Industry leaders are warning that the targets U.S. Cyber Command will pursue in the future may not be connected to the internet or even accessible through the traditional, IP-based operations that the command has historically exploited in the past.

Instead, the military will need to expand the type of digital targets its high-end cyber warriors focus on.

“Many targets may not be connected to any external networks or may function on dedicated land networks, which does not present an insurmountable barrier but does require very extensive intelligence development to cross,” Austin Long, senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, wrote in an essay published in the book “Bytes, Bombs and Spies: The Strategic Dimensions of Offensive Cyber Operations."

“Other targets may only be accessible through radio frequency operations. The U.S. Air Force has publicly acknowledged using its Compass Call jamming aircraft to target a variety of networks for exploitation.”

Publicly, government and industry leaders have started discussing in recent months how to develop interfaces that would allow the military’s premier cyber forces to manipulate these targets.

“How do you create what we would call attack access manager, which Cyber Command is starting to talk [about] as an access ring [that] allows you different access paths into specific closed target sets,” Dean Clothier, director of cyber campaigns and resilience at Northrop Grumman, said April 11 during an event at Langley Air Force Base.

A Lockheed Martin executive also said that company is also having ongoing discussions regarding creating attack access managers that can “be delivered by multiple means.”

By creating various paths to get at closed targets, Clothier said “that’s where we really get into [electronic warfare]-enabled cyber.”

Other national security contractors also acknowledged this topic was coming up with increasing frequency.

Military leaders have debated the relationship between cyber warfare and electronic warfare, which is the manipulation of signals and frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. In a tactical sense, cyber consequences can be executed locally over radio frequency signals. This differs from the types of actions taken by traditional cyber means over IP networks.

Clothier, who most recently served as a colonel as cyberspace division chief for the Joint Staff’s communications directorate, said the Pentagon needs a common interface standard that allows the joint force to conduct cyber operations through electronic warfare platforms.

One example, he said, is the military needs to be able to conduct cyber operations through advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars on either conventional platforms or unmanned aerial platforms via a common interface. These systems, which are typically mounted on the nose of a aircraft, would transform those planes into advanced electronic warfare and cyber platforms, which would be the “biggest gamechanger to come” to warfighters, Clothier said.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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