Forces chaplains explore ethical challenges of cyber warfare

21/10/2021
Forces chaplains explore ethical challenges of cyber warfare

Chaplains play an important role in supporting cyber domain operators and recognising the human element in technological warfare.

 

The Commanding Officer of the Defence Cyber School (DCS) briefed armed forces chaplains at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Centre on 20 October, as part of a curriculum at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom incorporating multi-domain integration to support holistic professional defence and security education.

“Cyber and information warfare are not the exclusive preserve of the specialist: there are implications for us all,” said Wing Commander Andrew Colley, Commanding Officer of DCS.

“Our briefing explored the moral and ethical questions posed by below-threshold use of cyber, and how chaplaincy can be a positive influence. We examined the risk and impact of moral injury - the strong cognitive and emotional response that can occur following events that violate a person’s moral or ethical code, which can be linked to mental health issues.”

Chaplains play an important role in supporting cyber domain operators and recognising the human element in technological warfare. Padre (Wing Commander) Adrian Dyer, an RAF instructor in the AFCC who has an MA in Moral Injury, has listened to the experiences of operators of Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS), or drones. These personnel frequently watch activities and routines for extended periods from miles away, which may have other implications for the operators.

“As with all service personnel, cyber operatives can suffer from the effects of the work they do,” said Padre Dyer. “It’s a question of coming to terms with one’s actions during sanctioned military operations, or something witnessed that transgresses moral beliefs during the line of duty.

“A chaplain’s role is to care for personnel, preventatively if possible, to hear their experiences and help them find acceptance and come to terms with things. Fundamentally, we try to educate our people to be morally literate, and morally and spiritually resilient.”

The chaplains’ briefing took place during Cyber Awareness Month, a national initiative that aims to promote strong cyber security behaviours. Across defence, personnel are being encouraged to engage in a range of activities and resources to help identify cyber risk and understand how to protect individuals and organisations.

Wg Commander Colley said: “I hope the briefing has helped AFCC members understand this aspect of the changing nature of warfare, and that as a result they are better able to act as moral sounding boards and support the wider defence community.”

Major General Andrew Roe, Chief Executive and Commandant of the Defence Academy, added: “In the Information Age, the battlefield has changed. Mastering the cyber domain is essential to supporting defence to become agile and responsive - able to act in an integrated way to challenge our adversaries in the grey zone. As a responsible cyber power, our armed forces benefit as we explore the ethical and moral issues presented by cyber capability.”