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Space Command Plans for Computer Network Attack Mission

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2000 – If Y2K was the first major battle of the information age -- and by all accounts it was -- then it may have given the world a glimpse into how war could be waged in the future.

Oh ... and by the way, the future has arrived.

The U.S. Space Command, which only last October took over responsibility for DoD's computer network defenses, will assume the flip-side attack mission beginning in October 2000. Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, commander in chief of the Space Command, said DoD is moving forward to make computer network attacks part of the military arsenal.

Although Space Command is still in the early stages of developing a concept of operations and implementation plans, the goal of information attacks will focus on denying, disrupting and degrading systems, Myers said during a Jan. 5 Pentagon briefing.

"In the area of air defense, for instance," he said, "if you can degrade an air defense network of an adversary through manipulating ones and zeroes, that might be a very elegant way to do it as opposed to dropping 2,000-pound bombs on radars."

Myers sees Space Command as a natural choice for further developing the emerging capability. However, he does not envision computer attacks being launched by Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, but rather by warfighters on the battlefield.

"This is an issue of bringing certain tools to the operational and tactical level," he said.

He said Space Command's mission will be to coordinate the services' computer expertise, determine what network attack tools are available or could be developed, test capabilities and get those tools to the warfighters.

The Space Command chief, who will leave his post March 1 to become vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on March said computer network attack will augment, not replace, "kinetic" weapons, such as bullets, and bombs. It'll provide commanders with "one more arrow in the quiver," he said.

Myers acknowledged that computer network attack has already been used "on a case-by-case basis." The Pentagon considered using the new warfare techniques in Kosovo last year, but, he said, opportunities were limited because Serbian military forces were not heavily dependent on information systems.

In addition, he pointed out that just as with warfare involving conventional weapons, DoD must analyze policy and legal implications and establish rules of engagement. So- called dual-use targets and secondary and tertiary implications of computer network attacks are examples of legal and policy sticking points, Myers noted.

For instance, attacking a communications network may do more than shut down an adversary's air defense systems. What are the consequences when that network supports other needs having no direct impact on the conflict, he asked.

"We understand the effects of a 2,000-pound bomb. We know the laws of armed conflict, so we're much more comfortable in that realm," Myers said. It'll be a while before DoD warfighters are as comfortable with computer network attacks, he predicted, and keystrokes won't soon replace bullets and missiles.

"We are on the cusp of this," he said. "A lot of the existing capability is very immature, has not been tested."

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing: Special Briefing on Current Activities of the U.S. Space Command, Presenter: Richard Myers, General, USAF, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Space Command, Jan. 5, 2000
United States Space Command

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