The U.S. military remains extremely vulnerable in cyberspace.
With threats ranging from Chinese espionage to improvised explosive
devices, the U.S. Air Force has established a Cyber Command to
improve both defensive and offensive capabilities. Congress and the
President must fully support the effort to thwart America's
adversaries in the cyber domain.
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne recently mused about ways in
which potential enemies can harm the United States through cyber
operations: Insurgents can use a radio transmitter or cell phone to
detonate improvised explosive devices (the number one killer of
U.S. forces in Iraq); drug traffickers can use satellite phones to
obtain GPS coordinates for a nighttime cocaine drop; adversaries
can steal U.S. money with a laptop computer and direct it to
terrorist operations; foreign-government engineers can steal
military technology to build radar or navigational jammers to
counter American air superiority; and a hacker can crash military
servers to disrupt operations, delay movement on the ground, and
compromise command and control.
Secretary Wynne shows that adversaries' access to cyberspace is
generally uncontested. Meanwhile, the Chinese military has devoted
substantial resources toward computer warfare capabilities in
recent years. Department of Homeland Security officials recently
noted the exponentially rising number of suspicious Internet
activities being reported by government agencies.
U.S. Air Force Cyberspace Command
The new Cyber Command is part of the Air Force's core mission.
Beyond simply preserving Internet connectivity, securing cyberspace
allows the military to launch precision weapons, destroy multiple
targets simultaneously, collect infrared imagery, disrupt sensors,
jam equipment to prevent remote bomb detonations, and keep forces
around the globe informed and connected. According to recent Air
Force doctrine, cyberspace and space-based capabilities allow the
military to conduct global operations without leaving their
permanent base in certain cases.
April's cyber attack on Estonia by Russian hackers highlighted
the potential consequences for individuals and governments when
Internet connectivity is lost. Like private citizens, U.S. federal
agencies depend on the Internet for information and
The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace states, "spectrums of
malicious actors can, and do, conduct attacks against our critical
information infrastructures. Of primary concern is the threat of
organized cyber attacks capable of causing debilitating disruption
to America's critical infrastructures, economy, or national
security." The strategy calls upon planners to improve coordination
and capabilities for attack attribution and response and develop
networks to detect and prevent cyber attacks as they emerge.
The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review highlighted the need to
create military capabilities to shape and defend cyberspace as well
as maintain command and control capabilities that can survive
electronic or cyber attacks.
This year's Air Force posture statement says the Cyberspace
Command will "leverage, consolidate and integrate unique Air Force
cyber capabilities and functions across the spectrum of conflict
from peace, to crisis and war: command and control; electronic
warfare; network warfare; and intelligence, surveillance and
Strategy, Doctrine, Training, and
Air Force leaders are working diligently to create and codify
the military's cyber strategy. Its recently released Irregular
Warfare doctrine notes the expeditious value, increased situational
awareness, and actionable intelligence provided by cyber
capabilities that are well-suited for irregular warfare.
The Air Force is seeking to attain equally important offensive
capabilities in cyberspace as well. Specifically, the irregular
warfare doctrine states that a "computer network attack may hinder
or disrupt insurgent operations, or at least require them to expend
resources defending their cyberspace assets." This doctrine
capitalizes on the numerous opportunities to directly target
insurgents or to positively influence an online civilian
Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder, Jr., in charge of standing up the
Cyber Command, is currently developing a cyber concept of
operations. He is also working in tandem with Air Education and
Training Command to create for the military a professional cyber
education and to establish a cyber career path with the associated
training and development.
Military success in the 21st century requires the ability to
deter, and protect from, cyber attacks and to strike at enemies in
the cyber domain. Secretary Wynne summarized it best: "Without
cyber dominance, operations in all of the other domains are in fact
placed at risk."
The time is long overdue for the United States to do what is
necessary to secure cyberspace. While the U.S. Strategic Command
has overall responsibility for the military's cyber security
efforts, all the services must invest the resources and attention
necessary for developing offensive and defensive cyber
capabilities. Air Force leaders have looked beyond the mission in
Iraq and have started to prepare for the next conflict--which could
involve the cyber domain.
Chief of Staff General Moseley has stated flatly that the Air
Force needs an additional $20 billion annually to repair and
replace aging aircraft. As the Air Force continues to plead for
additional funding, Congress and the President must fully fund the
Cyber Command in next year's defense budget. Policymakers must also
support the effort to train professional cyber operators and
provide them with a rewarding career path in the armed
Eaglen is Senior Policy Analyst for National Security in the
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies,
a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.