Pentagon to Develop Lethal Cyber-Weapons—Report

According to government contractors and former Pentagon officials, computer code and cyber-weapons capable of killing adversaries will be developed under a new half-billion-dollar military contract.

These cyber weapons will allow US troops to launch “logic bombs,” instead of traditional explosives, which essentially would force an enemy’s critical infrastructure to self-destruct—likely with the loss of human life.

Sources told Nextgov that the contract is the main part of an upcoming $460 million U.S. Cyber Command project, which will outsource “cyber fires" planning, as well as "cyberspace joint munitions" assessments to contractors. Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin are among the major defense firms expected to compete.

The Department of Defense Law of War Manual, first published in June, notes some of the acceptable uses for cyber-weapons, such as: "trigger a nuclear plant meltdown; open a dam above a populated area, causing destruction; or disable air traffic control services, resulting in airplane crashes."

The Pentagon’s stated cyber-mission is to block foreign hackers targeting domestic systems, assist US combat troops overseas and defend military networks. The tools and capabilities necessary to carry these out will be consistent with US and international law, Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Rojas told Nextgov.

That means that, just as with traditional bombs and weaponry, cyber-strikes will be allowed if “it is certain that civilians would be killed or injured—so long as the reasonably anticipated collateral damage isn’t excessive in relation to what you expect to gain militarily," said retired Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, executive director of Duke University's Center on Law, Ethics and National Security. "These are essentially the same rules as for attacks employing traditional bombs or bullets.”

Most missions will likely be enabling attacks for more traditional approaches, some say.

"Combatant commanders choose weapons that they know will further their course of action," said Bill Leigher, a recently retired Navy admiral who runs Raytheon's government cyber-solutions division. He said that applications for the new capabilities would include things like launching a cyberattack to shut down the power grid of an air maintenance facility.

"You've degraded the enemy's ability to repair aircraft," Leigher said. "I trust [that cyberweapon]. I know how it's going to be used, and I believe that it is the best option to execute and it doesn't create more risk for the 27-year-old Air Force pilot who is flying over a defended target.”

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