Cyber Defense

Army moves fast to get prototype kits for Cyber Protection Teams

Army cyber team on battlefield

Members of a cyber intelligence team set up a patch panel antenna during an exercise in October.

Using an innovative acquisition approach, the Army has awarded two contracts for next-generation prototype kits to support its Cyber Protection Teams.

Through what’s known as Other Transaction Authority—which provides cost sharing and shortening the capability-development cycle speeding the transition of prototypes to the government—the service awarded a total of $4.5 million worth of contracts for Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations Infrastructure kits.

Critical Stack was awarded $3 million and Parsons Corp., in a partnership with Wolf Den Associates, was awarded $1.5 million, the Army said in a release. The Army met with the companies early this month for “kick-off” meetings and the prototypes are expected to be delivered in April 2016. The kits will be used by Army Cyber Command, located at Fort Gordon, Ga., the Cyber Protection Brigade and Cyber Protection Teams to inform specifications prior to fielding decisions and broader procurement, the Army said. 

“In cyber, the ground is shifting every day, so we need an acquisition approach that allows us to change with the threat and bring in new ideas wherever they originate,” said Douglas Wiltsie, executive director of the Army’s System of Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate. “These awards show how the Army can quickly tap into leading-edge cyber technology and deliver it to soldiers for their feedback.”

The recent contract awards came out of the first Cyber Innovation Challenge, which focuses on involving industry—including non-traditional defense contractors—to deliver prototypes for rapid evaluation using the OTA model.

OTAs are used by the Army, NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and some other federal departments to shorten the development cycle and get prototypes into the field for testing more quickly than traditional acquisition cycles.

Under the eventual 133 teams as part of the Cyber Mission Force—to be filled out by 2018—68 of the 133 total teams will be Cyber Protection Teams assigned to defending Defense Department  networks and systems against threats. The teams will be composed of active duty personnel providing incident detection, analysis, coordination and response for network incidents that take place within a designated area of responsibility, according to the Defense Information Systems Agency. DISA’s contribution to the cyber efforts and U.S. Cyber Command comes in the form of defending networks through the Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Networks, or JFHQ-DODIN.  

As for the Army, its 9th Signal Command, or Network Enterprise Technology Command, known as NETCOM, “maintains and defends the Global Network Enterprise to enable information superiority and freedom of access to the network in all phases of joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational operations,” under the Army’s Cyber Command.    

The Army's Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations Infrastructure, which was the primary focus of the Cyber Innovation Challenge, will support Cyber Protection Teams by providing active maneuver defense on friendly networks when needing to counter threats.

"Soldiers fighting on the ground have systems available to them to know locations of friendly and enemy forces, and are provided situational understanding of the land domain. The same capability is needed in cyberspace in order to fight in that domain," said Col. Joseph Dupont, trail boss for the Army Cyber Acquisition Task Force. "The Innovation Challenge is one way we can provide our cyber warriors with the tools they need to be successful."   

A solicitation published on the FedBizOpps website in June for a Deployable Defensive Cyberspace Operations Infrastructure, which noted that the eventual award would not come from the solicitation, called for “providing active maneuver defense to respond quickly to suspected or anticipated threat activity. The goal of the challenge event is for the selected awardee(s) to deliver hardware based pilot/prototype DDI capability allowing operational evaluation of the technical feasibility of the capability across the various mission areas.” 

Another Cyber Innovation Challenge is underway to focus on cyber situational awareness technologies and solutions to help tactical commanders assess the cyber domain and estimate risks therein. The plan is to hold three annual Cyber Innovation Challenges, which will complement the service's CyberQuest, a cyberspace operations experiment designed to assess emerging technologies against documented cyber and electronic warfare capability requirements. 

"The first round of the challenge was a success—we saw a lot of innovation and broad industry participation," said Col. Bryan J. Stephens, Cyber Focal director for the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. "As we repeat these processes, we will only get better at execution, to the benefit of cyber soldiers, our industry partners and the greater Army."

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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