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The Cyber Defense Review

SOF – GPF Integration: A Model for Cyber Operations

By LTC Alan Dinerman | November 18, 2015


The US Army is engaged in the longest period of uninterrupted combat operations in American history. Since the fall of 2001, over two million US service members have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.1 In 2012, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, directed the military capture the lessons learned from the last fourteen years of combat.  A year later, the Decade of War Working Group released “Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from a Decade of Operations.” This document outlines eleven critical lessons the military should retain and further research. Although one of lessons addresses the impact of the Internet in enabling super-empowered threats, the document does not explicitly provide any lessons regarding the execution of cyber operations. US offensive cyber was not a critical component of combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it has potential to become a pivotal force multiplier in future conflicts. Prudence dictates that US cyber professionals take heed of the “Decade of War”, as well as, other historical studies that exemplify the necessity of unity of effort.

SOF – Cyber Force Similarities

A striking similarity between SOF and US cyber forces is that each group of warriors operate outside of traditional units and have a unique mission set that is “not particularly well understood by conventional forces .”2 GPF ground commanders may have a comprehension of SOF tactics, but frequently lack detailed insights regarding high value targeting selection or covert operations. Extending that example to cyber operations, a GPF commander may appreciate the value of firewalls, but “fail to understand the true extent of threats to the network; computer network attack (CNA) and computer network exploitation (CNE) are less understood.”3 Both groups operate covertly conducting operations that are approved senior leadership. Whereas SOF conduct kinetic operations in clandestine areas, cyber operators conduct clandestine operations in networks owned by other countries. The veiled nature of their operations often place SOF in exclusive forward operating bases separated from GPF; likewise, cyber warriors traditionally operate in isolated Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs). These similarities result in physical separation and operational isolation from GPF, resulting in a lack of unity of effort. The Decade of War’s lesson number six addresses the challenge.

In post-2003 Iraq, SOF were not always well coordinated with GPF. This led to situations were GPF, as the battlespace owners were left managing the second-order effects of special targeting mission.4 The “Decade of War” lesson number six illustrates operational isolation and a lack of unity of effort. The potential for discord between cyber operators and GPF is exacerbated because offensive cyber operations are generally conducted from SCIFs outside of the theatre of operations, with command and control not exerted by GPF battlespace owners, and frequently not part of COCOM targeting boards that nominate cyber targets. However, the potential impacts of cyber operations could significantly impact the indigenous population, placing the battlespace commander in the unenviable position of “managing the second-order effects.”5

Cyber Integration through Fusion Cells and Imbedded Liaisons         

SOF – GPF integration continues to gain momentum and appears to be becoming a hallmark of the future of land power. In a Defense One journal article, COL Michael Rauhut referenced the 2014 AUSA annual conference and its focus on maximizing SOF – GPF integration.6 Cyber forces must follow this model in order to both enhance intelligence based defensive cyber operations optimize the impact of offensive cyber operations.

The creation of fusion cells in Iraq and Afghanistan greatly eliminated operational isolation between SOF and GPF and provided battlespace commanders with situation awareness regrading SOF operations.7 Additionally, the introduction of fusion cells provided a venue for more effective targeting by integrating input from conventional forces, SOF, ISR, and the government agency partners. This model should be a template for cyber operational integration. Cyber operations will desynchronize unity of effort if executed in a vacuum. Although the execution of offensive cyber at the strategic or theatre level will probably continue for the foreseeable future, the impacts will absolutely reverberate at the tactical level. GPF commanders must have input and situational awareness regarding planned and executed cyber missions. Fusion cells will provide a platform for integrated cyber intelligence, targeting, integrated cyber battle damage assessment, and integrated situational awareness between Cyber Operators and GPF.  LTG Michael Flynn and BG Charles Flynn expressly articulate the importance of fusion cells in their article “Integrating Intelligence and Information”. When discussing the lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, they contend “Fusion is about focusing our intelligence and information collections systems and about the speed of responding to the task, precision in addressing the problem with the best available capability, and understanding the expected outcomes. Fusion is a leadership function. It must be top-down driven, and we must provide top cover so that the fusion element can have complete freedom of action.”8

The emerging US Army’s cyber force’s seminal focus is protecting the DoD Defense Information Network (DoDIN) and planning/executing strategic cyber operations. However, US cyber leadership must remember that tactical and operational integration is essential. Tactical and operational liaisons are necessary to ensure a common operating picture and kinetic / cyber synergy. LTG Edward Cardon, commander of U.S. Army Cyber Command, discussed the need to organize for specific missions in a 2015 cyber operations conference.9 He also referenced the lessons learned from SOF experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he was specifically referring to task organization and defensive cyber operations, the underpinnings of his message are that the cyber force must become more integrated with the GPF military community.


The Army Doctrine and Training Publications (ADRP) 3-0 Unified Land Operations states “For Army forces the dynamic relationships among friendly forces, enemy forces, and the variables of an operational environment make land operations dynamic and complicated. Regardless of the location or threat, Army forces must synchronize actions to achieve unity of effort that ensures mission accomplishment. They do this as a vital partner in unified action.”10 Not unlike operations in the other warfighting domains and operational environments, the need to achieve unity of effort in the cyber domain is essential. The Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from a Decade of Operations applies to cyber forces as equally as kinetic forces; GPF – SOF integration provides a valuable framework for the integration of cyber forces in full spectrum warfare. Drawing on the insights from the evolution of land power, we can enhance the impacts of cyber power through fusion cells and integrated force structures.

About the author

dinermanLTC Alan Dinerman is a U.S. Army Officer with a vast experience in the information environment; these experiences include information and communications technology (ICT) policy, integration, and architecture, Defensive Cyber Operations, and spectrum planning / management.  Alan has held positions in both the military and the U.S. inter-agency.  He has a BS from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a MS from the Missouri University of Science and Technology.




1Amy Bingham and Luis Martinez, “U.S. Veterans: By the Numbers. ABC News, September 3, 2015, Accessed: 15 October 2015 from

2Christopher Paul and Isaac Porche, The Other Quiet Professionals: Lessons for future cyber forces from the evolution of special forces.  Washington DC, RAND Publishing, 2014. Assessed: October 10, 2015 from, pg. 33.

3Ibid, pg. 33.

4Elizabeth Young, Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from a Decade of Operations, PRISM 4,        no. 2, February 2013. Accessed: October 7, 2015 from       =true&db=tsh&AN=90007225&site=ehost-live&scope=site.


6Michael, Rauhut, The Army Wants to Fully Integrate Conventional and Special Operations Forces. Defense One Journal (October 14, 2014). Assessed: October 8 2015 from on 19 October 2015.

7Elizabeth Young, Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from a Decade of Operations, PRISM 4,        no. 2, February 2013. Accessed: October 7, 2015 from       =true&db=tsh&AN=90007225&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

8Charles Lynn and Michael Lynn. Importance of Fusion Cells in Integrating Intelligence and Information, Military Review. January – February 2012, Assessed: October 9th, 2015 from on 20 October 2015.

9Sean Lyngaas. The Quest for Command and Control in Cyberspace. FCW – The Business of Federal Technology. July 6, 2015. Accessed: 12 October 2015 from

10ADRP 3-0, Unified Land Operations. May 2012. Accessed on 18 October 2015 from, pg. 13.

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