As NATO countries see cyber attacks increasing, the alliance is embarking on cybersecurity efforts, including offensive cyber capabilities, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on June 15.
At the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales, the alliance agreed that a cyber attack on a NATO country may trigger Article 5 of the NATO charter to enjoin collective defense of that country.
A NATO communique issued June 14 at the NATO Summit in Brussels said that coercive cyber attacks are “becoming ever more frequent,” including ransomware incidents and other malcious activity targeting critical infrastructure and democratic institutions.
“To face this evolving challenge, we have today endorsed NATO’s Comprehensive Cyber Defence Policy,” per the communique. “Reaffirming NATO’s defensive mandate, the alliance is determined to employ the full range of capabilities at all times to actively deter, defend against, and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats, including those conducted as part of hybrid campaigns, in accordance with international law.”
The communique said that, in response to a cyber attack, NATO will, “if necessary,” impose costs on “those who harm us.”
Stoltenberg told the Defense Writers Group on June 15 that “as part of the decisions we made at the summit yesterday…we have agreed that we should change the conditions for bad actors by increasing the costs and denying potential benefits of cyber attacks.”
“This is partly to call out cyber attacks, as we, for instance, did with Solar Winds, but also with the failed cyber attack on OPCW–the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s about hardening our own cyber defenses, and then it’s also about offensive cyber. NATO has established, and we are developing and strengthening, the framework we have to do offensive cyber in our missions and operations. For instance, in the efforts of NATO allies to fight Da’esh, offensive cyber was a tool we used, and it proved very important in reducing the cyber capabilities of Da’esh, which were very important for them in funding, recruiting and spreading their propaganda.”
Da’esh refers to the Islamic State fighters.
The June 14 NATO communique also said that the alliance has, under its readiness initiative, “30 major naval combatants, 30 heavy or medium maneuver battalions, and 30 kinetic air squadrons” for rapid response.
Under a $1 billion contract with Boeing [BA], NATO has also been upgrading its 14 Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to stay in service until 2035 when a follow-on system or systems to AWACS will be fielded field under NATO’s Alliance Future Surveillance and Control program.
Under the $1 billion AWACS upgrade, the planes are to receive new data link and voice communications systems and enhanced Wide-Band Beyond Line-of-Sight airborne networking capability. The $1 billion upgrade follows an earlier effort that gave the NATO AWACS planes glass cockpits and Mode 5 identification friend or foe situational awareness.
NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany is home to the alliance’s 14 AWACS aircraft.
“Through NATO-supported multinational cooperation projects, [NATO] allies are committed to working together to develop or acquire new capabilities in key areas such as air-to-air refuelling, training, precision strike, munitions, air defence, CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] defence, autonomous systems, and next-generation rotorcraft capability,” per the June 14 NATO communique.
In April, U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command, told Congress that his top priority is augmenting NATO capabilities for secure indications and warning and command and control systems, as Russia aims to proliferate advanced electronic warfare and drone swarming.
Wolters also cited the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 and plans to bring two more destroyer ships to Europe by 2026 as key components for deterring Russian aggression.
Last week, Wolters said that NATO may have 450 F-35s by 2030 and that European countries and the United States are opening lines of communication on the U.S. sixth generation Next Generation Air Dominance family of systems and European efforts, including the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) and Tempest (Defense Daily, June 9).
The sixth generation FCAS is under development in France and Germany, while the United Kingdom is undertaking its Tempest program.