Coming soon on demand: Cyber weapons

Air Force cyber planners have developed a new approach to buying cyber weapons that they hope will enable them to keep pace with threats in a field where technological advances happen in days, or even hours. Last month, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) gave six firms contracts valued at up to $300 million under ...

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force

Air Force cyber planners have developed a new approach to buying cyber weapons that they hope will enable them to keep pace with threats in a field where technological advances happen in days, or even hours.

Last month, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) gave six firms contracts valued at up to $300 million under a program called Agile Cyber Technologies (ACT), which will essentially keep these companies on retainer to provide cyber weapons on-demand under a form of contracting known as Indefinite Delivery-Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ).

The ACT program will be used to quickly develop cyber weapons that do everything from defending Air Force networks to spying on enemy networks and conducting offensive cyber attacks, according to the service's draft request for proposal for the program.

Air Force cyber planners have developed a new approach to buying cyber weapons that they hope will enable them to keep pace with threats in a field where technological advances happen in days, or even hours.

Last month, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) gave six firms contracts valued at up to $300 million under a program called Agile Cyber Technologies (ACT), which will essentially keep these companies on retainer to provide cyber weapons on-demand under a form of contracting known as Indefinite Delivery-Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ).

The ACT program will be used to quickly develop cyber weapons that do everything from defending Air Force networks to spying on enemy networks and conducting offensive cyber attacks, according to the service’s draft request for proposal for the program.

Basically, if the Air Force sees the need for a new cyber weapon, it can immediately tap one of its contractors to develop and field the technology quickly rather than go through an infamous military procurement system that can take anywhere from months (for small buys under "rapid equipping" programs) to decades to field a new weapon system.

CACI, Assured Information Security Inc., L-3 Communications, Radiance Technologies, ITT Exelis, and Global Infotek have all been given contracts through 2018.

While the dollar amount of the ACT contract may relatively modest by Pentagon standards, the program is important because it could pave the way for how the Air Force and the rest of DoD stays ahead of the tech curve in the cyber realm. No more bulky acquisition contracts for single types of weapons, just one retainer fee to continually develop new weapons.

"Government is moving more to IDIQ contracts to respond faster to new technologies and respond to the fast evolving threats," Per Beith, director of information security solutions for Boeing, another company that is moving aggressively into the cyber security market, told Killer Apps. "Some of our customers have discussed looking at implementing commercial models like buying from an ‘app store’ that puts the burden of development risk on the contractor instead of the government."

"There is a driving need for rapid cyber development solutions, and AFRL’s ACT effort is the type of flexible and innovative contract that meets that need," said Dr. Ray Emami, president of Global Infotek in a statement about the contract.

This comes as the Pentagon’s overall plans to speed the purchase of cyber technology have hit a rough patch, with DOD officials worrying that the senior-level purchasing committee they are setting up to quickly buy cyber weapons — dubbed the  Cyber Investment Management Board —  will, ironically, slow the process due to the simple fact that it is another Pentagon bureaucracy made up of top DOD officials whose time and attention are already spread thin.

 

John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.

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