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Collaborative Process Guides Military’s Cyber-electronic Future

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2008 – Faced with a rapidly evolving and borderless technological landscape, the U.S. military is reaching out to government, academia and industry for help in developing capabilities for protecting the nation’s cyber infrastructure, an Army electronic warfare expert said yesterday.

Col. Wayne A. Parks outlined for military bloggers the broad effort under way to keep up with technological change and the resultant emerging threats to the United States’ defense.

Parks is Electronic Warfare Proponent director of computer network operations and Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for at the Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The challenge is immense, Parks said, and research partnerships have been critical in framing the mission.

“Our understanding of the science of cyber-electronics is relatively immature at this point,” Parks said. “It includes the study of both the physical and the virtual.”

Part of the task is to ensure that the Army works through these concepts carefully and defines them in a way that doesn't limit intellectual exploration of potential and emerging concepts or capabilities, he said.

In that exploration, the Army must balance evolving how the military thinks about cyber-electronics with continuing to develop capabilities for the operational front, he added.

“There's been some tremendous things going on, especially in [Iraq and Afghanistan], where electronic warfare has helped in the operations and in limiting and reducing … the deaths in theater,” he said.

Operational requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially the need to defeat roadside bombs, spurred the Army to speed development of near-term solutions, Parks explained.

Simultaneous research and development has continued on mid- to long-term electronic warfare capabilities, he said, with the goal of keeping pace on both the tactical and strategic levels.

“Cyber-electronics could include or have distinct relationships between things that we call network operations, network warfare, computer network operations, space superiority, electronic warfare and the electromagnetic spectrum operations,” Parks said. “Each represents a different slice of the cyber-electronic continuum within which different capabilities must exist.”

At the strategic level, the Army’s two main responsibilities are maintaining its internal capabilities and networks to be able to deploy around the world and defending the United States’ borders and inside its borders, Parks explained.

But cyberspace has no distinct, physical borders, Parks said.

“There is no nation-state border where we're talking now,” he explained. “There are nation-state sponsors, and we have to look at it in terms of nation-state sponsors, as well as those who are not nation-state sponsors -- I might call them cyber-state sponsors -- who are really developing on their own out there.”

The military is working with interagency partners to officially define its way ahead with regard to defending areas of the financial, travel and related industries that operate across nation-state and cyber-state boundaries, Parks said. The same collaborative approach applies to fielding technologies, he said, and the Army has developed the mind set of “go work with your sister services as they get things approved.”

One potential technology is what Parks described as “self-healing networks,” virtual worlds wherein the system can isolate a weak point and regenerate or repair itself without human intervention. These types of networks could stand up to cyber attacks, he said.

(Tim Kilbride works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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