WASHINGTON -- With an increase in digital connectivity and a rapid development of technologies, such as advanced computing, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence, the character of war has changed, making cyberspace a critical battlefield of the 21st century and beyond, the U.S. Military Academy superintendent said Wednesday.

Near-peer strategic competition -- not terrorism -- has become a threat to national security, said Lt. Gen. Darryl A. Williams.

Army senior leaders must continue to prioritize efforts, he said, that directly support readiness, modernization, and lethality in line with the Defense Department's National Defense Strategy.

"For us old-timers ... when we talked readiness and modernization, it is typically in conventional terms -- better tanks and weapons, improved precision fires and missile defense, and aircraft," Williams said. "Today, you can't talk about either readiness or modernization without addressing cyber and space."

Williams spoke during the International Cyber Conference on Cyber Conflict U.S., or CyCon U.S. For the past three years, CyCon has provided opportunities to communities of interest to gather and discuss the critical topics surrounding cyber conflict.

"The first shots of the next war will likely be fired in cyberspace, and likely have devastating effects," said Williams, paraphrasing a previous statement by Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.

"The Army is engaged daily in the cyber domain to achieve and maintain superiority against our adversaries," he added. "Our adversaries aim to separate alliances and challenge our traditional methods of deterrence by conducting operations that make unclear the distinctions between peace and war."

However, training and retaining cyber professionals to support a growing mission continues to be a significant issue for the DoD and NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence allies, according to Gen. Riho Terras, Estonia's chief of defense.

"All the people that we train go to Microsoft and Apple ... and get three times more money," he said. "How can we deal with it?"

Further, the U.S. and its allies must continue to collaborate and partner with industry and academia to prepare for any conflict in the borderless domain, Williams said.

"People are important. People are the key to the response," Terras added. "Everybody has to be a cyber specialist. Every soldier, every military in the defense forces need to first know everything about cyber hygiene. Cyber defense starts from cyber hygiene."