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Fighting in cyberspace means cyber domain dominance

WASHINGTON (AFNEWS) -- The Air Force officially announced creation of the new Cyberspace Command late last year. Now, just four months later, the command's leaders are talking about the way ahead.

The Air Force's operational Cyberspace Command, also known as 8th Air Force, is commanded by Lt. Gen. Robert J. "Bob" Elder. He said as part of an effort to develop better understanding of the cyberspace domain, elements of the command recently engaged in mock battle with aggressors and tactical experts from the Air Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

"For us, one of the big things was understanding what the cyberspace domain is and then what operations in cyberspace means," General Elder said. "We actually played cyberspace in a futures scenario and looked at how cyberspace could be used to enhance our contributions to a joint fight."

Though most of the details of the exercise were classified, the general did say it was beneficial.

"We found a number of different areas where this idea of warfighting in the cyberspace domain really takes hold," he said.

One of the primary goals of the new command will be to invoke a culture shift on what technologies are included in cyberspace and their broad warfighting and civil implications. Currently, many believe cyberspace is simply the Internet.

The National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations defines cyberspace as "domain characterized by the use of electronics and the electromagnetic spectrum to store, modify, and exchange date via networked systems and associated physical infrastructures."

The general said the Air Force has had to develop a more concrete idea of what it means to fly and fight in cyberspace. He said the command has been focusing on four key areas that help define its role as laid out in the Air Force's mission statement.

"First, we must control the domain," he said. "This is about operational freedom of action. We have to be able to protect the electromagnetic spectrum we use to communicate with each other, for example. We have to protect the electronics that we use to establish that domain and we have to protect those networks. Conversely we want to have the capability to deny those things to our adversaries."

Secondly, the Air Force will use cyberspace to integrate operations across the other warfighting domains.

"Cross-domain operations allow us to tie sensors together so we can bring in data from multiple sources, fuse it together and establish the situational awareness," he said. "That awareness is used in decision support systems so that a commander can make a decision -- a warfighting decision -- and exercise command and control over operations being conducted."

Thirdly, the Air Force will conduct offensive operations in cyberspace in much the same way as its adversaries.

"We might use cyberspace to go after an integrated air defense system or a command and control system that belongs to an adversary, or even go after some of their actual combat systems," he said. "We can disrupt a combat system by disrupting a sensor or disrupting the links that work in the sensor."

Finally, he said, the cyberspace will be used as an enabling operation to support its ability to do intelligence or influence operations."

The Cyberspace Command also is working with Air Education and Training Command to develop Airmen into the "cyber warriors" that will man the new command elements, General Elder said.

"We want to define what this career path looks like for a cyber warrior or cyber operator, and secondly, to figure out how to build the training and development program."

One of the challenges in developing and standing up the Cyberspace Command, the general said, is defining cyberspace and warfare in cyberspace.

"This is a warfighting domain and it is on par with the other physical domains," he said. "We have been working with the Air Force Doctrine Center to develop initial doctrine. We have developed an initial concept for warfighting in cyberspace that is now out for coordination. And we have been looking at, both in 2009 and 2010, the program changes that might allow us to really expand our capabilities to fight in that domain."

The new Cyberspace Command also is spearheading efforts to better protect the Air Force's networks, because, General Elder said, the networks are the foundation for superiority not just in cyber but the other physical domains.

"We have actually been doing quite a bit of work now to try to secure our own network," he said. "Just like in your ability to do any type of air or terrestrial operation where you must have air superiority, for us, that means we really do need to have the networks secured. Network security is the foundation for cyberspace superiority. So we have been working a number of things that allow us to better protect our networks."

General Elder will meet with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley in March to further discuss implementation of the Cyberspace Command.

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