In response to a report requested by Congress, the Pentagon is seeking to increase their acquisition of cyber weapons and they are seeking to establish precedent for the future of cyber warfare. Congress’ request focused on how the Pentagon intends to accelerate acquisition, and it is resulting in an almost immediate affect on the Pentagon’s actions. The Washington Post reports that this initiative intends, “in some cases to field weapons against specific targets in a matter of days.” This is an immediate response that seeks to fulfill, “urgent, mission critical needs.”
The results of the report that the Pentagon issued builds on the 2011 defense strategy for cyberspace, and the Post reports further that it, “puts the Pentagon’s two-year old Cyber Command in charge of a new registry of weapons that would catalogue their capabilities and where they are stored.” The report outlines more department wide accountability by creating a board chaired by senior officials at the Pentagon, which has already met. The board is called the Cyber Investment Management Board (CIMB).
The cost of cyber weapons is low and because of this they often fly under the radar of oversight. Further, cyber weapons are often developed and deployed quickly, so they often avoid triggering the normal oversight process. The CIMB will seek to prevent this. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acting undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and co-chairman of the new board said the following:
“We can’t sit around and wait for [the traditional weapons-building process]…We’ve got to take it outside the conventional system for these major, long-term weapon systems entirely.”
The Pentagon’s approach has two systems for cyber weapons development. First, the rapid system, which takes advantage of existing or near-complete hardware and software created by both industry and government labs. Second, the deliberate system, which was developed for higher risk weapons that take longer than nine months to develop. Some of the uses of these weapons can be for one time use and short deployment in offensive cyber operations or defensive operations guarding computer systems from other attacks.
The fact that the Pentagon has recognized that cyber weapons are different than other weapons is, “good news,” according to Herbert S. Lin, of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Lin further said the following:
“You can make a general-purpose fighter plane and it will function more or less the same in the Pacific as in the Atlantic…[t]he same is not true for going after a Russian cyber-target versus a Chinese target.”
Working with cyber weapons is fast paced. The most sophisticated cyber weapons can be completely obsolete in weeks or months. This new trajectory of an increase in cyber weapon acquisition by the Pentagon will create opportunities that will require specialization that enables not only effectiveness, but also efficiency. This will require well-trained people who can help ensure that the development of new weapons and tools happens only when it’s required, but also who can make sure existing functionality is widely accessible and available.
Noah works with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and is an evangelical Christian trained in theological studies. He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife and two children. You can follow him at his blog www.noahbraymen.blogspot.com.