Inside 'Plan X:' The Pentagon’s plan for cyberweapon central

The Pentagon plans to bring warfare into the 22nd century, creating a new system to "map" the digital battlefield of cyberspace, defining a playbook for deploying cyberweapons and designating a management facility in Arlington, Va. to bring it all together.


New publication from the Pentagon's research arm details a foundation for cyberwarfare.

Heart of program is a digital map of the cyberlandscape

Experts see not cyberwar but smaller skirmishes against industrial facilities, businesses

Read more: “Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X)

It’s called Plan X, and it makes one thing very clear: Cyberwar is the future.

On Nov. 20, Pentagon research arm DARPA -- short for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- released a document called “Foundational Cyberwarfare (Plan X),” a 52-page outline of how to fight a cyberwar. Its heart is a new map of cyberspace, a real-time rendering of the world of computers and how they connect -- switches, bridges, nodes and so on. It then seeks “support platforms” that can deploy cyberweapons, measure damage, strengthen defenses and communicate.

“The Department of Defense (DoD) has developed superior capabilities over decades in the physical domains of land, sea, air, and space,” the document explains. “When called upon, the U.S. military must have equally superior capabilities to rapidly plan, execute, and assess the full spectrum of military operations in cyberspace.”

These range from espionage against private industry to attacks like the Stuxnet worm that hit Iran’s nuclear efforts in 2010. And it’s the new world of warfighting, said Andrew Serwin, a member of the advisory board of the Naval Post Graduate School's Center for Asymmetric Warfare and an expert on cyberwarfare.

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“You’re at a time where large physical war is winding down, and that physical domain is giving way to the cyberdomain,” Serwin told

He believes the document is evidence of a shift in focus for the Department of Defense. The agency is unlikely to fight a major “cyberwar” -- if such a thing could ever really take place -- instead eyeing the security holes posed by corporations and infrastructure.

In other words, while a hostile nation is unlikely to drop an A-bomb on Arkansas, they might hire someone to attack the computers governing the water supply.

''If Google doesn’t have the resources to withstand a cyberattack, probably very few companies in the United States do.

— Roy Hadley, a partner at law firm Barnes & Thornburg

“When does a cyberattack become cyberwar?” Serwin asked. “Is there really a distinction if you kill a bunch of people via a cyberattack, something you do to their water supply, versus if you drop a bomb on them? The threat vectors are no longer something the public sector can control.”

Roy Hadley, a partner at law firm Barnes & Thornburg where he heads the cybersecurity practice, pointed as evidence to the 2010 dust-up between Google and China. It’s widely believed that Chinese hackers compromised the Web giant’s servers, leading Google to seek government support.

“If Google doesn’t have the resources to withstand a cyberattack, probably very few companies in the United States will have that capability,” he told

DARPA’s Plan X could be seen as support in this critical area. The document is a public request for proposals on a variety of topics, from mapping networks to deploying weapons; DARPA sources, stressing that it will not fund new cyberweapons, say it has a five-year, $110 million timeline.

“The Plan X program seeks to integrate the cyber battlespace concepts of the network map, operational unit and capability set in the planning, execution, and measurement phases of military cyber operations,” DARPA sources told

The heart of Plan X is a new graphical view of cyberspace not unlike a large-scale computer game -- "World of Warcraft" for the Army -- showing ongoing operations and real-time networking data.

“The cyber battlespace graphing engine is the core of the Plan X system. The graphing engine’s primary task is to receive, store, model, retrieve and send cyber battlespace information to other Plan X system components,” the document reads.

Before its cyberarmy is fully equipped, the Pentagon hopes to develop a “playbook” like that a football coach employs or the flight plan for an airplane.

"Planners may develop specific and unique ‘plays’ to assist in planning future missions. This concept is similar to a football playbook that contains specific plays developed for specific scenarios,” Plan X reads.

Once the Pentagon has built this map, It plans facilitates to coordinate the defense, an on-site "collaborative research space" in Arlington, Va., for staff with secret security clearance.

"Representatives from the Armed Forces will work directly with DARPA and the research teams at the Collaborative Research Space," DARPA program manager Dan Roelker told

These facilities, the playbook, the new maps and cyberdefenses may help support the weak points in the country: the private sector, Serwin told

“The reality is, it’s a lot easier to attack the private sector than it is to attack the DoD network or the CIA network,” he said.