SECAF: Dominance in cyberspace is not optional

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. A.J. Bosker
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force's senior leader's message was clear - dominance in cyberspace is not optional and he made that case to attendees May 23 at the inaugural 55th Wing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Symposium in Omaha.

"Our own nation's neural network resides in cyberspace," Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne said. "Our military command and control, ISR, precision strike capability all rely on ensured access to the electronic spectrum.

"As the nation with the world's most advanced armed forces, we can't afford to risk losing the freedom of action in the cyberspace domain."

Cyberspace is the electromagnetic domain that facilities the 'information mosaic' providing national leaders and military commanders with timely, actionable and decision-quality data, he said.

"All of this data will be relatively useless unless it can be protected," he said. "Today, the Air Force can only offer limited options in cyberspace.

"At the same time our enemies, be they nation states or terrorists, can effectively maneuver in cyberspace and find opportunities to exploit," he said. "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.

"Russia, our Cold War nemesis, seems to have been the first to engage in cyber warfare," he said. "Over the past four weeks, it is reported that Russia has been conducting massive cyber attacks against the small Baltic country of Estonia - the first known incidents of such an assault on a state."

Estonia, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European Union members since the spring of 2004, is the most advanced cyber power of the former Warsaw Pact members, one of the most wired societies in Europe, and a pioneer in the development of 'e-government,' he said. Since April, a wave of Distributed Denial of Service attacks has swamped Estonian Web sites by overwhelming the bandwidth of the servers.

[Editor's note: Estonia recently removed a Soviet World War II soldier memorial located in central Tallinn, the capitol, for later placement in a cemetery. The removal of the statue sparked anger from Russia which cited the action as disgracing the memory of the Soviets who died fighting Nazi Germany.]

"The Russians have denied that this was their action, contrary to all the evidence," Secretary Wynne said. "However, the good news is the attacks didn't shut down this small country. But it did start a series of debates within NATO and the EU about the definition of clear military action and it may be the first test of the applicability of Article V of the NATO charter regarding collective self-defense in the non-kinetic realm."

[Editor's note: In the wake of Sept. 11, NATO invoked Article V that states its members considered the terrorist attacks on the U.S. an attack against all NATO members.]

The attack on Estonia is a reminder that the U.S. is not alone in cyberspace nor is it that far ahead of other nations or entities, according to Secretary Wynne. Therefore, to ensure continued access to and superiority in cyberspace, the Air Force recently stood up Air Force Cyber Command.

"Air Force Cyber Command will ensure the security and integrity of our network and at the same time build trust and confidence in the system as we use cyberspace to exploit new and future technologies," he said.

Secure and reliable information is an important enabler of both military and political options.

"A strong diplomatic negotiation usually relies on a strong military," he explained. "The stronger your ability to follow up militarily when diplomacy fails; the better diplomacy seems to work out."

One example of this cited by the SECAF is the recent F-22 deployment to Guam for tests and training. Shortly after the F-22s arrived on North Korea's 'doorstep,' the North Koreans agreed to shut down their nuclear plant.

"We'll never know and they'll never admit if the two are related but I can say that after the aircraft arrived, for some reason the negotiations went a lot better," he said.

Regardless of the chosen option, political or military, the foundation of success for each is the same - accurate, timely and trustworthy information.

"It is your Air Force harnessing and delivering that information to the right people," the secretary said. "Today, we dominate air and space. In the future, it will be vital that we also dominate cyberspace."