Our Newest Air Force: Readying for War in Cyberspace

Our Newest Air Force: Readying for War in Cyberspace

In the asymmetric wars that have characterized the post-9/11 conflict horizon, our adversaries have been unable to challenge U.S. control of the skies. Now used primarily for close air support and the hauling of gear and supplies for ground troops, the U.S. Air Force has been left to wonder whether its pilots will ever again be called upon to perform their most prestigious of missions -- air-to-air combat.

As a result, the Air Force has been actively looking for new missions. It has bought hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), machines that have proven invaluable to ground forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, providing constant, real-time surveillance of an unconventional battlefield where enemy combatants camouflage themselves in the human terrain of the general population. These UAVs, the Predator being the most well-known, have been armed -- first by the CIA, and later by the Air Force -- with laser-guided weapons that may be aimed and fired by operators half a world away. This is the ultimate expression of the "Nintendo war," and the side of it most envisioned following the 1991 Gulf War.

But the other side of the Nintendo war is in cyberspace, where Information Technology (IT) keeps Predators in touch with their operators. Satellites, fiber optics and computers connect the contemporary military to an unimaginably detailed information-picture of the battlefield. Where President Lyndon B. Johnson spent hours poring over maps and reconnaissance photographs to micromanage the war in Vietnam, today's commanders can watch operations unfold live before their eyes with a fusion of images taken at the point of contact and from satellites 300 miles above it.

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