New Air Force Command to Fight in Cyberspace

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2006 - The Air Force's new cyberspace command will redefine air power for the 21st century and bring the fight to a realm that the enemy has already exploited extensively, the general in charge of the new command said here yesterday.

Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne announced yesterday that the 8th Air Force, led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, will become the service's new cyberspace command, focused on taking the fight against terrorism to the technological realm.

In December 2005, the Air Force mission statement was amended to include cyberspace as an operational domain -- along with air and space. The service stood up a cyberspace task force in January to gather data and explore how the service can operate in cyberspace.

"There's definitely a lot more interest in using cyberspace as a warfighting domain, at least with our adversaries, and that's what we're trying to counter," Elder said at a media roundtable yesterday. "If they want to fight with us in cyberspace, we're willing to take them on there, too."

Cyberspace, as it will be covered by the new command, includes the Internet and other computer networks, as well as the electromagnetic spectrum, which encompasses many things people rely on every day, Elder said. Terrorists have already exploited the electromagnetic spectrum in many ways, Lani Kass, director of the cyberspace task force, said at the roundtable. She noted the use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq, and the Sept. 11, 2001, masterminds using the internet and satellite communications to plan the attack, and simulators to practice the attack.

"We are already at war in cyberspace," Kass said. "Our enemies are using the very low technical skills and low entry costs associated with being able to function in this domain in order to attack us asymmetrically."

The Air Force has been operating in cyberspace for some time, but the efforts have been widely dispersed, Elder said. Also, cyberspace efforts until now have been mostly focused on defensive operations to protect the Air Force's network, he said.

"The cultural change is that we're going to treat it as a warfighting domain, and we're going to actually focus attention and put priority on doing things in cyberspace and then balance it against air space and even terrestrial operations," he said.

The command's new capabilities will include the ability to attack other computer networks and will mostly be focused on being proactive in the cyberspace realm, Elder said.

The use of IEDs in Iraq is an example of the U.S. being reactive to electromagnetic threats, Kass said. No one was expecting the terrorists to use IEDs, so U.S. officials had to scramble to find a way to combat them, she explained.

"Having a command there that thinks about this issue exclusively, focuses not only his organizational capabilities but his mind as a warfighter, he can not only respond to the threat of today, ... he can plan and think about the fight we are going to be in tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and 20 years out," she said.

Elder said he will take four months to gather experts from the military and academia to decide how the command should be set up and what capabilities are needed. He noted that 8th Air Force already has many cyberspace capabilities, such as surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence, battle management, and electronic warfare, but those capabilities aren't focused. The task now is to develop "cyberspace warriors" who are skilled and able to react 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to any threats, he said.

The threats to the U.S. in the cyberspace domain are real, Kass said. The Air Force's new command will not be about a bunch of computer hackers coming up with ideas, she said, but about trained professionals working to protect a technological realm that almost everyone depends on every day. She noted that an attack on an air traffic control system, or a system controlling oil refineries or a chemical plant, would wreak unimaginable havoc.

"In this domain, like in any warfighting domain, there is no place for amateurs," she said.

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