The Future of Air Force Cyber Warfare

As part of the Pentagon’s increasing focus on offensive computer network operations, on August 22, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center issued a broad agency announcement inviting “concept papers addressing Information Operations(IO) focusing on Cyberspace Warfare Operations (CWO).” This pre-solicitation calls for ten page proposals with estimated prices and delivery periods for a wide range of new capabilities that will become the future of information warfare.

Unlike in most previous unclassified announcements which tended to focus on cybersecurity, the Air Force is interested specifically in what it calls “Cyberspace Warfare Operations.” CWO is the planning and use of military capabilities “to achieve the desired effects across the interconnected cyberspace domain.” It seems that the Air Force has adopted a mix of the Department of Defense definition of cyberspace as a domain and the Cyber Conflict Studies Association definition of cyberspace as all interconnected information technology. To that end, CWO is conducted through the interplay of hardware, software, and human interaction.

The capabilities the Air Force is looking for are Cyberspace Warfare Attack, Cyberspace Warfare Support, and related technologies. The first is similar to what has typically called computer network operations and is defined as the use of “cyberspace capabilities to destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, deceive, corrupt, or usurp” the adversaries operations in cyberspace. This appears to be more than simply attacking enemy networks as it incorporates a broader definition of cyberspace. Essentially, it encompasses any means to gain the initiative in cyberspace.

Cyberspace Warfare Support is actions “to search for, intercept, identify, and locate or localize sources of access and vulnerability” in order to identify threats, select targets, and plan future operations in cyberspace. Cyberspace Warfare Support provides the information needed for CWO and intelligence “for electronic or destructive attacks.”

The desired technology related to Cyberspace Warfare Attacks is broad, and includes network mapping, means to gain access to information, networks, systems, or devices, denial of service, data manipulation, and the “ability to control cyberspace effects at specified times and places.” The Air Force is also seeking technology and concepts for analyzing cyberspace capabilities offline such as information operation modeling, simulation, and performance assessments. In addition, the pre-solicitation calls for technology to increase situational awareness in cyberspace such as tools to visualize and assess non-kinetic cyberspace effects. Solutions are needed to support “rapid implementation of effects-based cyberspace capabilities” and other means of forcing the adversary to enter conflict in a degraded state.

Lastly, the concept papers may address new tactics, techniques, and procedures as well as mature technology applications relevant to Air Force Information Operations doctrine and strategy.

The Air Force Life cycle Management Center will be accepting the concept papers from February 13, 2012, to December 31, 2012. Proposals will be judged primarily on potential impact on Air Force Cyberspace operational capabilities, technical merit, and capabilities and relevant experience, weighed equally, with proposed costs and price and cost realism as a secondary criteria.

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