By Tom Vanden Brook
January 29, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Ready. Aim. Click.
The military relies on computers and electronic communication to launch
precision weapons, spy on its enemies and communicate with troops in
combat. The Air Force is revamping its training to prepare its 320,000
airmen to protect its frontlines in cyberspace, Air Force Brig. Gen.
Mark Schissler said. The battlefield includes the Internet, cellphone
calls and signals that trigger roadside bombs.
"In cyber, the weapon of choice is going to be the computer that sits on
your desk," said Schissler, the Air Force's director of cyberoperations.
Every enlisted man and officer will be taught about cyberwarfare in
basic training, the Air Force Academy or officer candidate school,
Schissler said. About 100 students per year will receive more advanced
instruction at the Undergraduate Network Warfare Training course at
Hurlburt Field in Florida. Graduates of the six-month program will be
able to operate a computer like "a weapon system" and will be known as
cyberwarriors or cyberoperators, Schissler said. The first class
graduated last month.
The Air Force wants to build offensive and defensive capabilities in
cyberspace. A presentation from the Center for Cyberspace Research at
the Air Force Institute of Technology states the goal plainly:
The Air Force "can drop a 2,000-pound bomb anywhere we want. We need to
be able to do the same thing in cyberspace while denying that ability to
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne noted last year that terrorists
exploit the Internet and need to be fought there.
"These adversaries can communicate globally with their agents, spread
propaganda, mobilize support worldwide, conduct training, detonate
improvised explosive devices and can empty or create bank accounts to
fund their causes," Wynne told an Air Force conference.
Islamic extremists, Schissler said, run as many as 6,000 websites for
A cyberwarrior will monitor computers used by terrorists to learn of
imminent attacks and help thwart them, Schissler said. Wynne wrote in an
article in an Air Force professional journal that in cyberwarfare,
airmen in Colorado can use satellites to program weapons on an F-16 to
kill insurgents planting roadside bombs in Iraq.
The Pentagon acknowledges that its computers are attacked hundreds of
times each day.
Most of the intrusions are thwarted, but an attack last June disrupted
an unclassified e-mail system in the Defense secretary's office.
Schissler said there's no ideal cyberwarrior. "You have to be quick to
learn," he said. "That's the only real requirement."
John Pike, a defense analyst and director of Globalsecurity.org,
questioned whether the Air Force program would overlap with
responsibilities of the National Security Agency, which gathers and
analyzes foreign communication.
Jamming enemy air defense radar and protecting computers from hackers
have been part of traditional electronic warfare for the Air Force.
"This thing sounds like they've set up their own operation separate from
the NSA," Pike said.
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