WASHINGTON — There is a lot to be learned from the war raging in Ukraine, including the value of secure communications and the hazards posed by indiscriminate cell phone use on the battlefield, the U.S. Army’s top civilian said.
“When soldiers use unencrypted comms, that makes them targetable,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at a livestreamed Atlantic Council event May 31. “And I think we are going to have to think about that. Certainly, most of our young soldiers are used to having their phones with them everywhere they go.”
Forces in Ukraine have used simpler and less-secure communication devices to share information, exposing their locations and leaving them vulnerable. Russian troops, specifically, have relied on unencrypted channels because their classified communications capability is lacking, a senior U.S. defense official said in March, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues.
The U.S. in April said it would send secure, tactical communications gear to Ukraine as part of a $300 million security assistance package. The U.S. in previous years provided radios with interference protections baked in.
Reducing signatures and remaining hidden will be critical in future fights, Wormuth said, as advanced technologies play a bigger role and battlefields become “highly transparent.”
“We are very much looking every single day, in real time, at what’s happening in Ukraine and what we’re seeing with the Russian military, and trying to glean as many lessons learned as we can for what we think that means for the Army in the future,” the secretary said. The U.S. considers Russia an acute threat, making lessons learned especially important.
The Army is working to minimize its profile in the field, for command posts and assets that are less mobile, as well as upgrade its network, hardening it and boosting its reach. Significant improvements are rolled out every other year in what are known as capability sets.
Generals leading the network modernization effort in May said the conflict in Ukraine and the support provided to surrounding countries validates their investments to date.
“I think the things that we’ve observed have reinforced the campaign that we have been on, and that we need to continue this momentum and mode of execution,” said Army Maj. Gen. Robert Collins, the program executive officer for command, control and communications-tactical.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.