The U.S. military needs to train and recruit more “cyber warriors,” and improve its offensive and defensive capabilities in cyberspace, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said during a visit to Stanford University last week.
“Today we’re not sufficiently strategizing, organizing, training or equipping to be cyber warriors,” James said at a roundtable discussion on cyber policy. “We’ve made progress over the last year or two, but it’s not good enough. We need to do more, to be open to different ways of bringing people on and retaining people so we can bring the best and brightest into our ranks.”
She called on Silicon Valley to “move past the debate over Edward Snowden and the debate over encryption” and help the military combat cyber threats to U.S. national security. “Particularly here in Silicon Valley, how can we get better access…and work better with some of the great innovations here in Silicon Valley?” she asked.
Stanford University was just one of the stops on James’ schedule, which also included meetings at Google, Facebook, FireEye and In-Q-Tel (the investment arm of the U.S. intelligence community).
James said she’d come to Silicon Valley to “listen and learn” and search for “the next big thing” – from drones to big data.
“We’re actively on the hunt for what will be our next advantage as the military,” she said.
She said the military was working to streamline its procurement process so it could move more quickly fund new technological development using what she called “rapid acquisition.”
“You can’t build the next fighter aircraft under this, but you can build smaller types of technological products and get something under contract within 30 days,” she said.
Protecting networked weapons systems and critical infrastructure at military bases were two top priorities for the Air Force, James said.
It is also working to develop better defensive capabilities to protect satellites and other assets in space, and prevent adversaries from disabling critical missile warning and global positions systems, James said.
“Space had been a fairly tranquil, uncontested area,” she said.
“Nowadays, space is much more contested and congested. There are many more companies and countries up there.
“If a conflict on earth bleeds into space in some way, how do we defend our constellation?”
Military operations centers will need to integrate more cyber capabilities in order to create more options for defense and offense, James said.
“What we need in future is a multi-domain operations center where we’re fully plugged in terms of cyber and space...so that a commander at every turn has military options that go beyond bombing a target,” she said.
“The President, the Secretary of Defense, everybody is pressing, ‘We want more options. We want more targets.’.”
But James acknowledged that even digital conflict could cause collateral damage in the physical world.
“Let’s say we take out a power grid to shut down a particular part of a country to stop a military action,” she said. “Maybe you’d shut off power to a hospital and people would die.”
That’s why cyber operations would continue to be governed by the law of armed conflict.
“Before a cyber target would be hit, there would be a legal decision with other parts of the government,” James said. “It’s not solely [up to] a commander on the scene.”
In an indication of the growing importance of cyber operations, political and military leadership in Washington are considering elevating U.S. Cyber Command from under U.S. Strategic Command to become its own unified command, James said.
The Air Force currently has around 1,700 personnel working directly on cyber offense and defense, spread among the National Guard, Reserves and active duty. And it recently established a new Cyber College at Air University on Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama to train more internal talent.
But military leaders are also looking for other ways to scale up their cyber forces, James said.
“Maybe leveraging the private sector and leveraging Silicon Valley can help us,” she said.