Blue Force Tracker for cyberspace?

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29, 2007. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

The U.S. military increasingly relies on the network for fighting battles on the ground and in cyberspace. But cyber commanders in southwest Asia don’t yet have the tools they need to harness the power of the network to wage war.

Air Force network operators need better situational awareness when doling out technology resources, according to a junior officer who recently returned from the Central Command area of operations. They must be able to determine which ground forces receive valuable bandwidth and network access as they perform real-world missions.

The military will also need the ability to see and track allied forces in the network to fight future wars in cyberspace -- a virtual version of the blue force tracking capability commanders use in the physical world to mark and identify friendly forces on the battlefield and to transmit that picture over the network.

“We need a Blue Force Tracker for cyberspace,” said Air Force Capt. Brian Hobbs, deputy chief of the Directors Action Group at Air Combat Command headquarters’ communications directorate at Langley Air Force Base, Va. Hobbs was speaking Jan. 25 at the Network Centric Warfare Conference hosted by the Network Centric Operations Industry Consortium in Washington, D.C.

In 2006, Hobbs was chief watch officer at CENTCOM’s Theater Communications Control Center in Bahrain. In that role, he was tasked to authorize network disruptions caused by limited bandwidth or system maintenance.

But Hobbs couldn’t perform the impact analysis to determine the consequences of his actions, he said. He feared warfighters engaged in battle operations might lose their communications through his actions.

Impact analysis should be automated, with a focus on speed and ease of use, Hobbs said. “I need a matter-of-fact representation, which conveys the impact of something happening on the network,” he said. “I need to see, visually, my cyber assets.”

Warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan praise BFT for giving them enhanced awareness on the battlefield. The system increases decision-making power, reduces response times, helps coordinate air support, and prevents friendly fire accidents, many soldiers said.

Perhaps most significantly, BFT drives decision making down the command chain, allowing junior officers to react to events without consulting senior officers who are removed from the action.

In cyberspace, junior officers must often make network decisions that affect ongoing battles. But young cyber commanders don’t have the clear picture they need to juggle limited network resources.

The net after next will require the true Blue Force Tracker capability to coordinate cyber forces fighting against a cyber enemy, Hobbs said. That is the longer-term challenge.

Conference attendees were intrigued by Hobbs’ comments. Many corporations have already contacted him to pitch ideas. Non-corporate members of the community are searching for the solution.

The commercial world has several network management software tools that could be adapted to address the cyber problem, said John Hudanich, an information systems engineer at MITRE Corp.

But warfighters who are fighting on the front lines are moving to Wi-Fi and mesh networking, which might make it hard to identify them, according to a professor at the Army War College.

Current network management tools can show which parts of the network are down, but they can’t do analysis, Hobbs said. “I need a lot more tools than just the plain-Jane network management tools that are available currently,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, commander of the 8th Air Force, explained to the conference attendees the ever-expanding role of cyberspace in warfighting.

“Cyberspace superiority is the foundation for network-centric warfare,” Elder said, “We’re not just treating cyberspace as an enabler as we did in the past. It is [now] a warfighting domain.”

The Air Force’s current cyberspace strategy centers around freedom of action, network system security and survivability of the network.

Elder said decision-making power should go to those closest to the fight. Theatre commanders should have the ability to control global effects, he said. This challenge is technical, philosophical, and cultural, he added.

The Air Force will establish a Cyber Command based on the infrastructure of the 8th Air Force to consolidate its cyber resources, the service announced in October. Cyber Command will open its doors sometime this year. It will grow into a major command, led by a four-star general, by 2009, officials have said.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.

Featured

  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group