Top Defense commander hints at taking offensive actions in space, cyberspace

The chief of the Strategic Command hinted Wednesday during a Senate hearing that the Pentagon has plans to conduct warfare in space as well as in cyberspace, strategies the Defense Department has been reluctant to discuss openly in the past.

Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that cyberspace has emerged as "a unique global domain in which the United States must maintain freedom of action."

STRATCOM oversees the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations, which directs the operation and protection of global defense networks. Chilton told the Senate hearing that his command will continue to define the capabilities to not only defend networks but to "exploit and attack in cyberspace" those who threaten those systems. Chilton said he envisions the day when STRATCOM has assigned brigades, battalions, wings and groups "to conduct network warfare."

Chilton said STRATCOM is reacting to the changing nature of threats. Potential adversaries recognize U.S. reliance on cyberspace and constantly probe networks to gain an edge, he said. Last week, the Pentagon reported that it appeared that China was behind a series of attacks against computer systems and networks operated by Defense and other government agencies as well as those operated by governments worldwide.

Defensive measures already in place to protect networks and technology assets must be improved, Chilton said.

Adversaries also threaten Defense's assets, namely satellites, he said. The "global commons" of space has become vitally important to life in the United States, with civil, military and economic activities dependent on access to cyberspace and space-based capabilities, he told the committee. "We can expect future adversaries to attack these dependencies. Our dependence on these capabilities and their associated vulnerabilities require us to focus our efforts to ensure U.S. freedom of action in these domains."

Chilton said the Chinese anti-satellite test in January 2007 "made it clear that space is no longer a sanctuary [and] we can expect similar challenges in the future." He told the senators that Defense is ready to "respond" to perceived threats. U.S. adversaries understand "our dependence on space-based capabilities, and we must be ready to detect, track, characterize and respond to any threat to our space infrastructure," he told the panel.

The United States faces threats against its networks and information systems from terrorist organizations as well as other countries, Chilton told the hearing. "These new adversaries are distributed, networked and fleeting. Enabled by information technology and financial support, they are able to maintain a global presence by recruiting, training, inciting and directing attacks in a variety of ways, including through cyberspace."

Last June, the Defense Science Board released a report that recommended that attacks against U.S. information systems should be countered with "disproportionate response." The report added that "every potential adversary, from nation states to rogue individuals, could be targets of an integrated offensive capability."

Last August, the Air Force Space Command released a request for proposals for a space control contract, which the service intends to use to develop forces that can attack communication, surveillance and Global Positioning System satellites, according to the procurement documents.

Threats to space systems, especially communications satellites, also are the result of internal Defense problems, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the committee Tuesday. The Pacific Command requires secure, reliable communications systems, Keating said, but satellite failures, as well as funding cuts and delays in military satellite programs, have reduced the availability of these systems.

The Government Accountability Office reported last week that Defense satellite programs are plagued by cost overruns and delays that have pushed back development and deployment of some military systems by years.

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