Net Force

Net Force
Net Force

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By Robert S. Dudney
Editor in Chief
November 2007
Vol. 90, No. 11

The Air Force should ignore the complainers and press on toward its 
The Air Force, having openly declared its intent to dominate cyberspace, 
is now getting blowback in Washington. This is strange, given that USAF 
is a pace-setter in the virtual world and lives or dies by what happens 

USAF=E2=80=99s cyber stature is not in doubt. It has waged cyberwar in three 
recent conflicts. It has signed out a new mission statement putting 
cyberspace on par with air and space as a combat domain. It has 
activated a provisional major command dedicated to cyber warfighting. It 
has poured billions into the mission.

For all that, its actions arouse concerns. What is USAF up to? Where is 
it going? The service clearly has a big stake in cyberspace, but many in 
the defense world fret about its aggressiveness.

Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder Jr., commander of 8th Air Force and the service 
leader on cyberwar issues, reports that questioners often challenge him 
about USAF=E2=80=99s motives and willingness to cooperate with other services 
and agencies. =E2=80=9CThey say, =E2=80=98The Air Force put this [cyberspace] in its 
mission statement; do you think you own it?=E2=80=99=E2=80=89=E2=80=9D Elder notes.

To this, Elder has a ready response: =E2=80=9CNo, we don=E2=80=99t own it.=E2=80=9D USAF does, 
however, have a deep interest in what goes on in this vast netted world 
of data banks, sensors, and command and control elements. That is 
precisely as it should be, and the Air Force should ignore the 
complainers and press on toward its goal.

That goal is hardly a military secret. In a May 23 speech, Secretary of 
the Air Force Michael W. Wynne stated, =E2=80=9CIn the future it will be vital 
that we ... dominate cyberspace.=E2=80=9D

The basis for this belief can be discerned in =E2=80=9CVictory in Cyberspace,=E2=80=9D a 
study released in October for the Eaker Institute, the research arm of 
the Air Force Association. The author, defense analyst Rebecca Grant, 
expertly traces the development of cyber networks and how they largely 
define today=E2=80=99s Air Force. She writes that, in the 1990s, cyber power 
advanced from being a limited, intelligence-based tool to an actual 
combat instrument.

Grant emphasizes that USAF relies on digitized information to power its 
advanced combat systems and magnify targeting, attack, and other 
capabilities. =E2=80=9CIn fact, the Air Force=E2=80=99s formation, over the past decade, 
of secure networks for expeditionary operations has become central to 
the way it fights,=E2=80=9D she says.

The flow of data to command and control networks or airborne battle 
networks is the fuel of USAF might in the physical world. Cyber networks 
make possible what is termed =E2=80=9Ccross-domain operations.=E2=80=9D Simply put, 
execution of key tasks in =E2=80=9Cphysical=E2=80=9D air and space depends on =E2=80=9Cvirtual=E2=80=9D 
cyber functions.

Striking mobile targets, for example, would be impossible without 
networks in cyberspace to swiftly distribute images and signals.

Conversely, Grant warns, cyberspace looms as a potentially fatal 
Achilles=E2=80=99 heel. The military=E2=80=94especially USAF=E2=80=94has entrusted more and more 
of its warfighting =E2=80=9Cvaluables=E2=80=9D to these networks, she says, in search of 
faster communications and data transfer. That has created 

In Grant=E2=80=99s estimation, any adversary who can impair access to cyberspace 
can greatly diminish the speed, range, and flexibility that USAF 
currently provides to a joint force commander.

The networks comprise physical, virtual, and cognitive =E2=80=9Csocial=E2=80=9D systems. 
If any fail, combat capability would suffer. Thus, writes Grant, 
=E2=80=9Cdefending the ability to use established cyberspace systems that 
enhance the application of air and space power amounts to Job One=E2=80=9D for 

The Grant study suggests that, in a tactical sense, the bulk of USAF=E2=80=99s 
work focuses on defeating intruders via detection and deflection, before 
they can paralyze cyber systems, alter stored data, or steal classified 

Even so, effective defense of the networks requires offensive cyber 
weapons, too. These are among the most highly classified of instruments, 
but their use would be obvious. Elder told an Eaker Institute audience 
on Oct. 6, =E2=80=9CWe=E2=80=99re probably going to leave a little message that goes on 
the screen, that says, =E2=80=98This computer network attack brought to you by 
the United States Air Force.'"

Former USAF Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, another Eaker panelist, 
likened the Air Force approach to dominance of the air through defensive 
and offensive counterair operations, noting that both are vital to 

Still, Grant writes, three decades of experience suggests that 
cyberspace, with its multitude of public connections, never can be 
completely secured. That means the Air Force must prepare ways to 
continue fighting even when under virtual attack.

Claims of the critics notwithstanding, the Air Force wants as much help 
as it can get. It seeks to team with a large number of 
partners=E2=80=94military, civilian, law enforcement, commercial=E2=80=94in hopes of 
maximizing US defensive strength.

Example: USAF will fund 200 airman billets at the headquarters of the 
National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Md. They will support NSA=E2=80=99s 
network intelligence work in return for reciprocal NSA help in various 

The Air Force also seeks to establish a dedicated cyber unit in the Air 
National Guard in every state, Elder says.

In the end, though, none of these partners will be able to guarantee the 
security of USAF=E2=80=99s access to cyberspace. The Air Force itself must take 
the lead.

We are proud of the Air Force for moving out and meeting this challenge 
head on. In a sense, USAF has consciously made itself dependent on cyber 
systems that can be attacked and defeated more readily than is the case 
with its physical systems. Thus, it is now up to the Air Force to make 
sure the dangers are kept in bounds. The Air Force is uniquely placed to 
master the challenge. The technology and techniques are available.

=E2=80=9CIt=E2=80=99s time to get started,=E2=80=9D Jumper told the Eaker Institute audience. 
=E2=80=9CIt=E2=80=99s time for us to organize ourselves and get started on this problem 
in a formal way.... This isn=E2=80=99t about ownership. This is about starting 
down a path,=E2=80=9D at the end of which lies effective dominance of a critical 
new warfighting domain.

Copyright Air Force Association. All rights reserved.

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