Air Force to create Cyber Command

The service intends to apply laws of war, including proportional response to attacks

The Air Force announced plans this month to create a Cyber Command to bring full-scale military operations to cyberspace, although no one knows if the tactics and policies that the Defense Department uses to wage war will be effective on the cyber battlefield.

Air Force officials said the new command will coordinate offensive and defensive network and electronic warfare and raise the importance of cyberspace as a warfighting terrain. Its military objective would be to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum and defend the country’s critical infrastructure and assets.

The director of the Air Force’s Cyber Task Force said the United States can work to defeat terrorists by disrupting their radio-controlled improvised explosive devices, the satellite communications they use for planning attacks and the Web sites they create for training and recruiting.

Laws of Armed Conflict
Homeland security will be a big part of the command’s responsibilities, which will include protection of telecommunications systems, utilities and transportation, said Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, Commander of the 8th Air Force, who will lead the new command.

The Cyber Command will apply the Laws of Armed Conflict, which include having rules of engagement, delivering proportional responses to attacks and observing distinctions between combatants and civilians, Elder said.

A former government official said DOD has stepped ahead of the rest of the government. The United States hasn’t decided its overall strategy for protecting the Internet, while DOD moves into areas that law enforcement controlled in the past, said retired Vice Adm. Michael McConnell, a former director of the National Security Agency.

“What the Internet has introduced to us is that geographical borders are no longer as relevant, so the issue becomes authority,” McConnell said. The Air Force is going in the right direction, but coordination is necessary governmentwide, he said.

Recognizing an enemy in cyberspace isn’t easy, he added. “If it’s moving around as packets, how do you know the good guys from the bad guys? Digits are digits,” he said.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne announced the formation of the new command Nov. 2 at an industry conference in Arlington, Va.

“Cyberspace is a domain for projecting and protecting national power for both strategic and tactical operations,” Wynne said.

The service plans to expand the Cyber Command into a major command led by a four-star general, Wynne said. That would put the new organization on a par with the Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command, he said.

Major command status would give the Cyber Command the clout it will need to fight for cyber warfare resources, said retired Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege, former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

Raduege said equating cyberspace with land, air and outer space is critical to an effective national defense. “This is the way the world is moving, and we have to control, manage and protect our information networks as if they are a weapons system.”

Raduege cited other advantages of the Cyber Command. The community will benefit from the new career paths, training and facilities that it will provide, he said.

The Air Force will form the Cyber Command using the 8th Air Force, based at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. About 25,000 of the unit’s 40,000 employees are involved in cyber operations, an Air Force spokesman said.

The service expects to develop detailed plans for the Cyber Command organization in 2007. The U.S. Strategic Command will continue to lead cyber warfare at DOD, military officials said. The Air Force Cyber Command will feed forces to Stratcom and provide forces for other departmentwide efforts, such as the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, which operates and defends military networks.

The Cyber Command will also offer forces to joint force component commanders for network warfare; global strike and integration tasks; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Edward Thomas said.

The Air Force altered its mission statement in May to reflect cyberspace’s importance. The new mission, it states, is to “deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests — to fly and fight in air, space and cyberspace.”

“We are already at war in cyberspace,” said Lani Kass, director of the Air Force’s Cyberspace Task Force. Countries and terrorists use cyberspace to wage asymmetrical attacks on U.S. interests, she said.

Countries such as China have been trying to extricate information from U.S. networks for more than a decade, Kass said. She added that Chinese attacks on DOD networks are on the upswing, and China is now the United States’ peer competitor in cyberspace.

Panel assails plan for domestic cybersecurityThe National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, which Bush administration officials issued in 2003, calls on all Americans to secure the portions of cyberspace that they own, operate or use.

“Securing cyberspace is a difficult strategic challenge that requires a coordinated and focused effort from our entire society — the federal government, state and local governments, the private sector and the American people,” the document states.

The strategy encourages all home and small-business users to install firewalls and antivirus software and calls for a public/private discussion about how government can help businesses deal with cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

A congressional panel, which former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore leads, recently criticized the plan for being too lax. That panel’s latest report said the strategy lacks enforcement measures and relies too heavily on persuasion to get the private sector to act.

— Josh Rogin

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