Not since the second American revolution has the United States had to defend its homeland, yet the country is not much better prepared today than it was when much of Washington, D.C., was torched by an invading military force during the War of 1812.
While the security industry concentrates on protecting systems from external threats, a danger to information access is brewing from within organizations. The expansion of and growing reliance on networks is jeopardizing military information technology by exposing numerous sectors and even entire commands to errors that are introduced internally by a single entity.
The U.S. Department of Defense is not fully exploiting information technology in military operations and departmental procedures. For an organization that relies on information superiority and technological capabilities to put U.S. national defense at an advantage, the department is lax in thwarting potentially devastating threats to its information systems.
Just as information system users are becoming accustomed to the concept of cyberwar, a new form of information conflict is emerging that rests on a completely different set of principles. Popularly known as netwar, it is based on a strategy of accessing a network, not to destroy it but to maintain and operate it as a tool to gather support and maintain communications.
The U.S. Defense Department is refocusing efforts to protect military communications from computer network threats. By shifting its network operations emphasis from exclusively defensive to a more offensive stance, the government seeks to ensure the integrity of coalition operations. Preparations for projecting a greater disruptive potential to adversaries are underway.
Although experts agree that the vast majority of future military operations will be fought by joint forces, the U.S. military's information technology continues to be somewhat fragmented. To take advantage of all the benefits of information operations during a mission, systems used by all the forces and at all levels must be able to talk to each other. Numerous technologies have been developed that enable this capability; however, the challenge is larger than technology.
Future military communications equipment may one day be able to detect and use locally available radio spectrum automatically. U.S. Defense Department researchers are developing methods that allow systems to scan for unassigned frequency bands autonomously. These technologies will allow warfighters to deploy quickly anywhere in the world without time-consuming spectrum management and allocation concerns.
The potential of network-centric operations is growing with the capability to link, interpret, process, manage and share data from multiple sensors in near real time and throughout a battlespace. This information could be delivered directly to a commander's laptop computer to provide a clearer and more complete picture of detected threats.
The menu for U.S. Army information operations now runs several courses long as the service integrates low-end news activities directed at local populace with high-end cyberspace defense and attack. As all of these elements come together in a common operational mode, the future cyberwarrior may see netwar visualization capabilities that provide cyberspace situational awareness akin to icon-driven battlefield monitoring systems.
Satellite communications, Web services and imagery have come of age in the battlespace of operation Enduring Freedom. This first network-centric war has revealed an explosion in capabilities that has been matched by information demands at all levels of command.