Space, Cyber Problems Are Results of American ‘Hubris’

Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, President and CEO of Air University, thinks the US military has an existential dilemma in facing its space and cyber vulnerabilities. He spoke at ASC17 Sept.18, where he's seen above. Staff photo by Mike Tsukamoto.

Chasing tools to solve cybersecurity and space vulnerabilities is futile, said Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, who heads the Air University. Instead, rethinking ideas and theories behind those realms is the only way to effectively approach them, he argued at an ASC17 panel.

To do that, the US military needs to stop thinking it’s invincible, a result of being incredibly and “unilaterally dominant” since World War II.

“We’ve gotten lazy in our habits of problem solving,” he said about cyber. “If we were good at perpetuating those habits that the World War II generations taught us, we would have never fallen into the trap we’re in right now. It’s a form of arrogance or hubris.” That trap, Kwast said, is an online network of military maneuvering beholden to the vulnerabilities of modern hacking and digital sabotage.

Likewise, he views space as an enterprise whose vulnerability the military has no one to blame but itself.

“No self-respecting strategist would have a space architecture that is as fragile and delicate and expensive and non-maneuvering as we have right now,” Kwast said. “We will spin ourselves into oblivion trying to fix space in the current architecture. And we will spin ourselves into oblivion in cyber if we just go after the tools.”

Lani Kass, CACI’s senior vice president, spoke beside Kwast, and added that a Space Corps would not solve the space problems the country currently faces. There should be one single agency responsible for “all military” cyber and space operations, but that agency can be USAF, the most innovative of the services, she said.

“Air, space, and cyberspace—because they cross boundaries, because they are multi-dimensional—belong to the most innovative, breaking barriers, service,” she said. “You achieve nothing by splitting into separate tribes—or separate services.”

Kwast said that though he agrees with this sentiment, “if you want to accelerate the discovery of new capability faster than your competition, you need to focus on it.” Simply a tool, simply an organization, or even simply an idea are all traps the military falls into when trying to solve problems.

“You start by investing in people,” he said. “Then the ideas are more right and when the ideas are more right, the tools come easy, and the tools actually solve the original problem.”

But humility is necessary in the relationship mankind builds with both space and cyber, the two agreed, and the future will be a result of how the military can leverage a respect for and critical thinking about these domains.