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DARPA’s COMPASS developing artificial intelligence based decision making software to help commanders in Hybrid Warfare

Hybrid Warfare (HW) is a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare, cyber warfare and subversion, and blurs the formal distinction between war and peace. It is often characterised by the use of fictitious propaganda, deniable forces, espionage, the mobilisation of ethnic, linguistic or confessional minorities, and terrorism.


An emergent type of conflict in recent years has been coined “gray zone,” because it sits in a nebulous area between peace and conventional warfare, says DARPA.  Gray zone conflicts are those in which state and non-state competition becomes conflict but remains below the level of conventional warfare. Experts have pointed to Russia’s use of hybrid threats in Ukraine and other areas, along with China’s aggression in the South China Sea as examples.


Daesh makes the most extensive use of the internet and social media for radicalisation, recruitment and propaganda. Iran, which has a well developed cyber capability, has mounted destructive attacks causing physical damage in the real world. To date Daesh, AQ and the Taleban have mounted Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks to take down temporarily websites they oppose. Daesh, AQ and the Taleban have used extreme violence as political messaging. They also have plans to use Biological or Chemical weapons..


Gray-zone action is not openly declared or defined, it’s slower, and is prosecuted more subtly—using social, psychological, religious, information, cyber and other means to achieve physical or cognitive objectives with or without violence. The lack of clarity of intent—the grayness—makes it challenging to detect, characterize, and counter an enemy fighting this way.


To better understand and respond to an adversary’s gray-zone engagement, DARPA’s Strategic Technology Office  announced a new program called COMPASS, which stands for Collection and Monitoring via Planning for Active Situational Scenarios. The program aims to develop software that would help clarify enemy intent by gauging an adversary’s responses to various stimuli. COMPASS will leverage advanced artificial intelligence technologies, game theory, and modeling and estimation to both identify stimuli that yield the most information about an adversary’s intentions, and provide decision makers high-fidelity intelligence on how to respond–-with positive and negative tradeoffs for each course of action.


Current military decision-making follows a well-understood and effective OODA loop—Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. This is how planning is done in various geographic areas around the world, which works for traditional kinetic scenarios, Barlos said. This process, however, is not effective in gray zone warfare. Signals in the environment are typically not rich enough to draw any conclusions, and, just as often, adversaries could implant these signals to induce ambiguity. COMPASS aims to add a dynamic, adaptive element to the OODA loop for complex, gray-zone environments.


“The ultimate goal of the program is to provide theater-level operations and planning staffs with robust analytics and decision-support tools that reduce ambiguity of adversarial actors and their objectives,” said Fotis Barlos, DARPA program manager. “As we see increasingly more sophistication in gray-zone activity around the world, we need to leverage advanced AI and other technologies to help commanders make more effective decisions to thwart an enemy’s complex, multi-layered disruptive activity.”


COMPASS program

The COMPASS program will leverage game theory for developing simulations to test and understand various potential actions and possible reactions by an adversary employing gray-zone activity. Barlos quickly noted, however, that the program is not about developing new sensory technologies, virtual reality systems or other advanced hardware. The program focuses rather on advanced software that would quickly present options to decision makers by assimilating a large amount of intelligence collected using existing, state of the art systems (such as standard video exploitation, or textual analysis tools) related to rapidly changing scenarios.


“We’re looking at the problem from two perspectives: Trying to determine what the adversary is trying to do, his intent; and once we understand that or have a better understanding of it, then identify how he’s going to carry out his plans—what the timing will be, and what actors will be used,” Barlos said. “The first is the what, and second is the where, when, and how.


“But in order to decide which of those actions is important you need to analyze the data, and you need to understand what different implications are and build a model of what you think the adversary will do,” he said. “That’s where game theory comes in. If I do this, what will the adversary do? If I do that, what might he do? So it is using artificial intelligence in a repeated game theory process to try to decide what the most effective action is based on what the adversary cares about.”


Planning and Decision-making in Hybrid Warfare

The hybrid warfare environment is a complex adaptive system with tendency for ad hoc activities creates new challenges for military planners and decision makers. There is general agreement that Hybrid Warfare does include both multiple and synchronised threats that aim to target state vulnerabilities at different levels of intensity over time. Combination of different types of threats and utilization of these threats simultaneously creates an absolute complexity within higher levels of planning.


There are three decision making processes undertaken in military environment. Namely, deliberate, responsive and adaptive decision making processes. The first process is accomplished during the planning of an operation and results in the selection of the best course of action for the given situation. Then, the plan is developed based on this selection. Since the process aims to develop a contingency plan based on some assumptions or possible scenarios, it is also called advance planning. We can call this process as the deliberate decision making process.


In complex situations, they are unlikely to be successful. In these cases, not only the plan but the planning process fails. Therefore planners need to follow a very different set of principles. First, they must be aware of the several arenas and domains involved in complex adaptive systems. Second, because of the lack of predictability, planners must take steps to produce agile plans*


The second process aims to respond to an ongoing crisis by developing a crisis response plan. Because of its responsive nature, this process can be called as the responsive decision making process. Traditional planning processes implicitly assume that plans and orders from higher headquarters have framed the problem for their subordinates completely. However, in the responsive decision making plans and orders may continue to flow from higher to lower, but understanding must flow from lower to higher, especially when problems are complex as they are in hybrid warfare.


The significant goal of this approach is a shared understanding of complex problems in other words a common situational awareness. This situational awareness should manage to provide the planners not only with the perception of elements in current situation, but also with the comprehension of the current situation and moreover the projection of future status of ongoing events.


The success of planning in deliberate and responsive planning models, especially in deliberate planning obviously depends on the success on forecasting the activities of a hybrid threat. It can be very challenging or even impossible to forecast the hybrid threat’s activities, since the potential threat activities can be combination of infinite groupings.


Although forecasting a hybrid threat is a difficult task, it is not an impossible one. Existing threat actors have a strategic culture that guides their decision-making and thereby facilitates understanding their intentions, actions, reactions and counteractions, writes Zafer Ozleblebici of Turkish Army War College


In conjunction with a prudent analysis of the environment and realistic red teaming of our vulnerabilities set against the backdrop of the threat actor’s strategic culture, a hybrid threat can be forecasted at the operational and strategic level thus providing an understanding of their capabilities and intent.


The third decision making process occurs during the execution of the plan. In this process, the plan is adjusted based on actors’ actions or the receipt of new information from the operating environment. Considering its reactive nature, this process is the adaptive decision making process.


Complexity theory looks for order in situations that appear chaotic, much as planners and decision makers try to make sense and understand the disorder of the hybrid warfare environment. Although complexity theory adequately describes the complex nature of hybrid warfare, for sure it is not a prescriptive decision-making method, says the author.



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