Published: August 19, 2013
At Air Force Space Command, computer warriors no longer have laptops and mouses.
They have "weapons systems."
In a bid to merge the techie world of computer security with the sharply creased world of the Air Force, leaders this year designated six "weapons systems," which the Peterson Air Force Base command will use to wage war in cyberspace. They're a mix of hardware and software that are used to detect and defeat threats to the Air Force computer network.
"This is very real," explained Brig. Gen. David Buck, the command's director of operations.
The command is four years into its venture into computer warfare, and leads Air Force efforts in that realm.
Buck said the network of computers, wiring, switches and people is seen as a "domain" - a place where the military will fight, like the air and sea.
That means the tools used to fight - as inane as an email - are "weapons."
There are some serious advantages to the weaponry designation. It makes it easier for the Air Force to come up with cash to pay for them. The computer tools in the new definition are paid for under the same guideline the Air Force uses to buy satellites and fighter jets.
The computer weaponry will get an estimated $20 million in 2014.
The change also forces commanders to re-examine their computer systems the same way the Air Force would determine whether a bomb is effective.
"It adds operational rigor," Buck said.
The weapons carry names only an information technology manager could love.
The definitions of what they accomplish is slightly more digestible.
One would probe the Air Force's computer network for vulnerabilities and come up with ways to fix them. It will also "engage threats:"
Air Force language for attacking the enemy.
Another looks for information leaks on Air Force networks.
Most of the "weapons" manage and protect existing Air Force networks, ensuring that everything runs as planned while keeping watch for threats and actively defending against them.
A key system would cut the number of ties the Air Force has to the wider Internet to 16 - down from the 144 portals that now exist.
Most of the systems are in the testing phase now.
The "Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter System," used to probe internal weaknesses and take on threats, was deemed operational in June.
When the weapons become operational, they can be interwoven into Air Force war plans.
"We want to build and develop combat effects," Buck said.
But they're all being used now.
"We understand the cyber underpins every single operation in the military," Buck said.
Buck said the Air Force faces daily attempts to crack its networks.
"We get millions on the network every day," he said.
Along with the new weapons, the command is also building an eager computer warfare work force.
"They can legally play using their cyber tools," Buck said.