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STRATCOM boss talks cyber with Killer Apps

STRATCOM boss talks cyber with Killer Apps

Killer Apps was lucky enough to have a short email Q and A with Air Force General C. Robert Kehler, chief of U.S. Strategic Command. Remember, in this role he’s not only in charge of the nation’s nuclear forces, he’s also the military’s top cyber officer since U.S. Cyber Command falls under STRATCOM.

It’s worth pointing out that he’s been dealing with cyber professionally for almost a decade. Before taking over STRATCOM in 2011, Kehler led Air Force Space Command when it stood up the service’s cyber fighting unit, 24th Air Force, with more than 14,000 airmen in 2009. From 2005 to 2007, he served as deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command where he helped oversee, among other things, the U.S. military’s network warfare operations — the term for what would later be called cyber operations.

Here’s what he has to say about cyber threats, the idea of cyber deterrence, the cyber budget, and whether or not Cyber Command will become an independent combatant command:

Killer Apps: What worries you the most in cyber, what keeps you up at night?

Kehler: The possibilities of disruption or damage to the nation’s critical infrastructure, our economy, and our military capabilities from cyber-attack or cyber-espionage are of great concern.

The greatest cyber threat we face as a nation is the catastrophic failure of systems and networks supporting critical infrastructure for national security or public safety. The uncertainties in the full capabilities of potential adversaries along with the requirement to rapidly characterize an attack when coupled with the speed at which a potential adversary can carry out that attack concern me.

Killer Apps: How are the sequester, the continuing resolution, and general budget concerns impacting cyber forces?

Kehler: The continuing resolution will have the largest impact to US Cyber Command in the areas of workforce growth and cyber situational awareness. The Department was primed to begin an aggressive increase in the size and training of the workforce to provide full spectrum cyber capability. The CR impacts this effort. Compounding this effect, sequestration will result in the furlough of more than 400 civilian workers at US Cyber Command. One of the key capabilities required to defend our networks is timely and comprehensive cyber situational awareness. The FY13 budget provided funds to begin development of a common operational picture to support cyber situational awareness for all the Services and Combatant Commands. This effort will also be delayed. 

Killer Apps: Is there any update on the decision to elevate Cyber Command to a full unified command?

Kehler: The Joint Staff has been examining different command options, including maintaining the status quo. These different options will be presented to the Secretary of Defense for review and decision on whether to recommend a change to the President.

Killer Apps: Is doctrine of cyber deterrence emerging?

Kehler: We are working hard to enhance the protection and resilience of our networks as we increase the capacity and capability of our cyber operational forces.

Together we believe these steps will enhance our overall deterrence posture by convincing adversaries they cannot achieve their objectives and will run the risk of unacceptable US response at the time, place, and via the domain of our choosing. It is in the best interests of all nations to recognize our common dependence on free access to and use of cyberspace, and to behave accordingly. Finally, we are working to improve our ability to detect and attribute hostile action in cyberspace.