Cyber Kill

By John Reed / April 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM

One of the major selling points of the F-22A is its ability to penetrate -- undetected -- an enemy's heavily defended airspace and “kick down the door” for follow-on aircraft by laying waste to air defense networks. But why use a fleet of multimillion-dollar airplanes to do what can be done from a desk thousands of miles away from the target?

Enter the Air Force chief of staff.

“Traditionally, we take down integrated air defenses via kinetic means, but if it were possible to interrupt radar systems or surface-to-air missile systems via cyber, that would be another very powerful tool in the tool kit allowing us to accomplish air missions assigned to us by the joint forces command,” Gen. Norton Schwartz said today at the Brookings Institution. “We will develop that capability.”

The four-star added that the service is already developing a “nascent capability” in this arena -- and that it will continue to advance its cyber-warfare techniques to support “whatever architecture is ultimately approved for national cyber responsibilities.”

The idea of using cyber to shut down enemy air defenses is, of course, not exactly new -- rumors have long circulated suggesting that Israel hacked Syrian air defense networks or used hidden software “kill switches” inside the networks to take them down before its air strikes on a supposed Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.