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Air Force leaders to discuss new 'Cyber Command'

by Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
Air Force Print News

10/5/2006 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Air Force leaders are gathering in early November to discuss plans for creation of a new command, one chartered with flying and fighting in cyber space.

Cyberspace became an official Air Force domain, like air and space, on Dec. 7, 2005, when Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley introduced a new mission statement. 

In a letter to Airmen, they said the new mission was 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."

Now, Air Force leaders are planning to stand up a new "cyber command," to be responsible for fighting in that domain, said General Moseley.

"To deliver the full spectrum of effects we will evolve a coherent enterprise, with warfighting ethos, ready to execute any mission in peace, crisis and war," the general said. "We will foster a force of 21st century warriors, capable of delivering the full spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic, lethal and non-lethal effects across all three domains. This is why we are standing up an operational command for cyberspace, capable of functioning as a supported or supporting component of the joint force."

Air Force leaders begin planning for the new cyber command Nov. 16 at the Cyber Summit. During the summit, Air Force leaders will chart a way ahead for the Air Force's role in cyberspace, also called the cyber domain, said Dr. Lani Kass, director of the Air Force Cyberspace Task Force.

"The chief of staff of the Air Force is going to gather his senior officers and talk about the new domain, in which, according to our mission, we are going to fly and fight," she said. "Our objective is to come out with a course, a vector, that will set us up for transforming our Air Force, to get us ready for the fight of the 21st century."

According to Dr. Kass, cyberspace is neither a mission nor an operation. Instead, cyberspace is a strategic, operational and tactical warfighting domain -- a place in which the Air Force or other services can fight.

"The domain is defined by the electromagnetic spectrum," Dr. Kass said. "It's a domain just like air, space, land and sea. It is a domain in and through which we deliver effects -- fly and fight, attack and defend -- and conduct operations to obtain our national interests."

The cyber domain includes all the places an electron travels. The electron, which is part of the atom, can travel from one atom to the next. This concept is key to electronic communication and energy transmission.

An electron may travel from a cell phone to a cell tower, for instance. The path the electron takes, the shape of its path, the speed it travels, and the direction it travels are all critical to ensuring the cell phone works and that a usable signal is received. As part of a signal, an electron can travel from a handheld computer to a reception tower, over a wire to a telephone, to a television through an antenna, from a radio transmitter to radio, and from computer to computer as part of a network.

The electron can also travel, as part of energy transmission, from a microwave oven to popcorn seeds to make them pop, from generators over a wire to a light bulb, and from an X-ray machine through bone to a detection plate to make an image for a doctor to review.

The places where the electron travels is the cyber domain, or cyberspace. And the ability to deliver a full range of cyber effects -- to detect, deter, deceive, disrupt, defend, deny, and defeat any signal or electron transmission -- is the essence of fighting in cyberspace.

In the United States, Americans depend on the cyber domain for nearly everything they do. The cyber domain is the "center of gravity" for all aspects of national power, including economic, financial, technical, diplomatic and military might, Dr. Kass said.

"Cyberspace is something on which, as a technologically advanced nation, the United States is hugely dependent," Dr. Kass said. "You use your ATM card, you use your cell phone and you go to an Internet cafe. If somebody is pregnant, they go have a sonogram. If they are sick, they have an X-ray or an MRI. All those things are in cyberspace. Our life has become totally bounded, dependent on cyberspace. Therefore, the importance of that domain is not only for how we fight, but also for our way of life."

Failure to control and dominate the cyber domain could be catastrophic, both at home and on the battlefield, Dr. Kass said. An enemy who wanted to inflict damage on the United States could use the cyber domain to penetrate any number of online systems. Once they have gained access, they might be able to delete or manipulate information to create an effect.

"Picture for a second that you are trying to fix an aircraft and all the information in your computerized manuals has been corrupted and you begin to put things together backward," Dr. Kass said.

The attacks of 9/11illustrate another kind of effect that can be inflicted through the use of the cyber domain. The terrorists responsible for the attacks used global positioning system receivers to guide planes into the towers in New York. They trained on aircraft simulators, they used the Internet to recruit participants, and they transferred money to fund their activities electronically.

In Iraq today, America's enemies are using the cyber domain and improvised explosive devices to inflict damage on American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen.

"We just commemorated the 10th anniversary of Khobar Towers," Dr. Kass said. "What the enemy used for that occasion, and what the enemy is using in Iraq every single day, is the radio frequency spectrum for remotely detonated devices."

The Air Force now dominates both air and space above a theater of operations, so it has "cross-domain dominance" there. But the Air Force must gain dominance in cyberspace as well, because cyberspace superiority is now a prerequisite to effective operations in all other warfighting domains.

The U.S. military's control of air, land, sea and space depends entirely on communication and transmission of energy in its various forms. For the Air Force and its sister services, continued dominance in their respective domains means establishing cross-domain dominance across air, space, land, sea and now cyber.

"Cross-domain dominance means being able to deliver effects in all domains at the same time, at the speed of sound and at the speed of light," Dr. Kass said. "We cannot afford to allow an enemy to achieve cross-domain dominance before us. This is the nature of the transformational mission the chief and the secretary gave us."

While the Air Force develops mastery of the cyber domain, America's enemies are quickly becoming more adept in their own use of the domain, in part, because of the low cost of fighting there.

"Enemies who cannot match us on land, at sea, in the air, or in space, are exploiting the fact that in cyberspace you have a very low entry cost," Dr. Kass said. "Low cost is what makes that domain extremely attractive to nations, criminal and terrorist organizations who could not possibly attack the United States symmetrically. All you need to do is buy a laptop or a cell phone. As a matter of fact, you can just go to an Internet café and not even buy that stuff. You can buy yourself a phone card and you can cause high-impact effects."

Until recently, the Air Force had not named cyberspace as a separate warfighting domain or said it would fly and fight there. But now that the Air Force has recognized cyber as a warfighting domain, it will begin specific planning on how it can conduct both defensive and offensive actions there.

"What I see in the future is true cross-domain integration, to deliver effects, like we deliver in air and space, where the commander has at his disposal, truly sovereign options, as stated in our mission, which is the ability to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, and however we want -- kinetically, and nonkinetically and at the speed of sound and at the speed of light," Dr. Kass said.

The Air Force is still working on what exactly it means to fight in the cyber domain. While the Air Force knows some of what it wants to accomplish -- things similar to what it is doing already in air and space, for instance -- there remain challenges to working in the new domain.

"One of the most important things we do, in and for cyberspace, is enable the kill chain," Dr. Kass said. "It allows us to help find, fix and finish the targets we are after. The problem is finding the target. Most of the enemies are hiding in plain sight."

Finding an enemy in the cyber domain means sifting through the huge amount of data there. In the United States, or above a battle space, there are thousands of signals, and most of those are "friendly." The challenge is identifying the signal of someone that means to do harm.

"If you could use the cyber domain, this river of ones and zeros, to pinpoint where the bad guy is and who he is talking to, so you can get not only the small fish but get all his best friends and maybe his boss, then you are using cyber to its full capacity," Dr. Kass said. "That is a lot of data there, and the trick is to find him in that huge flow of information, that one piece that will allow you to find him, fix him in place, or track him if he moves."

Being able to discern what is a friendly signal and what is an enemy signal is one of the challenges the Air Force faces as it moves into the cyber domain. While the Air Force works on that challenge, it is also working to define which Airmen will be the ones to conduct cyber operations, what kind of training they will need, and what exactly their job will be.

"One of the issues we are going to be discussing is who is the cyberwarrior," Dr. Kass said. "What will he or she need to be able to do? What kind of educational skills, what kind of technical skills, what kind of training, and what kind of career path do we need to offer to those kids who are coming into our Air Force and wanting to fly and fight not only in air and space, but also in cyberspace."

Dr. Kass said the Air Force doesn't believe it will have trouble finding Airmen to fill the role of cyberwarrior, however.

"Kids today live on the Internet, they establish an alternative reality there," she said. "Getting those kids interested in doing something amazing in our Air Force across the electromagnetic spectrum should be easy. This is new and exciting -- where people who love to interact in the high-tech arena, for example, can generate significant effects for the defense of the United States."

Like in other domains, the Air Force will probably conduct more than just defensive operations. Fighting in cyberspace also means conducting offensive operations. It is unclear now exactly what will constitute an offensive cyber operation, but it is likely the effects the Air Force will eventually bring to bear upon America's enemies will look much like the effects America's enemies bring to bear upon America.

"Imagine, hypothetically, if I could substitute -- instead of the picture of a beheading on a terrorist Web site, a picture of Captain Kangaroo or an MTV show," Dr. Kass theorized. "Maybe I could break that cycle of recruiting more guys that want to come to our home and kill us."