JEREMY SINGER, BOSTON — Much of the public discussion regarding potential threats to U.S. space systems has focused on jammers and weapons that could damage or destroy satellites via collision. However, senior military officers also are worried about attacks through cyberspace, a threat they constantly confront today.
In a brief interview following an April 30 luncheon speech at the 6th Responsive Space conference in Los Angeles, Maj. Gen. Thomas Deppe, deputy commander of Air Force Space Command, said the command’s systems are facing cyber attacks on a daily basis.
If successful, such attacks could potentially be “more damaging, more disruptive,” than kinetic energy anti-satellite weapons, Deppe said.
Cyberspace has risen in importance to the Air Force to the extent that it now is viewed with the same importance as air and space, according to Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of Air Force Space Command.
The service’s work in each of the three domains is so interdependent that loss of control in one likely would result in disaster for all three, Kehler said during an April 7 interview at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Some of the Pentagon’s most critical systems are not connected to the Internet, and likely would be safe from most cyber attacks, according to Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, which has responsibility for the operation of the military’s computer networks.
“My concerns would be not so much on the strategic deterrent side but on the broader way that our military fights conflicts and the way we exchange information in just normal conflicts, even the ones we’re involved in today,” Chilton said in a March 4 breakfast with defense reporters in Washington. “And like space, I believe we have become dependent on cyberspace for transmitting information, doing analysis, and for indeed transmitting the orders on how we conduct operations.”
Chilton says the offensive aspect of cyberspace becomes more important as the Pentagon seeks to add more non-kinetic options to its more “nuanced” arsenal of deterrents for prompt global strike to face post-Cold War threats rather than simply rely upon nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
However, U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom), which was saddled with a variety of missions in a reorganization following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, needs more assistance in the cyber arena from the military services if the mission is to achieve its full potential, Chilton said.
“If we’re going to do the missions chartered to Stratcom to defend and to be able to provide attack options, we’re going to need organizations within the services that are organized, trained and equipped to do those missions,” Chilton said. “And for some of the high-end skill sets, we don’t have enough of those people. The people will range from high-end to very low-end skill sets, but right now I can’t say ‘I need a squadron of this type of people, can you give me a squadron, can you give me a wing, can you give me a platoon?’ Cyber warriors, if you will.”
For its part, the Air Force set up a temporary Cyberspace Command at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., in October 2007. The service is evaluating possibilities for the command’s permanent location, and could announce the choice as early as September 2009, according to a fact sheet posted on the command’s Web site.
Regardless of Cyberspace Command’s final location, the organization likely will look toward Colorado Springs, which hosts Air Force Space Command, Northern Command and the Air Force Academy, frequently for assistance with the mission, according to a fact sheet posted on Cyberspace Command’s Web site.
Cyberspace Command has two officers charged with forging relationships with those organizations, according to the fact sheet. Their work includes exploring potential areas of overlap between Cyber Command and the Colorado Springs organizations, finding ways to address seams between the two that require more attention and opportunities for partnership.
“Dominance of the cyber domain has become a prerequisite for global freedom of action as much as air and space superiority,” according to the fact sheet. “However, it cannot occur in a vacuum and will require a great deal of effort to integrate it into the overall effort.”