DARPA’s Foundational CyberWarfare Plan-X: The Roadmap for Future CyberWar

Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, conduct cyber operations in support of the command and control of Air Force network operations and the joint requirements of Air Forces Cyber, the Air Force component of U.S. Cyber Command. The 624th OC is the operational arm of the 24th Air Force, and benefits from lessons learned during exercises such as Cyber Flag 13-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)
Personnel of the 624th Operations Center, located at Joint Base San Antonio – Lackland, conduct cyber operations.  (U.S. Air Force photo by William Belcher)

In October, DARPA held a meeting concerning the direction the military should take in the development of cyber capabilities. They invited more than 350 cyber researchers to the meeting to discuss their research program, “Plan-X”.

But just what is “Plan X”?

According to DARPA, Foundational CyberWarfare Plan X “will attempt to create revolutionary technologies for understanding, planning and managing DoD cyber missions in real-time, large-scale and dynamic network environments,” and it will also “conduct novel research on the cyber domain.”

So basically it sounds like DARPA is calling on industry experts and researchers to help create a Roadmap for how Cyberwar will be fought in the future.

The program covers largely unchartered territory as we attempt to formalize cyber mission command and control for the DoD.” says Dan Roelker, DARPA program manager. And DARPA told FoxNews that “Plan X program seeks to integrate the cyber battlespace concepts of the network map, operational unit and capability set in the planning, execution, and measurement phases of military cyber operations”.

From the released Plan X BAA:

“The Plan X program seeks to build an end-to-end system that enables the military to understand, plan, and manage cyberwarfare in real-time, large-scale, and dynamic network environments. Specifically, the Plan X program seeks to integrate the cyber battlespace concepts of the network map, operational unit, and capability set in the planning, execution, and measurement phases of military cyber operations. To achieve this goal, the Plan X system will be developed as an open platform architecture for integration with government and industry technologies.”

Specifically Plan X is not funding new cyber weapons, but instead focuses on building a prototype system using the following five Techincal Areas:

  • System Architecture
  • Cyber Battlespace Analytics
  • Mission Construction
  • Mission Execution
  • Intuitive Interfaces

System Architecture

The System Architecture team will build the Plan X system infrastructure and support overall system design and development. This includes secure architecture design, development of application programming interfaces (APIs), and data format specifications. The System Architecture team will also be responsible for purchasing system hardware and maintaining the overall infrastructure.

Cyber Battlespace Analytics

Performers in this area will develop automated analysis techniques to assist human understanding of the cyber battlespace, support development of cyberwarfare strategies, and measure and model battle damage assessment. Data sets will include logical network topologies, and node / link attributes.

Mission Construction

Performers in this area will develop technologies to construct mission plans and automatically synthesize plans to an executable mission script. Performers will also develop technologies to formally verify plans and quantify the expected effects and outcomes. TA3 involves the development of cyberwarfare domain specific languages, program synthesis, and automated program construction from high-level specifications.

Mission Execution

Performers will research and develop: 1) the mission script runtime environment and 2) support platforms. The runtime environment will execute mission scripts end-to-end, including construction of capabilities and support platform deployment. The support platform research area focuses on building operating systems and virtual machines designed to operate in highly dynamic and hostile network environments. Support platforms will be developed to operate on all computer architecture levels, from hypervisor to sandboxed user applications.

Intuitive Interfaces

The Intuitive Interfaces team will design the overall Plan X user experience, including workflows, intuitive views, motion studies, and integrated visual applications. Coordinated views of the cyber battlespace will provide cyberwarfare functions of planning, execution, situational awareness, and simulation. Performers will work closely with all other technical areas to ensure that the needed graphical user interface (GUI) APIs are defined and provided.

Some interesting points mentioned include levels of autonomous operation, enforcing Rules of Engagement and a cyber operation “play book“.

They also want to create “Real-Time Cyber Battlespace views” which would will show an overview map of all ongoing cyber operations and plans and allow a commander to drill down into the data to see individual operation details.

The full 52 page Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X) can be found on fbo.gov.

Robo Dog: Man’s new best Friend?

DARPA, the military research group, and Boston Dynamics have released another video of AlphaDog, or as they lovingly call it the Legged Squad Support System (LS3). The robotic assistant is being developed to help dismounted troops by carrying gear. In the latest video the bot can be seen following a soldier using a control pad device.

According to Wired’s Danger Room the robot can carry up to 400 pounds and has a range of 20 miles.

Pretty cool stuff, and it doesn’t even need a good boy treat!

Cheetah Robot sets new Land Speed Record

If your post Terminator apocalyptic survival plan involved running away from the robots, forget it! The DARPA backed Boston Dynamic’s “Cheetah” has set a new land speed record for legged robots . The robot can run up to 18 miles an hour,  up from the previous 1989 record of 13.1 mph.

It looks like it is running backwards, but the bendable body is pretty cool. And as it is with most American built robots, it has no head. This is usually done on purpose. Americans have a very negative response to robots, especially to ones that look human. We have been raised by American cinema that robots are bad.

On the contrary, Japanese robots are built to look as human as possible. But in their culture, the robot was always the good guy, the hero.

Well, there you have robot psychology 101, now you can tell your friends that you learned something important today.  🙂