Cyber domination requires joint mindset

U.S Cyber Command and components must overcome structural challenges to prevail in new domain

It’s been just more than a year since the military established its various cyber components, and in that time, the Defense Department has sought to put cyberspace on equal footing with the traditional domains of air, sea, land or space. But understanding the differences between those physical domains and cyber is just one of the many challenges the DOD cyber defense movement faces in its infancy.

Perhaps the biggest challenge the military must overcome, though, is itself. As the Cyber Command and its military components continue to grow, getting past the old models of military operations — whether it be communicating, sharing or training — is a primary hurdle as U.S. operations in cyberspace take shape.

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“A lot of our energy is spent worrying about the wrong things: boxes, lines and wires to create the perfect organizational chart and perfect command relationship,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Brundidge, director of command, control, communications and warfighting integration at the U.S. European Command. “It’s time to start thinking about how we bring all of our capabilities together and organize in a way that we can collaboratively use, share, operate and employ those to achieve what is everybody’s end desire. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to moving information around. ... It’s cobbled together and haphazard when it comes to getting the status of the environment.”

Brundidge spoke as part of a panel of DOD cyber officials at the AFCEA International Cybersecurity Symposium in Washington in July. The panel members spoke about the difficulties of breaking through traditional molds that have shaped military actions.

Cyber operations "get mixed up and derailed because of the way we train and equip," Brundidge said. "Our challenge is not going to be lacking ability to come in and do things; it’s going to be lacking the wherewithal to overcome barriers that are part of our DNA…the way we’ve organized for years to do business. At what point do we realize goals and objectives are the same across the different mission areas? It’s operationally ineffective and inefficient to keep doing things separately.”

The department is still in the early days of cyber operations, other panelists emphasized, cautioning that the military is still getting its bearings in an entirely new domain.

Col. Maureen O’Conner, Army Forces Cyber Command liaison to the Cyber Command, said the Army is working on establishing its component command and operationalizing cyberspace.

“We have to come to grips with, ‘What does this mean for our service?’” O’Conner said. “We’re at the point where we’re standing on our feet and looking up. We’re just at the beginning, and it’s an iterative process.”

The Air Force is focusing on gauging where it stands and how to build capacity and bring new capabilities together, said Col. Jim Cummings, warfare group commander at the 24th Air Force's 67th Network Warfare Wing.

“We’re looking at restructuring our command and control to make sure we’re truly sharing information 100 percent,” Cummings said. He added that the Air Force is also working on its relationship with Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.

But for all the challenges DOD’s cyber groups are facing, there are areas of strength that continue to anchor growth and development.

“Our strength is in being purple. We truly believe in the joint ethos and in partnerships,” said Army Col. Ron Stimeare, commander of the Defense Information Systems Agency Command Center. “We’re going to continue to struggle with how to align and structure…but we have to focus on what’s important, that we operate every day. We’re getting better, and we’re getting more effective.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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