Air Force calls for hybrid approach to cyber warfare

Melding together cyber-era approach and traditional defense will be key to success

As cyberspace gains momentum in the increasingly contested space of today’s ongoing conflicts, the military must adjust its approach in order to take on an increasingly high-tech adversary, according to Air Force officials.

While traditional "fires" meant those emitted from conventional weapons, cyber fires mean non-kinetic computer network attack capabilities; integrating the two is vital to today’s multifront fights, said Maj. Gen. Ed Bolton, director, Air Force cyber and space operations, directorate of operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements.

That integration will also require improved command and control (C2), Bolton added.

“Joint force commanders and component combatant commands need control of non-kinetic tempo, timing and effect to integrate kinetic and cyber fires,” Bolton said, speaking at the AFCEA Nova Air Force IT Day outside Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21. “We need a hybrid of traditional and new, cyber-oriented capabilities and approaches.”

The new U.S. Cyber Command also plays an important role in the hybrid model.

“Operations centers at all the levels need shared awareness,” Bolton said. “If the requirements exceed organic cyber capacity, joint task forces can request CYBERCOM provide additional fires.”

According to Bolton, the Air Force is facing critical need to get the amalgamated operations up and running.

“We are a nation at war, and cyberspace is a warfighting domain,” he said. He highlighted challenges of modern warfare, including struggles to attribute cyberattacks, vulnerabilities at the seams between military and the commercial sector, and dependence on networks.

There is still much to be determined as the military gets its cyber operations rolling.

“We’re currently working to figure out the basic blocking and tackling – we’re working the policy, doctrine and strategies. We’re working the institutional cyber integration in combat, operation plans and exercises,” Bolton said.

That integration could include changing around traditional organizational roles, according to Brig. Gen. Ian Dickinson, director, Communications and Information and CIO, Air Force Space Command.

Dickinson also stressed the need for an approach that considers the bigger picture.

“We need to be approaching cyber as a domain; not as a mission or a mission set, but like space,” he said. “We need to consider how to support multiple missions and mission sets.”

To achieve that support, some officials called on the commercial sector to help the military take on an evolving war strategy – and a gap between traditional and cyber-era defense.

“That’s something we worry about – integrating our non-kinetic capabilities with space operations. We think it’s a good opportunity to partner with industry to develop and integrate these capabilities,” said Col. Kim Crider, mobilization assistant to the director, Communications and Information, and CIO at Headquarters Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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