Congress is struggling to understand the rules of cyberwar, a task that is holding up confirmation of Army Gen. Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander as the first chief of U.S. Cyber Command.
The months of delay in Alexander’s confirmation is making it hard for each of the services to continue planning, decision-making and structuring its own organizations for the pursuit of cyber operations from the air, land, sea and space. Alexander is already head of the National Security Agency which has part of the responsibility for conducting and approving cyber attacks.
The Air Force’s 24th Air Force and Navy’s 10th Fleet, for example, are being stymied in the development and testing of tactical cyber weapons that can analyze, identify and attack command and control as well as strike systems on the battlefield. The Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and F-15E Strike Eagle, the Navy’s EA-18G Growlers and F/A-18F Super Hornets and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter all have advanced radars that can be upgraded with software packages to generate data streams – packed with algorithms for digital mischief – that can be beamed into antennas associated with enemy networks of interest.
For ground-based cyber operations, the Air Force is planning to start training its first two classes – a total of 60 persons for what will eventually be a force of 1,000 cyber warriors -- this summer that will make up the operational heart of the 6,000 person 24th Air Force. The battlefield will encompass not only desktop personal computers but also laptops, cell phones and whatever replaces the next generation of communication devices.
"It’s about the message," says Lt. Gen. William Lord, the Air Force's chief information officer. "Monkeying around with the network is not just about turning systems on or off. How, when and where do you deliver [the message]-- to [a targeted official's] house of office? [A cyber operation] is an instrument that we could use to change the behavior of a belligerent. A demarche, a well-placed e-mail or a telephone call from a head of state may create that change."
In fact, the combination of cyber operations, non-kinetic weapons and their blending with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is expected to change the conduct of warfare.,
The evolution of technology, information and culture underlies a movement to shift the Air Force, for example, away from the traditional segregation of operations and intelligence to their integration.
"As we move to designing every shooter as a sensor and every sensor as a shooter [including cyber attack and network exploitation], we will also need to merge today’s separate ISR tasking process with the current separate strike [planning]," says Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for ISR. "The [consolidation] will involve dramatic cultural changes and as with any large institution they won’t come easy, but they need to happen sooner rather than later if we intend to operate inside our adversary’s action cycle."
That consolidation also will tie together key ISR, directed energy and cyber attack components as sensors, like the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, becomes become a high-power microwave (HPM) weapon with the ability to infiltrate networks with algorithms embedded in data streams.
"AESA radar and HPM technologies are still maturing and as these technologies are being tested and proven, they are showing great promise," Deptula says. "I’m convinced these are break-through, 'game-changing' technologies that will directly affect the way we think about aircraft, airpower—and frankly—warfare in the future."
ISR will take on the locating of mapping for networks and the geolocation for cyber attack just as it uses video and other imagery to plan conventional bombing attacks.
"The Air Force's ISR Enterprise's role in the Cyber domain parallels ISR's role in the domains of air and space," Deptula says. "[Part of its mission] is to provide the ISR exploitation piece for 24th Air Force cyberspace [attack and defense] operations. Under AF doctrine, computer network exploitation is a part of signals intelligence and given that our AF ISR Agency is already conducting that mission, it is a natural fit for us."