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Now that cyber command has been approved and it’s grown increasingly clear that the US will deploy offensive capabilities, I thought it was time to revisit recent comments by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz who said the US can kill advanced surface to air missiles without F-22s, F-35s or any other kinetic capability. In fact, Schwartz may have let some of the cat out of the bag when he told a Brookings Institution audience that the US possesses “the nascent capability” of taking down surface to air missile sites using offensive cyber methods.
[That's right. All those arguments about the F-22 being absolutely necessary because of its unrivalled effectiveness may be a lot less important than the plane's supporters thought. On top of that, one industry expert at the Paris Air Show said that the F-35 has a requirement that it be able to take out triple digit SAMs while the F-22 never did. That's not to say the F-22 isn't capable of it. It just means the plane wasn't designed to do it.]
I’ve been digging around since Schwartz made his very brief comment about the cyber capability. One cyber expert I spoke with was very unhappy about Schwartz’ comments, saying he had no business speaking about such capabilities outside of a classified environment. And no one else I spoke with – who deals with these issues in an operational environment – was willing to say anything about Schwartz’s comments.
I did come across this one interesting tidbit , a study by one of the Air Force research labs about just such capability. I tried calling and sending a couple of emails to the lab and never heard back. The reason may be that this really isn’t something the military is at all comfortable talking about yet. But this exercise study makes clear that portions of the Air Force are beginning to take offensive cyber attacks seriously. The heart of this effort was stated clearly. “For example an airbase has anti-aircraft artillery, radar coverage, and the ability to launch aircraft. Our interface enables us to enable, disable, and reduce the effectiveness of the capabilities. The capabilities of each individual asset are open to attack through cyber vectors,” the study notes.