Document created: 20 Feb. 07
Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Primer  Trimestre 2007


Air Force Cyber Command: What It Will Do and Why We Need It

Lt Col Paul Berg, USAF

 

Cyberspace CommandBecause of growing national security concerns about cyberspace, the United States has recently taken steps to prepare its defenses. In 2003 the White House published The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, a document that presents cyberspace security as a subset of homeland security and outlines a wide range of initiatives to “protect against the debilitating disruption of the operation of information systems for critical infrastructures and, thereby, help to protect the people, economy, and national security of the United States.”1 One of those initiatives calls for the government to “improve coordination for responding to cyber attacks within the U.S. national security community.”2 The US military answered that call in December 2005, when the US Air Force announced that the mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests—to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace.”3 That new mission statement marked a dramatic increase in the service’s focus on cyberspace; indeed, the Air Force has begun reorganizing itself to conduct cyberspace operations. Specifically, in November 2006 the Air Force announced plans to transform Eighth Air Force at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, into a new major command responsible for cyberspace operations. Scheduled to activate on 1 October 2008, Air Force Cyber Command will organize, train, and equip forces to preserve freedom of access to cyberspace, much as Air Combat Command and Air Force Space Command preserve free access to air and space, respectively. he 67th Network Warfare Wing, now under Eighth Air Force, and other elements already within the Eighth will provide the nucleus for the new command.

Air Force Cyber Command specific responsibilities will depend in part on exactly how one defines its operating environment. In contrast to the land and sea environments, cyberspace is difficult to define precisely, but leaders around the world realize that success in any type of warfare depends on protecting one’s own data while preventing adversaries from using theirs. According to Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, “ ‘Cyberspace is a domain for projecting and protecting national power, for both strategic and tactical operations.’ ”5 Furthermore, “the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff defined cyberspace as ‘characterized by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to store, modify and exchange data via networked systems and associated physical infrastructures.’ ”6 Such broad definitions cover many activities, including defending or attacking computer networks, using communication and global positioning system satellites, and conducting Internet financial transactions. Air Force Cyber Command may find itself involved in many of these activities.

However one defines cyberspace, securing it brings many of the same advantages that accompany the freedom to use other environments for peaceful purposes. Criminals, pirates, and terrorists—who have long prowled the land, sea, and air environments—will certainly operate in space when they can. In fact, they are already menacing cyberspace. Peaceful world commerce depends on security in all these environments. Just as the police/US Army, Air Force, and Navy/Coast Guard help protect land-transportation routes, freedom of the skies, and freedom of the seas, respectively, so will Air Force Cyber Command help ensure freedom of cyberspace.

Secretary Wynne observed that creation of the command reflected the existence of war in cyberspace: “This step simply recognized the . . . fact that significant Air Force personnel and technology have long been engaged in fighting in Cyberspace.”7 Military leaders know that their ability to fight on the ground, at sea, in the air, and in space depends on computer networks vulnerable to attack through cyberspace. As technology advances, the financial cost of establishing a presence in cyberspace and operating there will probably decline, increasing the risk that hostile groups may try to undermine the global information network that supports US and coalition national security. According to The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, “a spectrum of malicious actors can and do [sic] conduct attacks against our critical information infrastructures. Of primary concern is the threat of organized cyber attacks capable of causing debilitating disruption to our Nation’s critical infrastructures, economy, or national security.”8 Air Force Cyber Command will prepare forces for use by national leaders but will not try to control all military cyberspace activities because that realm remains an inherently joint environment requiring the interdependent action of many military and civilian organizations.

Air Force Cyber Command represents one more step in an ongoing process to safeguard the electromagnetic environment within which computer networks vital to military and commercial activities alike reside. Much work remains, however. The military organizational structure for cyberspace has begun to take shape, but we have not yet finalized many doctrinal and operational concepts. As the professional journal of the US Air Force, Air and Space Power Journal serves as a forum for discussing the evolving role of cyberspace in national defense.

 Notes:

1. The White House, The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (Washington, DC: The White House, February 2003), [iii], http://www.whitehouse.gov/pcipb/cyberspace_strategy.pdf (accessed 6 December 2006).

2. Ibid., xii.

3. MSgt Mitch Gettle, “Air Force Releases New Mission Statement,” Air Force Print News, 8 December 2005, Air Force Link, http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123013440 (accessed 6 December 2006).

4. SSgt C. Todd Lopez, “8th Air Force to Become New Cyber Command,” Air Force Print News, 3 November 2006, Air Force Link, http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?storyID=123030505 (accessed 6 December 2006).

5. “Air Force Prepares to Fight in Cyberspace,” Reuters, 2 November 2006, MSNBC, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15537784 (accessed 6 December 2006).

6. Ibid.

7. Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, “Cyberspace as a Domain in Which the Air Force Flies and Fights” (remarks delivered to the C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] Integration Conference, Crystal City, VA, 2 November 2006), Air Force Link, http://www.af.mil/library/speeches/speech.asp?id=283 (accessed 6 December 2006).

8. White House, National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, 6.


Lt Col Paul D. Berg
Lt Col Paul D. Berg (USAFA; MA, University of North Dakota; MA, University of Alabama; PhD, Auburn University) is chief, Professional Journals Division at the College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education (CADRE). Previously, he served on the Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) faculty where he directed the Air and Space Power Studies course. Colonel Berg is a command pilot with over 5,800 flying hours, mostly in B-52 and RC-135 aircraft. He is a graduate of the Air Command and Staff College resident program and the Air War College nonresident program.

Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University


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