Military Prepared to Expand Use of Cyber and Space Weapons Against ISIS

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Military chiefs are prepared to give President-elect Donald Trump the options he wants to intensify the fight against the Islamic State, including the possibility of granting commanders greater leeway to use secret cyber-warfare and space weapons, the top Air Force leader said.

“We’ve heard him loud and clear that he’s going to be looking for options,” Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, told USA TODAY.

Goldfein said the recommendations may center on permitting field commanders more flexibility to deploy an array of weapons against the militants, who are waging a terrorism campaign beyond their bases in Iraq and Syria.

“If we want to be more agile then the reality is we are going to have to push decision authority down to some lower levels in certain areas,” Goldfein said during a December trip to this air base. “The big question that we’ve got to wrestle with … is the authorities to operate in cyber and space.”

Capabilities in those two areas are among the military’s most closely held secrets, and their use now generally requires approval at the highest levels of government.

The military has the ability to use cyber weapons to shut down terrorist websites and disrupt communications, but it is cautious about authorizing such actions because of unanticipated effects beyond its intended targets, such as disrupting legitimate websites and servers.

Last May, Defense Secretary Ash Carter urged the military space community to “join the fight” against the Islamic State, though he declined to describe how. The Air Force controls satellites for GPS and communications.

Cyber capabilities are already in use against the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS. “We’re … using cyber tools to disrupt ISIL’s ability to operate and communicate over the virtual battlefield,” Carter said in February.

Delegating authority to generals in the field would allow for a faster response to opportunities that arise from striking militant leaders or their operations or disrupting or shutting down their communications.

The discussion about ramping up the war against the Islamic State will likely go beyond cyber and space. During his campaign, Trump said he would give military commanders 30 days from taking office to come up with a plan for soundly defeating the Islamic State.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jim Michaels