The U.S. Army is conducting a new study to identify the cyber weapons it needs to develop, the service's top cyber officer said today.
"We're working hard with mission command as well as with [Army Space and Missile Defense Command] to work our way through an initial capabilities requirements document to determine what gaps we believe we have [in cyber and other elecronic weaponry]. . . to support tactical and operational requirements," said Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, commander of Army Cyber Command during a speech at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington today.
Translated into English, that means that the service will look at the specific cyber effects that it needs on the battlefield (for example, taking over an enemy's communications networks or wreaking havoc on a base's power supplies) and it will then figure out the new weapons it needs to produce those effects.
This study "will produce a set of requirements that will drive an expanded level of capabilities beyond what we have today," added Hernandez.
These weapons could be in the form of more traditional electronic warfare (EW) tools such as those carried aboard aircraft or they could be advanced software weapons.
"As we identify those requirements that I think we see -- again, cyber or cyber related, whether you argue that it's EW or not -- it's part of that capability set that I think we'll be looking for and it's any capability that allows us to achieve it whether its airborne on the ground or others," said Hernandez in response to a reporters question as to whether or not the service will look at airborne weapons.
Pentagon officials have traditionally been extremely tight-lipped about their offensive abilities in the cyber realm. However, this summer, Army and Marine Corps cyber officials acknowledged that they have conducted offensive cyber operations against the Taliban and that the services are developing ways for battlefield commanders to call for cyber fire support.
The Army is also developing a philosophy of "active defense" in cyberspace, much as the U.S. Air Force is doing. Active defense -- the tenets of which can border on offensive operations -- calls for defenders to snoop the networks of potential enemies and even hunt for hackers who are bent on attacking Army networks.
Also at the AUSA conference, Lt. Gen. Don Campbell, commander of III Corps, said the service and the nation as a whole must figure out rules of engagement for cyber weapons. "How far can we go to target this network or that network or capability or system, we're going to have to decide as a service or military," he said.
Hernandez did not say when the study will be done. Killer Apps has asked Army cyber for more information on this, we'll update when we hear back from them.
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.