Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate this week that the military is taking steps to improve its capabilities for countering and conducting information warfare — the use of cyberattacks and influence operations.
The Pentagon “must continue to improve its ability to exploit cyberspace as a pathway for information operations to affect adversary perceptions, decisions and actions in support of strategic ends,” Gen. Selva said in written policy statements to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The four-star general testified at a nomination hearing for a second term as vice chairman.
“We must also enhance our ability to support allies and partner efforts to defend against and defeat adversary propaganda, misinformation and disinformation delivered in cyberspace,” he added.
The Pentagon is stepping up efforts to deal with growing Russian and Chinese information warfare capabilities that have succeeded in influencing people to support those nations’ policies.
Russian information warfare was on display in the 2016 election when cyberattacks by Russian hackers obtained sensitive information that then was disseminated on pro-Moscow news outlets.
Gen. Selva said that to counter what has been termed Russian hybrid warfare, the military is building up capabilities “to compete below the level of armed conflict to include in the diplomatic, information, and economic realms in order to in order to impose costs for disruptive Russian behavior while denying them the benefits of malign activities.”
Chinese information operations have involved efforts to play down or ignore Chinese efforts to take control of strategic waterways like the South China Sea and the East China Sea.
To counter China’s high-tech military buildup, Gen. Selva said the U.S. military is unilaterally developing capabilities to thwart China’s improved arms and forces.
Asked how the military will build up its information capabilities, Gen. Selva said effective information and cyber operations require integrating activities “across all war-fighting domains” to ensure a unity of effort.
“As our fluency continues to mature, we are refining new operational and organizational constructs and advanced tools to outpace competitors,” he said without providing details.
PENTAGON TAKES OVER LONG-RANGE MISSILE DEFENSES
The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) will take greater control of the multi-billion dollar Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, missile defense system from primary contractor Boeing at the end of the year, an agency spokesman tells Inside the Ring.
MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said the major shift in oversight of long-range missile defenses that include anti-missile interceptors in California and Alaska will take place after the Boeing contract ends in December.
“Ultimately, this proposed acquisition strategy allows for the flexible development of the next generation of homeland missile defense capabilities,” he added.
The move is part of a larger Pentagon effort to reduce the use of contractors for some critical government functions known as insourcing.
Boeing will continue work on a redesigned interceptor kill vehicle for the long-range interceptors, as well as a new long-range discrimination radar. The continued partial contracts are aimed at reducing risks to fielding the new capabilities.
“For the scope of the current Boeing contract not being extended at this time, MDA has been developing a follow-on acquisition strategy, titled GMD development, operations, sustainment and production (DOSP), since 2015,” Mr. Johnson said.
Market research and feedback from the defense industry prompted MDA to end the use of a single prime contractor and compete contracts in three areas. The areas include systems engineering integration and system level tests, ground systems operations and sustainment, and overall ground-based interceptor development and production.
“To better manage overall systems engineering and integration of the GMD system into the ballistic missile defense system, MDA has been taking steps to assume ownership of the technical baseline,” Mr. Johnson said.
The shift in acquisition strategy gives MDA the ability to directly conduct performance analysis of the system and improve the GMD integration into the overall missile defense system. The larger missile defense system includes both sea-based and land-based Aegis missile defenses along with land-based shorter-range systems such as the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, and Patriot defenses.
“This proposed strategy mirrors proven acquisition models used across MDA and the department,” Mr. Johnson said, noting rapid improvements in Aegis defenses using a similar model to deal with evolving missile threats.
The GMD system was successfully tested in June, when an interceptor knocked out a simulated North Korean long-range missile.
Currently, there are 30 long-range interceptors — four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and 26 at Fort Greely, Alaska. Eventually, 44 interceptors will be deployed.
The system was first deployed in 2004 at a cost of some $40 billion.
In May, Boeing was awarded a $1.1 billion contract to develop the revised kill vehicle. That is part of a larger GMD contract worth $5.8 billion.
A congressional defense aide praised the MDA move. “It’s a big change at a critical time,” the aide said.
DEFENSE BILL TO HIT CHINESE TELECOMS
The current House version of the fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill contains a provision that would crack down on Chinese telecommunications companies involved in assisting North Korean cyberattacks.
The measure was added in an amendment drafted by Rep. Robert Pittenger, North Carolina Republican, who has been outspoken critic of North Korean and Chinese sub rosa activities.
“My amendment is simple,” Mr. Pittenger said July 14 in House floor remarks. “It prohibits telecommunications companies that provide material support for North Korean cyberattacks from contracting with our Defense Department.”
The measure followed a Washington Free Beacon report in May revealing that the major Chinese government-linked firm ZTE was subcontracting with a U.S. defense contractor to sell telecom equipment to the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department.
Mr. Pittenger said the legislation is needed to pressure China on North Korea.
“For far too long, China has enabled the North Korean government to pursue nuclear development, global provocation, and egregious human rights violations,” he said. “The Chinese government is simply not a good faith partner on the issue of North Korea.”
The measure calls for the director of national intelligence to produce a list of all telecoms that helped North Korea in conducting cyberattacks. It also would ban the Pentagon from doing business with the designated firms, while providing for a presidential waiver in certain cases.
American security officials have warned repeatedly in congressional testimony over the past several years that Chinese telecom gear, including routers and switches, poses security risks. Some of the Chinese equipment has been found to contain “back door” access points that can be exploited by Beijing’s cyber spies.
Last year, senior Pentagon official Thomas Akin told a House hearing the Defense Department does not blacklist Chinese telecommunications companies — despite warnings that the equipment can be used for cyber spying or cyber sabotage.
In his floor remarks, Mr. Pittenger said the Chinese telecom Huawei Technologies reportedly is under investigation by the Commerce Department for potential violations of U.S. export laws for doing business with North Korea.
He also said ZTE was slapped with a record $1 billion fine for similar North Korea-related export control violations.
The House version of the $696 billion defense authorization bill with the Pittenger amendment was approved Friday in 344-18 vote.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.