Driving towards Success in the Air Force Cyber Mission

Article excerpt

Leveraging Our Heritage to Shape Our Future

Just a few decades ago, we viewed airpower primarily as rated aircrews operating combat aircraft and dropping bombs on targets. Today, it means so much more. For example, 16 of the 18 Airmen whose heroic accomplishments are highlighted in the latest edition of the Air Force chief of staffs Portraits in Courage are not flyers, and 15 are enlisted personnel.1 All of them, however, delivered airpower on the front lines of combat, whether driving convoys, disposing of explosive ordnance, providing security outside the wire, serving as instructors to Afghan and Iraqi forces, or calling in precision strikes from aircraft flying above. In fact, the most recent version of our capstone doctrine document, AFDD 1, Air Force Basic Doctrine, Organization, and Command, recognizes this changing nature of airpower by defining it as "the ability to project military power or influence through the control and exploitation of air, space, and cyberspace to achieve strategic, operational, or tactical objectives."2

General of the Air Force Henry "Hap" Arnold offered sage counsel when he declared that "we must think in terms of tomorrow."3 A large part of airpower's tomorrow will take place in the emerging operational domain of cyberspace. Rapid advancement in computer and communication technologies, as well as the tight coupling of the "digital domain" to physical operations, makes cyberspace increasingly important to military success. The challenges presented by cyberspace reflect its global nature, the political sovereignties it transcends, and the fact that operations take place at the speed of light. By no stretch of the imagination does the United States enjoy the clear, asymmetrical advantage in cyberspace that we do in the land, sea, air, and space domains.

We share information instantly across the World Wide Web by means of e-mail, social networking sites, and other forms of electronic communication. Although this ability has substantially decreased the time necessary to make decisions, it has increased our reliance on communication systems. Information flows through cyberspace at extremely rapid rates, and- unlike traditional kinetic attacks- cyberspace attacks can start, stop, and change completely within a matter of seconds . . . without warning. Consequently, our Airmen must be ready to respond at a moment's notice- and herein lies the challenge.

The proverbial 'laptop and Internet connection" provides entry at extremely low cost into the cyberspace exploitation game. As a result, the modern cyberspace adversary is, and will continue to be, highly agüe and innovative. We struggle to produce guidance and policies for cyber operations rapidly and accurately, but adversaries have proven quite adept at developing new, creative methods of cyber exploitation and attack, many times using the restrictions of our own legal system against us. The cyber environment changes so rapidly that one can argue that our policies may be largely outdated when we finally approve them. Furthermore, we face the real danger that we cannot develop doctrine and tactics rapidly enough to keep pace with changing operational threats in cyberspace.

For years, cyber espionage and exploitation have existed on a global scale. Not limited to nation-states, these actions have also involved actors from industry, organized crime, activist groups, and terrorists. Obviously, motives vary by group, but in most cases, cyber espionage and exploitation are driven by gains in finances and intellectual property. We in the Air Force are concerned about protecting our critical assets and intellectual property as well as prosecuting targets via cyber means as allowed by the United States Code and title authorities, To do so, we must create the thought leaders, cyber workforce, operational concepts, and technological capabilities to execute successfully during times of cyber conflict and/or cyber warfare. …