the Crow's Nest, a podcast on electromagnetic spectrum operations or EMSO. I'm your host, Ken Miller, director of Advocacy and Outreach for the Association of Old Crow's. You can follow me on Twitter at FTCNHost. Thanks for listening.
In this episode of From the Crow's Nest, we go back to AOC Europe and Bond Germany to listen in on a conversation that I had with writer and analyst Tom Withington. As many of you know who have followed me on Twitter, we were at AOC Europe broadcasting live using Twitter spaces. We released several episodes each day and we had the opportunity to talk to a number of the presenters, exhibitors, and other attendees there at the show and get a sense for all the great topics and information that we were gathering.
Tom Withington was a guest co-host of mine throughout the week. I greatly appreciated his time and he was gracious enough to give me a little bit extra to sit down with him over a beer and just talk a little bit more comprehensively about some of the stuff that we heard at the conference. So I wanted to bring that to you today. If you're interested in hearing more from the episodes, I do encourage you to go to my profile on Twitter at FTCNHost, and all the episodes are still on my profile page and you can download those and listen to those and get a sense for everything that was talked about. But without further delay, let's listen in.
In this episode, we are coming to you live from AOC Europe. We are in Bond Germany, and I am here with special guest Dr. Tom Withington, writer and analyst. I have had him on From the Crow's Nest before just a few months ago to talk about Jadsi, too. But we've been here at the show doing some live-streaming and talking to the speakers, talking to exhibitors. So I wanted to take a few moments to have Tom on the show again here for this episode to talk a little bit about what we're learning at AOC here this week, the theme being how to achieve multi-domain operations. So Tom, thanks for joining me out here on the show.
Tom (02:03):
And it's always a pleasure to catch up. I'm thrilled to death that you've made it over this side of the ponds and I think we've had a great day's discussion and a great day's conversation really, so a lot to talk about.
Ken Miller (02:10):
Absolutely. And we tried to set this up at a local pub here down the street, had some signal issues and so now we're coming from another location, but we still have the beer. So I'm not really sure how this conversation's going to go, but I'm sure nothing can go wrong.
Tom (02:26):
Well, I would just give a, talking of the beer, I give a bit of a shout out to anybody out there in the ether who is a connoisseur. We are both enjoying a hopper brau, which is a vice beer or a wheat beer as they're first to be in Germany. And it's going down rather well, isn't it? And I think it's quite out given we were talking about the spectrum that we managed to find the only pub in Germany that doesn't seem to have spectrum.
Ken Miller (02:53):
Exactly. So I appreciate your flexibility in this and of course it's been a long couple days here. We're all jet-lagged, we're all working 16-hour days and now we are drinking beer. So I wanted to go to talking a little bit about the overarching theme. You spoke today, and we'll get to your presentation in a second. But it is very interesting because from US perspective, when we talk multi-domain operations, we talk about obviously within the context of Army Air Force, Marines and so forth, but in Europe now we have the European piece that we talk about, coalition warfare and multi-domain operations takes on a whole different field to it. Talk a little bit about what overall, what have we been learning in the first state here at the conference as it pertains to achieving ultimate domain operations? And we've heard from several different countries, several different organizations from members of parliament to military generals. So what thoughts stick in your head?
Tom (03:57):
The big thing, and I suppose the big takeaway for me from this event is it maybe sounds a little bit cliche to say it, but it's the connectivity question. When I first started getting into electronic warfare, a lot of the conversation was about your fine fixing and then treating the target, whether that's denied, degrade damage, et cetera.
Whereas now, we're taking that as red, we're taking that as red, that we've got the assets that we need to find the signal of interest in all of the noise and then to get an effect on it whenever that effect might be. But the big question now has moves to, we know that we need to make a better quality of decision at a faster clip than our first three. That's probably the secret prevailing, not just in the electromagnetic environment, but I think probably in all domains of conflict.
So a long time, I think one of the things that we sort of took as red is, well, what happened? Now it's not going to be a problem. We'll go to war and this will be there. Whereas I'm very hardened to the people are now saying, "Okay, do we have the networks?" The conversation has shifted in Tanner a little bit. If we do have the networks, two things, do they have the carriage that we need to move the information around? Are they resilient And crucially, are they redundant? Because we see these very lovely graphics with a lot of lines between warships and aircraft and land assets and satellites and all that, zeros and ones going between them. But we all know that in reality, heavens forbid, if we are at war, maybe half of those will be available. So how do we scale that? How do we deal with that? So that's a big takeaway for me. But I think often with these events is, you've got your immediate takeaways, but then they'll be the ones that you think of in two months or three weeks, whatever it is going, "Ah, it's because somebody brought that up."
Ken Miller (05:43):
So I've had the opportunity to speak with a lot of the presenters this week, some of the exhibitors. And for those of you listening, you can go onto Twitter at FTCNhost and download all the recordings that we've been doing the live-streaming this week. But the connectivity piece has come up time and again, and I appreciate your thoughts on this, and one of the things that we've talked about is it's one thing to say in a physical space you can connect communication signals and so forth, but when you get into the organizational element of how a particular force will communicate and share information decision making across another force, another country's organization, it becomes much more difficult to handle. We heard a little bit about that today. How do we keep pace with this need for fast decision making for fast connectivity in an era where coalition warfare and having to be on the same page across countries, partner countries, this is the warfare of the future. So it seems to exponentially increase some of the problems that we face with connectivity.
Tom (06:49):
I think one of the things we're lucky with in NATO is that in many ways the rules of the road are already there because we dealt with things like legion metal leak, 16 tactical data links that we are using to remove tactical information either around the air environment, obviously we can have the maritime domain. In a sense, we've got the rules of the road. We know that if you are involved in an air operation, if the US is a lead nation, if it's a NATO led initiative, then really the rules of the road is, "Okay, everybody, if you've not got link 16, you can't really come along and play. You've got to have this." So I think a lot of it is about realizing, "ell, what standards do we have already? Where are we at the moment?"
We've been talking a lot about standards over the past few days. So what do we have in place that is already the rules of the road for NATO members saying, "If you want to move information between each other or within your forces, these are the [inaudible 00:07:40] that you've got to buy. So that's good news. We've got a bedrock that we can build from. But I think the crucial thing for me is that we need to realize wherever we are in NATO that we constantly need to be keeping other people abreast with what we are doing. There's a big European initiative called ESSEL or European Secure Software Defined Radio Waveform, which is a high data rate waveform that's coming on stream amongst about eight different European countries. And this is going to be quite a transformational technology. It's a wide band linked, primarily for land operations, but it allows, let's say you've got Finish troops on one side of the line of the bar, you've got French troops on the other that's now got a bridge between them in terms of a high data rate wafer.
But the crucial thing is, that's great, but how is that dove tailing into what Jad C2 is doing? Are we confident that when the Americans are involved from a play as well, that they've got a gateway into ESSEL? And the thing is with this is that it actually makes a lot of the kind of work a day stuff that perhaps doesn't get the crack of the whip it deserves suddenly very, very pertinent because link translation, this is going to become very, very important. Are we confident that we can move this traffic through these link translators and that traffic stays secure? So I think that the short answer would be, let's look at what we already have in the static realm. Let's look at how we're already doing things and think what can we learn from that in terms of how we then do connectivity in other areas moving forward?
Ken Miller (09:12):
I had you on the show a couple, okay, I guess a couple months ago we were talking Jad C@, and I think we addressed this question a little bit, but one of the frustrating things that I have about Jad C2 is, great concept, but when you try to figure out what's that concept mean in terms of actual war fighting, you start to get into all the service contributions to that construct. And then once you get into the service contributions, you're looking into the separate organizational elements. And if you step back and look at it, it's hard to sometimes identify what is being done differently that's game changing in the Jad C2 client. There is stuff, but from a communications standpoint, as you just mentioned, we have to talk about it differently and show that we're able to get those capabilities in the field.
If you step back even further, if you look at it from a native perspective or retail, you have countries each contributing their own construct and so forth down through their organizational structure. So what do you see from a European perspective that is giving you hope that the conversation about the need for information superiority, for spectrum superiority is moving in the right direction and actually changing the way we fight, not just in the words, but down the organization.
Tom (10:29):
Well, the conference over the past two days has given me significant hope from that score because we've got delegates from all over the alliance and from allied countries, as well who are coming in. And everybody is really in a sense, speaking the same language. We had a great presentation today from some of our German colleagues and they were talking about the important work that they're doing there. We've heard from other coalitions. We've heard from arguably smaller nations like Belgium for instance, what their roadmap is, the Netherlands, how they're seeing this. So everybody in a sense gets it. The product's been sold, everybody's buying into it, which is a good thing because buy-in is really important in NATO, and one of the sort of ironies with NATO is that if you look at it from a hardware point of view, there's actually not that much that NATO has managed to standardize from the hardware perspective beyond ammunition, these kind of platforms, yeah, let's call them, since it's existence. But where they have managed to do this is in terms of things like connectivity, commander control, all of these standards.
So the thing I'm really encouraged about is there's nobody there who's saying, " [inaudible 00:11:36], we've got this all wrong. We shouldn't be doing this." We should be staying, we'll stay by. This is what has us saying are we throwing the baby out with the bath water? Everybody's on the same page. One of the big challenges that we're going to have is I think a lot of these efforts will develop at different speeds, and that's where it's going to be really challenging because what you risk is, in any coalition operation, you know, end up fighting that war with whoever walks up, broadly speaking and what they bring. What are you going to do when everybody's levels of connectivity and everybody's adoption of MDI, whatever form it takes or MDO is at different points? Because it will be. That's the thing. And I always think in a sense, we start thinking about that now because what we don't want to be thinking about it is when it's on D-day plus one.
So as we go through these processes and it's brilliant, everybody's on the same page, everyone gets it, that's fantastic. But we also need the person in the room who's going to ask the difficult question, say, if "If there's a water tomorrow, okay, country A, can you talk to country B? If not, what are you going to do about that?"
Ken Miller (12:49):
Well, and some of that's kind of followed electronic warfare for decades. It's this idea of having to wait until that crisis moment to realize how important it was. And we've seen this on the US side where we'll be talking about, we'll be beating the drum for years and years and we know what's going to happen. We know we need it, but we have to wait till that crisis to get that kind of stimulus into the system where it's actually affecting real change.
You mentioned some great presentations this morning. You were one of them. So thank you for your meeting. You spoke on multi-domain operations, but you focused on the notion of integration and the role that plays in this idea of MDO. Could you talk a little bit about what you shared with the audience today?
Tom (13:41):
Sure, yeah. So my perspective was really to try and take the audience through where we've been and where we are going, which sounds terribly predictable really. But the point I was trying to make is, we've been through the revolution of in military affairs, we've been through network centric warfare. We've been, well, we're going through multi-domain operations and we're going through multi-domain integration as well. And they're subtly different. The UK Ministry of Defense is very, very keen on multi-domain integration. It's produced a number of papers about it. It's had some good discussion. And what their approach is about having a whole of government approach. And it has a lovely sort of logical jump off point if you like, or springboard, which is that as we face competition now, competition doesn't just happen on the battlefield, it can happen across all elements of statecraft.
We see things like allegations of electoral interference in all democracies across the world. We've see fake news, we deal with it every day. We have all of these challenges and they're competitive challenges, but they're happening in an unconventional way because they're a tactic of the parts of our stake craft. So how do we martial our stake craft as a whole to deal with that? And that requires a wholistic government approach and that can be a difficult thing to people to buy into.
Ken Miller (14:59):
And with that all of government approach, I think that the key is it's, it steps outside of your defense ministries or departments of defense. It's energy, it's treasury, it's every possible, because it's an all of society problem, too. And as we've seen in Ukraine and just obviously wars in the past, there is, when you are in conflict or war, it's disruptive across the board in everybody's life and in the spectrum that's the same case. So with this all government approach, how do you get there? Because we can have send leader after leader from our defense ministries up to stage, they'll be at the same job. But we found that at least in the US, once you start talking about it outside of DOD, once you start talking about in the other agencies that government that have to be a part of this conversation, the term changes. So how do you get to that all of government approach? I agree it is, but is it from a European perspective, how is that embraced as an all government approach or is it still struggling from moving it from the defense ministry to other agencies?
Tom (16:03):
I think, and it's a great question, Ken actually, and I think you need to have probably an all of government, from the European perspective, an all of government approach across the board for pretty much everything as well as defense. An example I would use is in the UK, the national health service distribution kind of the state provider of healthcare. I remember a discussion a few years back about the quality of hospital food. Bear with me, there is a link with what we're talking about. And one of the issues was that the government was having a very, understandably was trying to get people to eat health and watch their weight and do all of these things to cut their own exposure to cancer and heart disease and all of these kinds of things. But what was exposed was that the quality of and the nutritional quality of food in British hospitals was shocking.
And you are thinking, you've got this overarching government to get people more healthy, but when people are going into hospital, they're suddenly eating very bad food. Or you have to mention it from the questions regarding climate change. The government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas and all of this, but then if your promoting policies elsewhere government is increasing that then that's detrimental to that goal. So I think the thing is to take the premise that this is an all of government, well an all of government problem, it's an almost all of society problem. So it needs an all of society and government response.
So it's one of those things, as a policy maker, as civil servant, you always need to have it at the back of your mind. "We're going to do this, it's the security input cost. Are we exposing ourselves in some way to vulnerability?" It doesn't have to dominate the thinking necessarily, but it should be there. And I think, in a sense, to take defense as a sort of isolated point of this requires a whole of government approach. But actually in a sense, all of government requires an all of government approach and defense is part of that conversation, I think.
Ken Miller (17:43):
Right. And I think that that gets back to education. One of the challenges from an advocacy perspective is it's very easy to jump deeply into the technical conversation where you actually lose many of the audience members that you're trying to reach. Stepping back and just talking about how electromagnetic spectrum basically just interrupts or disrupts society as a whole and things that they are familiar with can actually have a positive effect on the conversation and get people's attention. And so it's a challenge to both move the ball forward in a highly technical field, but do so in a way that's not technical and reaches everybody and makes it a irrelevant concern on everybody's mind.
Tom (18:39):
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think if you really want to emphasize to somebody the effect that let's say a very strategic level cyber attack is going to have, or maybe not so much jamming, but this comes into it as well, ask anybody, right, "Tonight, you're going home, you've been to the cinema for our American friends, you can't get an Uber." "Okay, great, we'll use public transportation. "That's down. The signaling is down on the Washington DC metro." At that time you don't know what's happening, but this could well be that he'd had a denial of service attack. Imagine saying to the average kind of 14, 15 year olds, "You're not going to access TikTok or Instagram because something's happened."
So I agree with you. I think a lot of the time we have to have the conversation about things that people can relate to in their everyday life and realize that this is a consequence of where we are and it's real.
Ken Miller (19:36):
And it's not just the denial of service and the effect that it has on people's ability to function in subsequent decision making. I was in DC on 9/11 and when all of a sudden that happened, things shut down, people panicked, and once people started panicking, they were not making rational decisions. Why it sews the irrational decision, and there was this escalating snowballing effect to the problem that we weren't prepared for. So you not only have, it's not just like, "Oh, well, you know, could deny some sort of service that you rely on." That's going to trigger testing effects. And that's kind of why we see a lot of test cyber attacks and so forth around the globe and just trying to figure out how does a certain action disrupt your life and see how you respond. And if you don't respond properly, then that keys in exactly where your vulnerability is.
And so it feels like we're constantly chasing our vulnerabilities a lot along. So sticking with your presentation then, what do you think are some of the key steps that have to be taken to more effectively and rapidly address some of the vulnerabilities we know today and we anticipate confronting?
Tom (20:49):
I think it's very hard because in a sense, it's hard to anticipate the actions of your adversary to a point, but I think you've got to look inwardly at your own societies and try and see where the vulnerabilities are. I mean, it's a bit like what militaries do on the battlefield, for instance, is that, you would hope you've got the electronic protection, men and women in near the forward line of engagement going, "Yeah, you'd probably want to switch that off. You'd probably want to have a bit more encon emissions control with that." Red teaming quite a lot. Looking at what the vulnerabilities are, looking at how they're going to be addressed.
At first blush. It seems to be a completely insurmountable task, but I don't believe it is. I think it's a case of just... And also realizing, again, going back to this topic, that competition now as a whole of government thing because it's the whole of government that's going to be targeted. And so how do you deal with that? So where are your vulnerabilities? What things are you prepared to let be vulnerable if you can protect something that's more prescient or whatever it might be, which I know is a bit of a sort of, it's a fudging the answer, but the problem is in a sense there's no magic bullet. And looking at, so how does the military manage what it does in the electromagnetic spectrum and what can we learn from almost from the EW 101, all the stuff you learn, how much of that can you actually bleed through into the civilian life? Whether you're just an individual with your own business, whether you're a government department. I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from doing that.
But then that comes back into this thing about having a conversation with people, making them aware of the threats, making sure a person on the street understands that we are facing difficulties and we need to mitigate them.
Ken Miller (22:39):
I'm sure this will open up. We have one more day of the conference here. This episode will air later in May, but we are currently live-streaming From the Crow's Nest, as well on Twitter spaces. And so if you want to get more in depth in terms of some of the discussion, you can go to Twitter, follow me at FTCNHost, and you'll see all the recordings of the live-streaming that we're doing throughout the week.
We are out of time, and I do see that we are set for another round and unfortunately I don't think we can handle another round and still do a podcast. With that, I think we're going to call today, but I do greatly appreciate you taking time to join me here From the Crows Nest once again, and we'll see you on our live stream tomorrow as we wrap up the show. But thanks again for joining me.
Tom (23:24):
And it's real pleasure. Always good to catch up. Thanks so much.
Ken Miller (23:27):
That will conclude this episode of From The Crows Nest. I want to thank once again my guest, Tom Withington for taking a few moments out of his busy schedule at AOC Europe to sit down with me and share some of his thoughts about the conference. As always, you can rate, share and subscribe to this podcast and we always enjoy hearing from our listeners. You can also follow me on Twitter at FTCNHost. That's it for today. Thanks for listening.