US Air Force Seeks to Enhance Its Cyberwarfare Capabilities

The U.S. Air Force is openly soliciting technologies that would improve its capability of launching cyberattacks and gathering intelligence during cyberwarfare operations.

"The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center invites concept papers addressing Information operations (IO) capabilities focusing on Cyberspace Warfare Operations (CWO) to be administered by the AFLCMC/HNJG Program Office," the Air Force said in a broad agency announcement (BAA) released Aug. 22. "The AFLCMC/HNJG Program Office is an organization focused on the development and sustainment of Cyberspace Warfare Attack capabilities that directly support Cyberspace Warfare capabilities for the operations Air Force."

According to the announcement, the Air Force is looking for technologies and concepts that can be used in a cyberspace warfare attack to "disrupt, deny, degrade, destroy, or deceive an adversary's ability to use the cyberspace domain to his advantage," as well technologies that could result in "the adversary entering conflicts in a degraded state."

Technologies that can map data and voice networks, provide access to the adversary's information, networks, systems or devices, manipulate data or cause a denial of service of cyberspace resources, current and future operating systems and network devices, are provided as examples of what the Air Force is looking for.

The submission of concept papers is only the first step in a process that will result in contracts totaling up to US$10 million being awarded for the creation of prototypes.

This public solicitation of proposals in the area of cyberattacks is a bit unusual, considering that for the past few years the U.S. government has mostly been talking about developing cyberdefense capabilities.

However, the open discussion about the use of cyberweapons seems to have become a trend in the past few months.

Just two weeks ago, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General Richard Mills openly admitted to using cyberattacks in Afghanistan in 2010 with great success.

"I can tell you that as a commander in Afghanistan in the year 2010, I was able to use my cyber operations against my adversary with great impact," Mills said during a talk he gave at the TechNet Land Forces East conference in Baltimore on Aug. 15.

"I was able to get inside his nets, infect his command-and-control, and in fact defend myself against his almost constant incursions to get inside my wire, to affect my operations," Mills said.

Mills also revealed that the U.S. Marine Corps is building a dedicated support company of Marines that will increase the availability of intelligence analysts, intelligence collectors and offensive cyberoperations and will be deployed "in the appropriate unit, at the appropriate time, at the appropriate place, so that the forward deployed commander, in the heat of combat, has full access to the cyberdomain."

Last month, National Security Agency Director General Keith B. Alexander, who also heads the U.S. Cyber Command, made a very rare appearance at the Defcon hacker conference where he encouraged hackers to join the NSA and other government agencies.

In June, The New York Times reported that the U.S. and Israel developed the Stuxnet cybersabotage malware as part of a secret operation to set back Iran's nuclear efforts. The report cited unnamed sources from the Obama administration who had knowledge about the project.

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