|Cyber-Attack Operations Near
By David A. Fulghum
Continuing development of cyber-weapons and experimentation with digital warfare are triggering optimism and the occasional operational U-turn.
In a few years, the U.S. Army, Navy and Marine Corps expect to be delivering airborne electronic fires and cyber-attacks for ground troops with a fusion of radio battalions, EA-6B Prowlers, EA-18G Growlers and a range of UAVs.
Who actually commands and controls the technology operationally and strategically remains an open question. The uncertainty was illustrated by the formation of Air Force Cyber Command, followed by its months-long pause in bureaucratic limbo and, finally, its re-designation as a numbered air force under U.S. Strategic Command. The institutional tangle was compounded because the services have still not produced a unified plan for electronic warfare and attack. It also contributed to two failures to get the Air Force back into electronic attack with an EB-52 long-range (80-100-naut.-mi.) standoff electronic attack aircraft. The design included the capability to electronically map and attack enemy networks.
"It's not about putting iron on targets anymore; it's about fighting the networks," says a U.S. EW specialist and senior technology officer. "But there is the difficulty that no one has owned cyberwarfare in the past. Now with the massive [cyber] attacks on Estonia and Georgia, it's a real threat and nobody has the charter [to combat it]."
"The organizations and lines of responsibility are still being worked," agrees Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). "Let me be honest, we're still at the stage of understanding what cyber is. Cyber-operations broach everything from the tactical to the operational to the strategic. How it is used determines what it is.
"My opinion is that we need to normalize operations in cyber just as we've normalized operations in other domains," he says. In an air ops center, "cyberwarfare ought not to be something in a special box that is conducted somewhere else. It needs to be part of the equation in determining a regional contingency plan in equal fashion just like air, space, maritime and ground components."
As cyber- and electronic attack technologies emerge, it is becoming harder to distinguish between cyberwarfare, directed energy and electronic attack, intelligence gathering and information operations. Rationalization of all these elements also is complicated by shrinking manpower and funding.
Meanwhile, there is the new concept of "hybrid warfare," a term coined by U.S. Joint Forces Command. Characteristics of hybrid war are a "very dynamic, uncertain environment [that creates] a lot of change and persistent conflict," says Vice Adm. Robert Harward, the deputy commander of USJFC. The command's operational predictions include increasing dependence on unmanned sensors and aircraft and small fighting units that will employ directed-energy and cyber-weapons.
What the military will look like in 10-15 years "is a little bit of a mystery and may be a little bit of a secret," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told troops in Southwest Asia. But the conflicts in that region are producing templates for future combat - in particular, "the marriage of combat operations and ISR, the ability to dwell over a target, and the ability for relatively small units to have situational awareness of what's going on [around them]," he says. "I think this use of ISR and the integration of intelligence and operations is something we will see continue. This is revolutionizing the way we fight."
Gates bemoans the fact that in some areas first-world nations are already falling behind the insurgents. "How did we end up in a place where the country that invented public relations is being out-communicated by a guy in a cave? Partly, we are still operating too much in a 20th century mind-set."
Air Force officials managing the intersection of ISR, cyberwar, directed energy and information operations echo that concern.
"We need new capabilities to deal with [the enemy's use of advanced technology]," says Deptula. But making the job more difficult is "more demand and fewer resources," he adds. "So we've got to come up with some new approaches. What makes the most sense, given that we're [also] reducing in size?" Part of the answer is high-speed technologies - such as cyberwarfare and high-power microwave (HPM) weapons, he says. But learning to employ them and assign responsibility for their use is still a work in progress.
"As we move from speed-of-sound to speed-of-light weapons, we're beginning to see the changes required to deal with cyber-operations," says Deptula. "HPM is going to be another game-changing capability. We're not there yet, but . .