Defense lacks doctrine to guide it through cyberwarfare

Top priority for the Cyber Command is to document rules of engagement, GAO officials say.

The Defense Department lacks the doctrine needed to effectively guide cyberwarfare strategies, according to officials with the Government Accountability Office, who expect to release in October an unclassified version of a report detailing the challenges.

More than once, senior military officials claimed in testimony before Congress that current and future adversaries are likely to rely more on a blending of conventional and irregular approaches to conflicts, which they referred to as hybrid warfare. GAO submitted a report to the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities on Sept. 10 about how the Defense Department defined the concept and used it in strategic planning documents.

According to the report, hybrid warfare might be used informally to describe the ever-changing complexity and dynamics of the battlefield, but the department has not officially defined the term and has no plans to do so, claiming existing doctrine on traditional and irregular warfare is sufficient to describe the current and future operational environment.

"But if you look at the Defense Department's definition for irregular warfare, it does not include cyber; in fact, cyber is notoriously missing from all doctrine," said Davi D'Agostino, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO.

The Defense Department defines irregular warfare as "favor[ing] indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence and will."

D'Agostino added, "To the extent that our operational plans actually incorporate a cyber [takeover] for example -- that's all yet to be seen. There needs to be greater acknowledgement of cyber as a tactical component of warfare operations."

Official doctrine would detail how Defense might incorporate military approaches to warfare, including cyber, and provide the handbook, so to speak, for how to "counter the countermeasures, and be more adaptive," said Marc Schwartz, assistant director of defense capabilities and management at GAO.

D'Agostino and Schwartz said they are hopeful the U.S. Cyber Command will establish the doctrine on cyberwarfare.

"One concern that has existed on the Hill for a considerable amount of time, but heightened since the formation of the Cyber Command, has to do with absence of a clear strategy in terms of rules of engagement for cyberspace," said one former intelligence official who asked to not be named. "It's just not there."

Defense , however, is very well-equipped to utilize cyberspace during conflict, said James Lewis, director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"In the cyber realm, they haven't worked out doctrine, rules, authority; and there are questions about how cyber operations can be used during peacetime," he said. "But they've gone far to incorporate cyber into military planning. Can it be refined and improved? Sure. But during war, they know what to do."