Geeks are the future of warfare

Cyber warfare will require a new type of warrior, says LandWarNet’s opening speaker

Retired Army Reserve Maj. Vincent Viola gave a room packed with most of the 8,000 attendees at LandWarNet 2011 his view of the soldier of tomorrow. “I think the army of the future will be built around a gestalt of geekdom,” said Viola, who served in the 101st Airborne.

Those geeks will be a critical part of the shift to cyber warfare that’s occurring as military forces become more networked. As the opening speaker today after Army CIO Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence, Viola focused on the need for technologists who can extend network capabilities to the edge and use their skills to attack adversaries.

“We’ve got to find geeks who love their country,” said Viola, who became a trader and then chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange after leaving the Army and is now CEO of Virtu Financial, an electronic trading firm. “At my company, I’ll gladly trade 10 pull-ups and five minutes on a run for 20 IQ points and heart.”

He contends that battlefields are changing dramatically, with a shift from topography to topology. The focus on networks means that “the Army is going to have to rethink the model of a warrior,” he said.

Those cyber warriors must be measured by different metrics, and managers must understand that in this new world, not everything will work as planned. “In the cyber domain, you must create a push for soldiers to fail — and fail miserably,” said Viola, who founded the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

He cited the aftermath of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as an example of the way warfare has changed. Once the Indian government determined that Pakistan had been involved, it initiated a series of cyberattacks, which were followed by retaliatory cyberattacks by the Pakistanis.

“Twenty years ago, the response would have been missiles and gunfire,” Viola said.

Network specialists will need to plan far into the future to stay ahead of adversaries who come from many sources, including hackers and foreign and domestic foes. There’s a very low barrier to entry for cyber adversaries — they need little more than a computer, he said.

The low cost associated with cyber warfare is also evidenced at the Combating Terrorism Center, which monitors many activities and issues regular reports. Viola said its modest annual budget of $1 million is possible because employees are given the freedom to operate as they see fit.

“We tell them they’re entrepreneurs in the business of protecting our country,” he said.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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