11 Jun 14. Three years after the Defense Department named cyberspace a new domain of warfare, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is unveiling technologies that soon could make it possible for military leaders and warriors to plan and execute real-time cyber missions in a territory charted so far only by machines.
DARPA’s Plan X is a foundational cyber warfare program that is developing platforms for the Defense Department. This 2011 version of the Plan X holographic touch table display won a place on “Time” magazine’s list of the year’s top 50 inventions. The table is an advanced 3-dimensional mission-planning technology that creates a real-time, color, 360-degree, interactive 3-D holographic display that battle planners can use without special glasses or devices to organize military missions in cyberspace.
Plan X is a DARPA program announced in May 2012 in which experts conduct novel research in the cyber domain and seek to create revolutionary technologies that will help the cyber workforce understand, plan and manage DOD cyber missions in large-scale, dynamic network environments.
The program does not create cyber weapons or fund research and development efforts in vulnerability analysis, according to DARPA’s Plan X website.
Plan X program manager Frank Pound — who served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 1989 to 1994 and as a reservist from 1995 to 2004 with a 2003 tour in Iraq — said the program has several goals.
“The big goal of Plan X is to make cyber operations tools and their capabilities more available to the common military, which right now doesn’t have [such] cyber capabilities,” he told American Forces Press Service during a recent interview.
Every weapon available to a service member is well understood, and doctrine describes how to use it, he added. Service members have studied weapons effects, battle damage assessments and collateral damage.
“What we’re trying to do with Plan X is to quantify cyber effects so the military understands how [such effects] work and what the collateral damage could be,” Pound said.
A cyber effect, according to a range of online sources, can cause damage by manipulating, disrupting, denying, degrading or destroying computers, information or communications systems, networks, or physical or virtual infrastructure controlled by computers or information systems, or the data on such systems.
“A cyber effect could cause damage to an adversary’s network or to a hospital next door,” Pound explained. “We want to make sure when we deploy a cyber effect at an adversary that there’s no collateral damage. Right now, that [capability] really doesn’t exist, except in small enclaves.”
Plan X developers want to make cyber-effects use and assessments similar to those for kinetic weaponry available to a Marine in the field or a Navy captain going through a dangerous port area.
A military commander, Pound said, “wants to be able to sense the cyber environment and know if he can deploy a counterattack.”
Another goal of Plan X is to provide cyber situational awareness globally across DOD, he added, from the strategic and tactical levels all the way down to the troops in the field.
“Right now, they don’t have a good ability to sense the cyber environment, and … in the last five years, there’s been a tidal wave of mobile devices and cyber things hitting the market,” Pound said. “Our adversaries use them to plan attacks, so Plan X at the tactical level would be able to provide that cyber situational awareness to commanders in the field.”
Imagine a Marine with a weapon in his hand going into a firefight in cyberspace, Pound said. That Marine also has a device that has built-in Plan X capability linked to a tactical operations center.
“A commander could say, ‘Hey Marine, there’s a threat out there — Wi-Fi adapters and Bluetooth [wireless technology] that we didn’t know were there. Let’s find out what they are,'” the program manager said.