The leader of U.S. Strategic Command is seeking collaboration with industry to ensure the U.S. military’s next nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) enterprise is properly hardened against cyber attacks.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten has spent the last six months investigating the issue and visiting industry partners and federally funded research development corporations to develop ways to keep channels open and defend against adversarial activities, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) during a Feb. 27 hearing.
One idea he would like to pursue is “Develop a number of pathways for messages to get through that is so nearly infinite, that nobody can ever figure out exactly where it is or deny the ability of that message to get through,” he said. “That’s the way to do things in the future, and I think we’ll have the means to do that.”
Hyten has solicited ideas from industry on this topic and received their feedback last week, he said.
“We’re going to now evaluate those ideas, and come up with a broad-based set of mission needs that we need to explore, and I’ll work back with industry to figure out how to do that,” he said. “And then the services – the Army and the Navy in this case – will actually build them.”
Additional details would have to be discussed in a classified setting, he added. Hyten provided this information in response to queries from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who chairs the SASC Cybersecurity Subcommittee, as well as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Hyten noted that the current nuclear command-and-control system is fairly secure from cyber threats, mostly due to its age – the system is about a half century old and will need to be replaced in a decade. In the two years and three months since he has assumed command, Hyten has never lost connectivity with the nuclear force, he noted.
“Can you imagine any other electronic system in the world where that has happened? That shows you how resilient, and reliable and effective the current command-and-control system is,” he said.
The big challenge will be, “How are we going to replace that old ancient thing that works so well that we know works, but won’t work after about another decade? How do we replace that with something that works just as well in modern technology when we have the cyber threats we have to look at?”
The command sees “thousands, if not millions” of cyber attacks against its networks every day, Hyten said.
Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis streamlined the department’s chain of command for the NC3 enterprise last October, and put Hyten and U.S. Strategic Command officially in charge of its operations and systems.