The new command
Creation of U.S. Cyber Command speaks to severity of cyberthreats
The premise for — and the promise of — a dedicated military cyber command reached crucial milestones in late June when Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued an order that establishes the new Cyber Command.
Although the decision was widely anticipated — and some believe long overdue — it nevertheless heralded a historic transition in the evolution of U.S. military services. It also speaks to the severity of the threats that routinely emanate from cyberspace.
On the surface, the secretary’s two-and-a-half page memo to senior Defense Department officials reads more like a reorganization notice than the initiation of a new military era.
In the memo, he directs the commander of Strategic Command to establish a new subordinate, unified command for military cyberspace operations that the director of the National Security Agency, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, will oversee. The command needs to reach initial operating capability by October and is charged with developing a new national strategy for cybersecurity.
The memo also calls for dissolving the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations and Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare and requires military departments to support the Cyber Command.
The changes reflect the desire of the military and Obama administration to centralize cyber operations and elevate computer network security as a national security issue.
As many military officials already have done, the memo recognizes that DOD needs to view cyberspace as an operating domain equal in scope to air, sea, land and space — and one that requires specialized technical capabilities.
“The thing that separates this domain from the others is that it operates at the speed of light," said Gen. Kevin Chilton, Stratcom commander.
In addition, adversaries continue to find new ways to launch attacks that take on many forms and change continuously.
The new, centralized Cyber Command is expected to strengthen military cybersecurity in several ways.
For one, DOD said greater coordination among security experts who specialize in breaking into networks, discovering vulnerabilities and defending networks will lead to a more agile and better-prepared cybersecurity team.
Another expectation is that a new command will accelerate efforts to improve interoperability, information sharing and the ability to respond to cyber assaults rapidly.
Many hope it will also open new career opportunities for people with highly developed cybersecurity skills, giving them a path for promotion that doesn't force them to abandon those skills. DOD officials also hope those new jobs will attract new talent into the military fold.
Although DOD still must work out many details, the Cyber Command's creation is a crucial step forward in the nation’s efforts to protect its vital information infrastructures.
Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of Defense Systems from January 2009 to August 2010. He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.