Cyber War: Preparing Combat Forces for the Electromagnetic Spectrum
Interview with Major General William T. Lord Commander Air Force Cyberspace Command
Major General William T. Lord is commander, Air Force Cyberspace Command (Provisional), Barksdale Air Force Base, La. He is responsible for establishing cyberspace as a domain in and through which the Air Force flies and fights, to deliver sovereign options for defense of the United States. In his current duty, he is creating the Air Force major air command for organization, training and equipping of combat forces to operate in cyberspace.
Lord is a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biological and life sciences, and master’s degrees in business administration and national resource strategy. Lord has held various duties with tours in Europe, U.S. Central Command and the White House. He has had multiple staff assignments, including two major air commands as director of communications and information systems. Lord has commanded at the detachment, squadron, group, wing and joint levels.
Prior to his current position, Lord was director, cyberspace transformation and strategy, Secretary of the Air Force Office of Warfighting Integration and Chief Information Officer.
Lord was interviewed by MIT Editor Harrison Donnelly.
Q: What is the mission of Air Force Cyberspace Command?
A: The mission of the provisional command is to set up the activities, processes and manpower necessary for the actual command when it gets formed. We anticipate that being October 1, 2008, for initial operational capability, followed by full operational capability in October 2009.
The mission of that organization will be, as with other Air Force major commands, to organize, train and equip combat forces, in this case, for the conduct of cyber-operations. In the cyber-domain, we identify activity as establishing, using and operating in. We define the domain as the entire electromagnetic spectrum. We present combat forces through a combatant commander, in this case mostly U.S. Strategic Command.
Q: Why did the Air Force decide to create a separate major command for these functions, in contrast to the previous organizational arrangement?
A: Principally, the Air Force recognizes that the nature of warfare is changing in this century. It’s a recognition that the cyber-domain, along with the air and space domain, can produce integrated kinetic and non-kinetic effects more efficiently and more effectively for warfighting. For example, what if you could so disrupt an enemy prior to the conduct of kinetic combat operations that that enemy could not figure out what its command and control system was, had false data, could not see an attacking force, and was making decisions based on information systems that had been manipulated in advance of combat operations? What if you had so confused the command and control brain of the enemy that they don’t have the ability to go to war, or so degraded it that it makes them ineffective, before you drop the first bomb? And not just computer network operations, but is also about electronic warfare, electronic combat and even, potentially, directed energy.
Q: What are the current organizational arrangements for the command?
A: My boss is the chief of staff of the Air Force. It’s a provisional command, but it is eventually to be on equal status with Air Combat Command, Air Force Space Command or Air Mobility Command. We are stationed with 8th Air Force, which does the current operations in the cyber-strike arena. Major Air Force Commands are not warfighters, but are responsible for organizing, training and equipping combat forces to get ready to go to war. So we’re standing this up on a provisional basis here at Barksdale AFB, because the preponderance of the cyber-combat forces belong to ACC in 8th Air Force, and are presented through Joint Force Component Command Network Warfare and Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, which are component commands under USSTRATCOM. So it made sense initially to put this “organize, train and equip command” where the current combat operations are located.
Q: There is a lot of interest around the country in the ultimate location of the command. Where does that issue stand in the decision-making process, and what factors will be critical in the final decision?
A: More than 90 members of Congress and five governors have expressed interest in hosting the headquarters for cyber-command. The criteria are not so complicated, but have lots of moving parts. Are there facilities, infrastructure and bandwidth, and is there easy access in and out of the regional airport? What are the transportation nodes—all of those kinds of things go into the decision process. There are 56 bases that have been evaluated in the United States, and we’re in the process of narrowing those down to a much shorter list—fewer than half a dozen, so we can go out and begin the real detailed site surveys of those installations. Getting down to that list will take us several months.
There’s been an enormous amount of interest, but as I’ve told some of the communities, they should keep in mind that this is a cyber- or virtual command. We already have elements in more than a dozen locations in the U.S., which are not going to move. Communities should focus on what they can do to support the Air Force and the nation as we develop this capability, and not about the few hundred people who might come to the local area.
Q: What existing organizations or functions have been or will be incorporated into the command, and what will the command ultimately be in terms of structure, number of personnel, facilities and so on?
A: The headquarters function will be between 400 and 500 people, and will include operational elements of the Air Force Information Operations Center. We will stand up an electronic warfare wing, and a cyber-wing. We will incorporate the existing wing of the 67th Network Warfare Wing. None of these organizations will change their location. There will be elements from Air Force Space Command that will be chopped over to us. We’re looking at the potential for the 193rd Wing, a National Guard unit, and there are Reserve Associate units that we’re looking for. The headquarters element is really the only new element, with the rest principally existing units that would be formed into wings under a numbered Air Force.
Q: How will the issues of recruiting, training and equipping the Cyberspace Command be addressed?
A: Air Education and Training Command is responsible for recruiting and training, but we will be doing the equipping, and setting the requirements for training.
On recruiting, we need to look for what might be a different kind of cyber-warrior. Maybe it’s no longer the young person who can do 50 pushups and run a mile and a half in less than nine minutes. Maybe it’s the young American men and women today who are quite tech-savvy. They can get on a cell phone with Bluetooth, text-message, listen to iPhones and iPods, and are familiar with avatars in Second Life—and they do it all simultaneously! It potentially is a different kind of recruit, but maybe it’s not a person whom we bring into the Department of Defense at all. Maybe it’s a government civilian or contractor.
You want to harness the brain power of the type of employees that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft and other companies have, with lots of different skills. The other thing is that it’s not all about computers. It’s not just people with computer science or electrical engineering degrees, but also behavioral scientists and cultural linguists. It’s the people who are also smart enough to create the message that we want to deliver to an enemy to change their behavior. Those skills are much greater than just manipulating the network—it’s manipulating the message as well.
Q: What about training and equipping?
A: We are working with Air Education and Training Command, the Air Force Academy, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Air University to develop the kernels of curriculum changes that we’ll have to make to our schoolhouses, not just at the basic levels, but also at the tech-training schoolhouses, the advanced-course schoolhouses, and even at the Ph.D. level, in our weapons schools at Nellis Air Force Base.
As for equipping, in this business that’s a lot about software as well as hardware. There are software tools that we have, and are acquiring, that do electronic warfare, computer network defense, and exploitation and attack. Software tools are relatively inexpensive compared to major weapons systems. There is no nation today that’s going to go head to head with the U.S. armed forces in kinetic combat capability. They can’t afford to build the equivalent of the F-22. But the price of admission into this kind of warfare is a laptop computer and a connection. So all of a sudden, you can begin to have peer competitors, where we didn’t have peer competitors in kinetic warfare. It makes this a complex area. Moreover, while it may take 15 years to develop a new fighter aircraft, we can’t stand to have tools or combat systems in this business take 15 years to develop. We might have to develop them in weeks and then throw them away 18 months later when the adversary has figured out how to thwart those tools. It’s a different dynamic for acquisition than much of the kinetic capability that we have today.
Q: How would you describe the overall threat facing the Air Force in the area of computer network defense, and identify categories of threats that you face?
A: There are a couple of categories. There’s the cyber-criminal, who is looking for identity theft or money. There is the cyber-terrorist, who wants to disrupt, dissuade or deter us from doing something, and certainly, there is the nation state, some of which are out to interrupt U.S. interests anywhere in the world.
We get about 3 million attempted penetrations of the Department of Defense network a day. Just in the computer network arena, there is lots of surreptitious activity going on every day. In some ways, you could say we’re at cyber-war with somebody all the time.
Q: What lessons can you draw from computer network attacks and defenses in the wider, non-classified world, for example including the experience of the nation of Estonia not long ago?
A: One of the lessons is that you probably can’t build a system that will always keep everyone out. So we need to develop a tiered defense. As with a physical defense, there is a gate that protects the external perimeters of our bases. But we also have roving patrols on the inside, and certain high-value facilities that have alarms and are individually guarded. At certain threat conditions, we arm everyone in the compound. We need to have the same kinds of things to be able to fight when an enemy gets inside our network perimeter. We have evidence of penetrations, and you’ve seen those in the open press. So it’s not only defense, but defense in depth.
There are lessons that we’ve learned from places like Estonia. I had the opportunity to meet with the minister of defense of Estonia recently, to talk about their experiences. Interestingly, as a member of NATO, if they had been blockaded by another country, under Article 5 of the NATO Charter, NATO would have come to their rescue. But when you’re attacked by a million different computers from 75 countries, and it’s difficult to find who the perpetrator is, what do you do?
That drives me to think about how to partner with other organizations, including military, intelligence and other government activities, such as the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency and the Department of Justice, because these events will happen so quickly, and our first indication may be somewhere that doesn’t fall under DoD responsibilities. We may wonder if it’s a criminal trying to break into a bank, or a nation trying to shut down our financial industry. We have to have a method—and we’ve developed some close ties with the organizations just mentioned—to be able to flow from the Title 50 authorities to the Title 10 authorities to Title 18 law enforcement authorities, and be able to hand off to one another in a relatively smooth manner.
Q: You have spoken of the possible offensive role of the command in cyberspace. What is the current strategic thinking on the need for and nature of offensive operations?
A: We don’t like to talk much about our offensive capabilities, but every once in a while, you have to go on the offense. Just as we do with our kinetic weapons, we want to make sure that our non-kinetic weapons—our electronic warfare, space systems and cyber-systems—have the ability to beat on the door of an adversary and try to change their behavior. That’s really what it’s about. It’s not always about destroying things, but about changing behavior, so that a potential enemy concludes that the cost of whatever they had in mind is too great, and will stop. To be able to do that, you have to be able to take the battle to the enemy sometimes. So we have developed some of those capabilities. Sometimes you have to be able to whack somebody in the nose.
Q: How will you build upon the Air Force’s resources in the area of electronic warfare?
A: We have some wonderful capabilities, but they have languished, largely because of budget concerns. I hope I can bring initiatives to modernize and improve our EW capabilities to the Air Force’s corporate structure for funding as capabilities under the cyberspace rubric. I’m excited about being able to help our EW warriors to modernize their capabilities.
Q: Other organizations in the military, intelligence community and other government have responsibilities in this area. How will you and other leaders divide up and coordinate these roles?
A: Right now, it’s a loose confederation of people who know that this is important work for the nation, and have to find their lanes in the road. We know that DHS, DoJ and NSA have missions, just like DoD, but all are different. In this business, they have become closely related, so our relationships with one another are much better. Not that it was bad before, but in some cases it didn’t have to be as close, but now it does, because of the nature of the speed at which these types of activities can occur. Our relationships are good, but nascent, with many. It’s an eclectic crowd that has gotten much closer in the past few years.
Q: You have held a number of jobs in the information and communications field, including most recently director, cyberspace transformation and strategy within the Air Force Office of Warfighting Integration and chief information officer. How have your past experiences shaped your view and approach to your current duties?
A: Because my duties have been closely aligned with our Air Force operators, it has allowed me to bring the operational focus to the information community, along with providing some different kind of support to the EW and directed energy business. I’m fortunate to have worked for some wonderful senior leaders in the Air Force, who understand this capability and its importance to the Air Force, and ultimately to the nation. The chief of staff and secretary of the Air Force have been hugely supportive of this. This wasn’t invented from below, but was recognized as an important warfighting capability that the Air Force needs to bring to the joint force commander, and I am fortunate to be part of it. A combination of a little technical experience and some hands-on experience working for the operational community, I hope it allows me to bridge the gap between our technical and our warfighting communities.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Thank you for this interview with a supportive readership of a great magazine. I’m excited to be able to talk about the newest and coolest things that are going on in the Air Force. The Air Force is well positioned to take on new technology, and have been for the past 60-plus years. We are leaders in transforming technology into warfighting capability, and doing so rapidly. It’s an exciting and fun time, and I think it is a transformational time, both inside the Air Force and for the warfighting future.Source: