Air Force pushing ahead on cyberspace

The Air Force is finalizing a doctrine that will guide its operations in cyberspace, a domain in which the service plans to invest $5 billion during coming years as it works to establish its new Cyber Command.

The Air Force has taken to the airwaves and newspapers to promote its new cyberspace initiative that officials say is an important domain for the service. It anticipates the program will involve about 8,000 people and the reallocation of $5 billion in existing money. Currently, about 160 people work on the program  at about 12 locations.

The Cyber Command has been running on an interim basis at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La., until a final location is chosen at the end of 2008 or early in 2009.

“While [the doctrine] is based on theory, it’s not based on lots of theory or experience…we are not completely nascent in this ability to conduct this kind of warfare,” said Maj. Gen. William Lord, commander of the Air Force Cyber Command.

Lord said the doctrine likely would be released in the next few months.

Speaking at a panel at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, Lord said more conversation between agencies and governments on cybersecurity was important because of the cross-cutting nature of a cyber incident. He added that the Air Force has had to forge close relationships with other government agencies — including the Homeland Security and Justice departments — because of cyber incidents involving military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Lord said increasing conversation on cyberwarfare could also serve as a deterrent as did conversations about weapons of mass destruction 30 to 40 years ago. Lord said he was hopeful that talk of  so-called weapons of mass disruption could spur similar international agreements that would prevent attacks.

The Air Force is training and making ready its cyber expertise in both defensive and offensive operations so they can be used by combatant commanders either in strategic commands or eventually in a specific theater.

“The price of entry into this kind of warfare is very, very low,” he said. “We talk about this as an asymmetric advantage: I believe it’s also an asymmetric threat — certainly to our Air Force.”

Lord said a lot of work is needed across the U.S. government and internationally to establish understandings and protocol in cyberspace.

“This is soup that is not cooked yet," he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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