US Chose Not to Use Cyberwarfare Against Libya

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Dan Dieterle

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Recently, The New York Times released an article titled “U.S. Debated Cyberwarfare in Attack Plan on Libya“.

Apparently, when the US led the air campaign against Libya in March (Operation Odyssey Dawn), we had a choice – to take out Libyan air defenses with conventional kinetic weapons or use a cyber attack.

The cyber route sounded exciting:

“While the exact techniques under consideration remain classified, the goal would have been to break through the firewalls of the Libyan government’s computer networks to sever military communications links and prevent the early-warning radars from gathering information and relaying it to missile batteries aiming at NATO warplanes.”

But not everyone was on board with this, “fearing that it might set a precedent for other nations, in particular Russia or China, to carry out such offensives of their own” and “These cybercapabilities are still like the Ferrari that you keep in the garage and only take out for the big race and not just for a run around town, unless nothing else can get you there”.

So, conventional weapons including airplanes, drones and cruise missiles were used instead. But the article just left me scratching my head. Haven’t air defense systems been taken out before through electronic means?

Sure they have, two instances come to mind immediately. One is the Israeli raid on the Syrian Nuclear facility and the other is during our military operations in Iraq. A system called “Suter” could have been used in both.

Simply put, Suter is a system that attacks and confuses the computer controls of air defense systems. I remember a history channel interview with an EC-130 pilot that was talking about his experiences in Iraq. “We owned their radar and telecommunication systems,” he said. “We were able to place fake targets into their systems and hide real ones.”

So if we have been able to manipulate foreign air defense computer systems using electronic technology and programming in the past, why would cyber attacks be any different?

Granted you would be coming in through a firewall to attack a computer, but is it really any different than attacking it through radar waves? Especially if the results would be the same, or very similar?

If this is true, then is cyber warfare really any different from Electronic Warfare that has been used for ages, or is it just be a new form of it?

Cross-posted from Cyber Arms

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