The 21st Century problem for weapons builders is “how to put an effect on a target and only that specific effect, no more, no less,” says Scott O’Neil, executive director at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.
Among the high priority technology strings are how to better apply electronic attack, directed energy and computer exploitation weaponry.
“Sometimes that could mean putting a radar out of commission for five minutes while you get by,” he says.
It also could be a stealthy unnoticed cyberattack. And there will still be residual need to obliterate certain targets kinetically. Whatever the weapon – digital, directed energy or kinetic – the kill chain doesn’t change.
“You have to figure out where the target is, gather information about it and work through the command control process to get to the target,” O’Neil says.
For those used to assessing bomb damage, digital conflict will require considerable remedial work.
“Figuring out what we did is important, especially in cyber war,” O’Neil says. “Did it really happen to the extent we thought? We are looking at the test environment that we need for cyber warfare. It’s not clear yet who’s going to take the lead on that.”
Nonetheless, several agencies are wading into the new weapons technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) is eyeing the former Navy radar cross-section measurement ranges in the fabled and secretive Etcheron Valley at China Lake as well as its Air Force RCS facility equivalent on the outskirts of Holleman AFB, N.M. as possible sites for a national cyber range.
Sited in isolated, physically protected locations due to classified stealth work, the ranges now offer distance and mountains that allow them to escape electronic pollution. At these facilities, computer networks could be designed, installed and operated on a large scale to validate computer exploitation and invasion weapons and the counterattack systems needed to deflect or contain them. In fact, China Lake is already involved in designing cyber ranges for Darpa.
“We’re determining how the Navy and its ranges should play in the competition,” O’Neil says. “From an engineering perspective, how realistic an environment do we need and what about scalability? How do you create a network big enough to model what’s available world wide. That’s the battlefield now. So how much do we need to replicate, [and can we set it up] in a safe place, so that when we do a test, we don’t bring down the whole internet?”