What keeps the head of DARPA up at night? The “democratization of technology,” is what Ken Gabriel, the agency’s deputy director told lawmakers last week.
He’s not just talking about hackers who can quickly develop cyber weapons capable of penetrating the Pentagons networks or terrorists using smart-phones, twitter and google earth to plot attacks and avoid government forces, he was also referring to the fact that even relatively poor nations or terrorist groups can buy 90-percent of the electronics needed to make advanced electronic warfare gear on the open commercial market. This EW gear can prove highly effective at helping to keep U.S. forces at bay, according to Gabriel. The best part, is that due to the technology explosion of the last 10–20 years, new EW systems are coming on-line at a dramatically increased pace — nearly seven times faster than in previous decades, according to Gabriel. This means that the Pentagon is going to have to hustle that much harder to stay ahead of such capabilities.
“In anti-access and area denial, the global electronics industry, unintentionally and without malice, has created vulnerabilities,” said Gabriel during a Feb. 29 House Armed Services emerging threats subcommittee hearing. “Computing, imaging and communications capabilities, that as recently as fifteen years ago were the exclusive domain of military systems, are now in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world. We don’t argue against the benefits such capabilities have brought, indeed many of the commercial advances have roots in DARPA programs of decades past. But these vulnerabilities are not abstract threats. Electronic warfare, EW, was once the province of a few peer adversaries. Today, it is possible to purchase commercial off the shelf components, COTS, for more than 90 percent of the electronics in an EW system. Nearly a dozen countries are now producing EW systems at an ever increasing pace. From a new system every ten years decades ago, to one every one and a half years today.”
Meanwhile, DARPA is hustling to increase the Pentagon’s cyber firepower, according to Gabriel. Remember, like EW is becoming, cyber is an arena where relatively small players can quickly develop weapons with serious punch. To counter this, the Pentagon needs to develop cyber weaponry that is “matched to our kinetic” weapons, according to Gabriel.
In cybersecurity, there has been much focus on increasing our defensive capabilities, but we require capabilities in both defense and offense across the full spectrum of conflict,” said Gabriel. “Modern warfare demands the effective use of cyber and kinetic means. That requires DoD cyber capabilities matched to our kinetic options.”
To this end, DARPA has “launched several programs designed to create cyber capabilities with the diversity, dynamic range and tempo [to keep pace with] DoD operations,” added Gabriel.