Aug 27, 2007

Flying and Fighting in Cyberspace

A recent Air University Maxwell Paper presents a good survey on the topic of Cyberwar.

Flying and Fighting in Cyberspace (91-page pdf).

Just as the establishment of a separate Air Corps was necessary for the full development of airpower theory and air-mindedness, so is the establishment of a cyber command an important step in developing cyber power. The US Army Air Corps provided the sort of immersion in air thinking needed for theories of airpower to develop unconstrained by its ties to ground power. Air Force Cyber Command will create the same sort of environment for the development of cyber power.


One can create data, the basic resource of cyber power, at will; it is essentially unlimited and unconstrained as a “material” component of warfare. Data itself can have veracity; at the same time, it can be wholly or in part contrived in its representation of information, knowledge, and intelligence (and thus can be used to create a “fictive” universe)—a material component of the cognitive domain used to create influence effects. Unlike most material components of other operational domains, some of the data and information relevant to war fighting that reside in cyberspace are much more difficult to distinguish from data and information used in other societal activities.

The central challenge of war fighting in cyberspace thus becomes the war fighter’s ability to command, control, and manage a near-infinite, temporally rapid component (digital data) in establishing and applying force capabilities— reach, agility, presence, situational awareness, power projection, domain control, and decisive force—to achieve desired effects across the spectrum of war. This C2 task must increasingly occur in real time, not only at the signal and data levels but also at the information, knowledge, and intelligence levels. Because of the central role of the network in modern warfare and these unique physical attributes, both the content and the flow of data need to be characterized as distinct operational functions in organizational frameworks that support development of new cyberspace operating concepts.


This paper takes the position that cyber operations be designated as a mission activity focused primarily on noncontent operations involving content-based digital data and data flow. This mission category would encompass most network-warfare operations and only a limited subset of information-based operations (occurring in the cognitive domain)—as well as a limited subset of EW operations (occurring in the EM spectrum). We should broadly redefine the term "influence" as an effect achieved through the application of all types of military activity since almost all military operations have a role in influencing adversary/target-audience decision making as a first- or second-order effect. Likewise, we should address EW separately as a noncontent, energy-based activity rather than as an IO activity—as is currently the case.

To address the definitional, consistency, and complexity dilemma, one may propose a new conceptual framework for cyber operations within seven operational domains of war, one of which is cyberspace (table 3). This construct adopts a narrow definition of cyberspace operations focused on CNO actions on content data, as distinguished from operations involving derivative informational resources that reside, in part, in cyberspace (information, knowledge, and intelligence), as well as signature-based and energy based activities that also occur in the EM spectrum. An operational example of this type of organizing construct is used at the National Security Agency (NSA), which categorizes its signals-intelligence operations as communications intelligence (communications signals), electronic intelligence (electronic/noncommunications signals), foreign instrumentation signals intelligence (telemetry), and a small number of hybrids; further, for a range of functional and programmatic reasons, it maintains a separate IA directorate for CNO defense and related activities. The taxonomy has proven highly useful for manning, training, organizing, and equipping the NSA’s signals-intelligence and IA forces. Like the NSA model, table 3 distinguishes between informational- and energy-based activities occurring in the EM spectrum, associates the cyberspace domain with noncontent data and information actions in the information environment, and distinguishes a cognitive domain for information and perception- management activities (that are enabled in part, as are all other non-EM domain activities, by the EM spectrum).

Once you get past the doctrinal and organizational discussions, pretty decent overviews of Cyber ISR, Cyber Defense, Cyber Attack, as well as Cyber Weapon-funding are found.

This paper will likely serve as a useful primer for officers transferring into the new USAF Cyber Command.

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