The new head of the Air Force said he “isn’t exactly sure” what the Air Force is doing in cyberwarfare, and he will wait to invest in cybersecurity until the service can better understand cyber in general to improve its communication with the other services and itself.
“I’m going to be going a little slow on the operational side of cyber until we know what we’re doing,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III said Sept. 18 at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference.
Maj. Gen. Earl Matthews, the director of cyberspace operations in the Office of Information Dominance, said the Air Force’s four-star generals will meet next month to discuss cyberspace issues and hold an “immersion day” with the National Security Agency to better understand what is happening in the cyber realm.
Cyber operations were a focal point of the annual convention, with several top officials and generals focusing on the road ahead in the digital realm, without announcing any specific action that will be taken. Gen. William Shelton, the head of Air Force Space Command, said cyber capabilities are the most critical they have ever been.
“I can’t think of a single military operation across the entire spectrum of conflict … that doesn’t depend on space and cyber,” he said.
Matthews said hostile intrusions into government, private and academic networks are causing the loss of “the equivalent of the Library of Congress” every year. The service needs to focus on security through finding effective solutions, a resilient cross-domain capability and training cyber-capable airmen to address cyberspace issues.
Defense Undersecretary Ashton Carter told industry representatives at the conference that many national security networks are owned by private companies that “typically fail to invest, or underinvest, in their security.”
Private industry needs to work with the Defense Department and address shortfalls in cybersecurity, he said.
Welsh said he needs to address his own lack of knowledge about cyber, admitting that he still isn’t sure what an Internet Protocol address is.
More than 85 percent of the airmen who are classified under cyber typically work on infrastructure, not operations, which is not the true definition of a “cyberwarrior,” Welsh said. The Air Force doesn’t know what is expected from the joint partners in the cyber realm, and the rest of the Air Force doesn’t know what is happening inside its own service.
“I am just not sure we know exactly what we’re doing in it yet,” he said. “And until we do, I’m concerned it’s a black hole.”