Science and Technology News

Friday, October 12, 2012

AFSPC commander speaks at 11th Annual Air Force IT Day event

by 1st Lt. Connie Dillon
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs


10/12/2012 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- General William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, was a featured speaker at the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association's 11th Annual Air Force IT Day event at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Tysons Corner, Va., on Oct. 11.

General Shelton addressed attendees at the annual one day conference, calling for more definition and articulation of solutions for a wide range of strategic issues facing AFSPC and the broader Air Force cyberspace enterprise. His comments included further defining cyberspace and the Air Force role in this new, accelerated warfighting domain.

"First and foremost, we are still grappling with defining cyberspace in a way that's effective and promotes understanding across the Air Force," said General Shelton. "Our actual working definition is still evolving as we gain more operational experience and understanding"

General Shelton described multiple organizations' various definitions of "cyberspace" and how it created confusion in roles, functions and "lanes in the road" due to the lack of precision in operating definitions. He said that there is a need to find a definition that provides a common, fundamental understanding for all developers, operators and stakeholders in the cyberspace enterprise.

"We owe it to our people, from the most junior Airman to the Secretary and Chief of Staff, to narrowly define what we mean when we talk about cyber, and once we've arrived at that agreed upon working definition, we must clearly communicate it to the field," he said.

Pursuant to that discussion, General Shelton brought up the interest to further define the Air Force's role in cyberspace.

"Every military operation, across the entire spectrum of conflict, relies on the cyber domain. We, like the rest of the Services, have huge equities in this domain," he said.

General Shelton discussed the cycle of questions that lead to additional questions about the Air Force's role in cyberspace. These questions bring up topics to include: the scope of our focus in the cyberspace domain, the major implications that the change of focus would have for Title 10/50 authorities, the decisions of whether or not the Air Force or other organizations will cover certain "high end" services, and the impact of those decisions on the force structure and capabilities presented to the U.S. Cyber Command.

"As you can tell, there are some basic decisions we'll need to make, relative to how we stake out our proper role in cyberspace. As a guiding principle in all of our decisions, it's incumbent on us in this community to convert our terminology into plain English" said General Shelton. "General Welsh has challenged us with avoiding confusing language, not only in cyber, but in all aspects of the Air Force, and we should be able to tell our story without the complication of insider terms of art."

The general also highlighted the need to provide cyberspace mission assurance in the increasingly challenged cyberspace domain.

"Cyber capability has developed over the past 40 to 50 years in a relatively benign, permissive environment, but it's no longer a very benign operating domain," said General Shelton. "Now we face a continuously changing landscape of threats, adversaries, and technologies. The cost of entry is low, anonymity is high, and attribution is difficult at best."

Anonymity, explained General Shelton, enables so much nefarious cyber activity today.

"State-sponsored attackers, criminal hackers, criminal elements hired by states, hackers who like to tweak our noses just for fun--there is no shortage of adversaries out there every day," he said.

General Shelton related the need to move our focus from information assurance to mission assurance, invoking concepts from Sun Tzu.

"If you try to protect everything, you'll succeed at defending nothing," he said. "We can't defend everywhere all at once, so we have to identify nodes and systems that are critical to mission assurance. We've got to carefully prioritize what assets, what data, which data path, we will protect in extremis."

"As you can see, we are shifting our focus from traditional cyber defense and information assurance, where there are too many gates to guard, to a strategy of resilience, layered defense, and mission assurance," said General Shelton.

General Shelton touched on strategies for recruiting, training, and retaining the cyber talent necessary across the entire Total Force, and the role of industry in an evolving cyberspace Acquisitions environment that demands rapid development times more relevant to cyberspace reality.

In closing, General Shelton noted the sense of urgency to figure out cyberspace now and get on a common vector.

"We've clearly only begun to take the initial steps toward really defining the operating domain, our Air Force role, the people we need, the focus we need, and the industry relationships we need," he said. "We may just be past the 'crawling' stage and into the 'walking' stage of cyber, but we need to step up smartly and start running."

This year's theme for the 11th Annual Air Force IT Day event was "The Joint Fight--Mission Success through Cyberspace."

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