Fiction is not much stranger than truth anymore. Not when the next war for which the U.S. is preparing may be fought in cyberspace, that nebulous electronic territory which no one has ever seen, but without which most of us would now be lost. In 2005, the Air Force added Cyberspace to Air and Space as its war fighting domains and in 2006, the military authorized a Cyber Command to be temporarily located at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
At the end of September, 2007, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne announced that Major General William Lord would direct the Command. Lord has been serving as the director of Cyberspace Transformation and Strategy at the Pentagon since April, 2007. Preparing for potential cyberterrorism attacks will unquestionably be part of its mandate.
But what would warfare in cyberspace look like? Where is cyberspace anyway?
Science fiction writer William Gibson, who coined the term "cyberspace" in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer defined it as "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions … A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data." In the mid-1990s, Gibson elaborated further on the this place that, like art, conjoins reality and imagination, "Cyberspace is a metaphor that allows us to grasp this place where since about the second world war we've increasingly done so many of the things we think of as civilization."
Defining Cyber battlefield May Result in Redefining War
Unfazed by taking the fight to the metaphorical domain, the U.S. military has been systematically shaping a strategy to define and arm itself in cyberspace in the new millennium, beginning with the late 1990s concept of 'transformation' to a network-centric military, elaborated in publications such as the 2003 National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace and continuing in periodic doctrinal guides such as the Quadrennial Defense Review. In 2006, the Department of Defense issued a National Military Strategy for Cyberspace Operations (which remains classified) and committed to the creation of the new Cyber Command.
What cyber warfare means and where it occurs is being defined along the way. According to Lt Col David T. Fahrenkrug, "cyberspace is a very real, physical domain that is comprised of electronics and networked systems that use electromagnetic energy." It is not the information that is housed on those systems.
Others, however, argue that the scope of the mission to defend cyberspace has not been fully outlined. In their July 2007 report, Flying and Fighting in Cyberspace, Lt Col Sebastian M. Convertino II, Lou Anne DeMattei and Lt Col Tammy M. Knierim contend that the Air Force has not yet elaborated what "Airmen do in cyberspace and how they do it as war fighters." Disentangling the different kinds of things warfighters do that engage or are enabled by cyberspace is itself a complex task.
It may also be a revolutionary one, because it involves recognizing that cyber wafare differs in one major basic way from traditional warfare because it is not violent. Convertino, DeMattei and Knierim offer up the provocative possibility that cyber warfare may shift fundamentally what we think force, its threat, and war:
The ability to fly and fight effectively in cyberspace … hinges directly on the proper definition, scope, conceptualization, and integration of tasks, effects, conditions, and objectives of fighting in cyberspace. The military problem of fightingin that realm is new in that it fundamentally involvesa nonkinetic, nonviolent approach to war …. Cyber capabilities can assuredly support applications of other orce capabilities, but, fundamentally, they are not the destructive, kinetic purveyors of violence that war fighters traditionally envision in planning military strategy, engagements and wars. If we apply them as primary weapons of war, then basic concepts regarding the use of force or threat of force to compel the enemy must change.