Danger in Stretching the Metaphor

In the midst of pre-election excitement this gem went largely unnoticed outside of the parallel geek world I also inhabit:

During a media conference here Nov. 2, Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne said the 8th Air Force would become the new Air Force Cyberspace Command.

“I am announcing the steps the Air Force is taking towards establishing an Air Force Cyberspace Command,” the secretary said. “The new Cyberspace Command is designated as the 8th Air Force… under the leadership of (Lt. Gen. Robert J. “Bob” Elder Jr.) He will develop the force by reaching across all Air Force commands to draw appropriate leaders and appropriate personnel.”

Secretary Wynne said the 67th Network Warfare Wing, now under 8th Air Force, and other elements already within the 8th, would provide “the center of mass” for the nascent Cyberspace Command.

There are a number of problems with the “cyberspace” metaphor though perhaps none are more pointed the closer you get to dealing with activities that are too closely associated with the kinetic. In as much as this is the Air Force planting a flag – watch for the other services to follow suit with their variations on the theme – they still have miles to go before they can command the ether like the command the sky above. That the field is primarily led by guys-who-cannot-fly-anymore-and-need-something-to-do-to-finish-off-their-twenty (our pal Greg “Strategic Warfare in Cyberspace” Rattray being the rare exception) is all you need to know when trying to figure out why they talk about the intangible the way they do. Note this telling (troubling?) passage:

“The aim is to develop a major command that stands alongside Air Force Space Command and Air Combat Command as the provider of forces that the President, combatant commanders and the American people can rely on for preserving the freedom of access and commerce, in air, space and now cyberspace,” Secretary Wynne said.

Commerce? Aiming High to defend eBay? I wonder . . .

Not that any commercial concern would turn away a little help in defeating online misfits, but the best defense starts with knowing what it is you are hoping to protect and nobody is coughing up that kind of detail to the likes of him:


Let us also not forget that the military takes to the virtual air on the backs of commercial saber jets. .Mil routers notwithstanding any fighting that goes on over the wire goes on because the private ownership says so. Pulling the plug to preserve profits, while an undesirable option, is still an option. Call it the digital equivalent of “cut and run.”

Not that there isn’t precedence for the military and its proxies defending commercial concerns – the early days of the US Navy and privateers come immediately to mind – its just that the legal issues are much stickier. As it just so happens, someone recently tried to spark some discussion in this area.

That roar you hear from your computer speakers? That’s the cyber-afterburners kicking in.