Offensive Cyber Capabilities at the Operational Level

The Way Ahead

At present, the defense policy landscape is replete with arguments, many of which are ultimately based in the lack of a common vision among both elites and within the broader population about the role of the U.S. military in the future. Cyber operations are one element of these debates, although much of the discussion has centered around how best to defend against a growing cyber threat, the role of the Defense Department in that defense, and tensions between civil liberties and security interests. Occasionally, greater attention is paid to questions about the U.S. use of cyber offensively, which brings with it questions of precedent, deterrence, international norms, and a host of other challenges. But it is also apparent that U.S. leaders have already approved the use of offensive cyber capabilities, though under tight restrictions. While not ignoring this larger context, the specific question this report examines is whether the Defense Department should make a more deliberate effort to explore the potential of offensive cyber tools at levels below that of a combatant command.

James A. Lewis and J.D. McCreary

Maren Leed