Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the avant-garde research and development arm of the Department of Defense – perhaps best known for its central role in the development of the Internet – is soliciting research proposals that would help the military improve its cyber battlespace capabilities such that they match the DoD’s existing superiority in the other domains of war.
The 52-page announcement for the funding opportunity, enigmatically titled Plan X, is predictably vague. It is billed as a call for research proposal submissions designed to advance the nature of cyberwarfare by further measuring, quantifying, and understanding cyberspace as well as planning and managing large-scale, real-time operations on the dynamic network environments there.
“Proposed research should investigate innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems,” the broad agency announcement (BAA) reads. “Specifically excluded is research that primarily results in evolutionary improvements to the existing state of practice.”
Plan X would spur the creation of a system that could integrate government and industry technologies in order to meld together the three main concepts of the cyber battlespace, which DARPA characterizes as network maps, operational units, and capability sets, with the planning, execution, and measurement of military operations. The BAA goes on to explicitly clarify that Plan X funding will not be awarded to technologies related to “vulnerability analysis, command and control protocols, or end effects.”
The BAA describes itself as a reaction to the emergence of cyberspace, which it defines as ”a collection of computer networks utilizing a variety of wired and wireless connections, a multitude of protocols, and devices ranging from super computers to embedded systems,” as a new war-fighting domain.
Broadly, Plan X is asking the research community to create new technologies that will help the U.S. Military stay ahead of its adversaries without increasing the size of its workforce to address the actuality that, in their words, cyberspace “operates at machine speed, not human speed.”
You can read the somewhat lengthy BAA by linking to it from a solicitation on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website. Plan X is also announced here on DARPA’s website.
This isn’t the first time that the DoD has posted a broad agency announcement on the FBO website, calling for the development of cyber warefare operations (CWO). Earlier this year, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) submitted an announcement requesting the development of capabilities that would give them the ability to “destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, deceive, corrupt, or usurp the adversaries [sic] ability to use the cyberspace domain for his advantage.”
The fact that the U.S. Government is attempting to hone its skills in the electronic theater of war is wholly unsurprising. Pretty much every country in the world with an Internet connection and a functioning government is working on ways cultivate their offensive or defensive online prowess, albeit some more aggressively than others.
Countries such as the U.S., Russia, Iran, China and others have reportedly been pursuing these capabilities for years. What is surprising is the recent frankness with which the DoD is handling matters that were once only discussed behind closed doors. Designing malware that spies on foreign nationals, collects intelligence, or even destroys industrial control systems is an unfortunate but expected reality of the times. However, having members of the President’s national security team anonymously claim responsibility for or publicly posting calls for research designed to advance such projects on the federal business opportunities website is a bit unconventional by historical standards.