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While the military has publicly discussed its desire to develop offensive cyber capabilities in the past, it has rarely outlined its needs for cyber weapons in such detail.
The procurement documents, released as part of a broad agency announcement on August 22, indicate that the Air Force is looking for a number of different capabilities, from attack to mapping networks to cyber warfare support.
The first item on the Air Force's list is "Cyber Warfare Attack" capabilities. For this, the Air Force is looking for papers detailing "the employment of cyberspace capabilities to destroy, deny, degrade, deceive, corrupt, or usurp the adversaries' ability to use the cyberspace domain to his advantage."
The fact that such capabilities have been under development is clear. DARPA, for example, recently detailed a project of its own to develop offensive cyber capabilities. Reports have also emerged that the United States played a role in the Stuxnet attacks, and carried out offensive cyber warfare in Afghanistan.
[ Could an international 'cyber arms' agreement forestall U.S. cyber warfare with China and other countries? See The Case For A Cyber Arms Treaty. ]
Among the technologies and capabilities in which the Air Force is interested include network mapping, ways to access networks, denial of service attacks, "data manipulation," and the ability to control "cyberspace effects."
Beyond attack techniques, the Air Force also wants papers about cyberspace operations, "situational awareness capabilities," technologies to assess and visualize the effects of cyber attacks, and technologies and methods to rapidly develop cyber capabilities.
It is unclear when the Air Force will actually turn these concepts into reality. The Air Force is not looking for explicit proposals, but rather for concepts. While prospective vendors are asked to include a "rough order of magnitude cost," they aren't asked to prepare cost proposals, and the Air Force makes it clear that those submitting concept papers are not being considered for any type of award.
However, the procurement documents indicate, "offerors whose concept papers are of interest may be invited to submit a formal proposal." Overall, the total value for all awards could reach up to $10 million.
While unclassified, the Air Force makes it clear that the procurement is still sensitive. "Every precaution must be taken to protect potentially sensitive or classified material," the announcement said. "Such material should not be transmitted across open-source media like public phone, fax, Internet, or email."
Cybersecurity, continuity planning, and data records management top the list in our latest Federal IT Priorities Survey. Also in the new, all-digital Focus On The Foundation issue of InformationWeek Government: The FBI's next-gen digital case management system, Sentinel, is finally up and running. (Free registration required.)