The Pentagon is hoping that new efforts to reach out to the private sector will help upgrade its military force to be better prepared to fight in the digital age.
The new program, dubbed Plan X, hopes to facilitate the development of new technologies that will allow the military to ‘dominate the cyber battlespace,’ while simultaneously implementing a clearer strategy for using cyberattacks.
Plan X has already received $110 million in funding for the next five years, which it hopes to dole out in military contracts to researchers around the country
While the U.S. government has already relied on cyberwarfare, this is one of the first moves to bring in the public. Much in the same way Lockheed Martin holds contracts with the military to build conventional weapons, the Pentagon is hoping that labs, universities and even computer-game programmers will work to develop new cyber technologies.
Though the Defense Department said that Plan X will not fund the development of cyberweapons, it will work to create tools to make existing ones more effective. Experts say this could range from taking out power grids to disabling a pacemaker in an enemy combatant.
‘If they can do it, it’s a really big deal,’ Herbert S. Lin, a cybersecurity expert with the National research Council told the Washington Post. ‘If they achieve it, they’re talking about being able to dominate the digital battlefield just like they do the traditional battlefield.’
One of the main priorities for Plan X is creating a comprehensive, visual map that would plot out the digital locations of tens of billions of computers around the world. They hope that such an asset will help the military identify and target hostile servers and networks that they could then disable.
They also hope to create a stronger operating system that will allow for quicker attacks, while also making computers at home less susceptible to foreign attacks. Officials told the Washington Post that they hope this new system will look like an armored truck when compared to the SUV that is existing computer operating systems.
Plan X also hopes to set guidelines on how and when to use cyberattacks. Already, the Pentagon is working to create a playbook of sorts that will identify a myriad of possible cyber options to address any number of military situations.
‘Planners may develop specific and unique ‘plays’ to assist in planning future missions,’ Plan X reads. ‘This concept is similar to a football playbook that contains specific plays developed for specific scenarios.’
They hope this will add structure to what is currently a rather murky area for the military.
Ultimately, they hope to have the technology and organizational capabilities to be able to carry out smaller, more precise attacks orchestrated by individual commanders in the field.
Dan Roelker, a Plan X program manager, told the the Washington Post that this will allow commanders to quickly and efficiently initiate cyberattacks that would benefit their larger mission as a whole.
The practical uses, though still far out, are incredible, says Daniel Kueh, an information warfare professor at National Defense University’s iCollege. Specifically, he explains how eliminating power grids can be much more effective and less detrimental than during the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Serbia and Iraq.
‘In all of those conflicts,’ he said, ‘we went after the other side’s electricity with bombs.’
But now, the military can be much more humane, taking out power only when necessary and then being able to quickly restore it, without having to build an entirely new grid.