Cyber Defense

Rogers: Cyber doesn't need its own military branch

In a sign of the growing importance of the cyber domain, some in Congress have raised the possibility of making the U.S. Cyber Command and its subcommands in each of the military services into a separate military branch. But Adm. Michael Rogers, head of the Cyber command and the National Security Agency, doesn’t think that’s the best course, pointing out that cyber operations have become so ingrained in the operations of all the military services.

“Cyber doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Rogers said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Jan. 21. Rather, he said he is interested in how cyber relates to and can be applied to the other domains. “Cyber exists in a broader context.”    

Rogers’ comments come in wake of suggestions from Congress that cyberspace, which is designated as a domain of warfare, should have its own service branch.

“Is it really time for us to look at this, just as, during the Second World War, we stood up the Air Force as a separate branch in order to give that responsibility, give that authority – is it time to do something like that?” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) asked during a September hearing. (The Air Force became a separate branch in 1947, just after World War II.)

Similarly, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (D-R.I.), in opening remarks to another September hearing, said, “I understand that the Department [of Defense] may be nearing a recommendation to the president that the next Unified Command Plan elevate Cyber Command to a unified command….The committee in the past has questioned whether Cyber Command is mature enough to warrant elevation to a unified command, and whether the dual-hat arrangement should continue when a decision is made to elevate the command.”

But Rogers said cyber operations’ role is distinct.

“You have some advocating, ‘is cyber so different, so specialized, so unique, so not well understood that it requires a very centralized, focused, unique construct to how we generate capacity and knowledge?’ There are some who make that argument. I am not one of those,” he said.

Rogers compared the discussion to another oft-discussed military component: special operations.  “I remember early in my career we had a similar discussion when it came to special operating forces in the aftermath of the failed rescue attempt in Iran and we said to ourselves, ‘is SOF so unique, so specialized [that it] requires such an investment in training and is so not well understood by traditional, conventional commanders, that the only way to ensure its long-term wellbeing and to generate the capacity and capability that we need is the best thing to create a SOF service?’ And we spent years debating that. We ultimately came to the conclusion: No.” Special operations force eventually was elevated to a unified combatant command in 1987. 

The better approach, Rogers believes, is to augment the capabilities and knowledge bases of commanders in the kinetic world – sea, ground and air – and apply them to cyber.

Rogers also highlighted a few priorities for Cyber Command in 2016, including a stronger focus on systems and platforms, rather than just networks and network structure. Systems and platforms have as many vulnerabilities as networks, he said, adding that this focus will involve working with the acquisition community. Resiliency and redundancy were not core design characteristics, he said.

Rogers said that 2016 also will be an inflection point for Cyber Command, because it has been an organization for about five years now and will begin to field capabilities – offensive and defensive – developed over that time. The command will be making use of cyber mission personnel as it continues to build toward a goal of 133 teams and 6,200 individuals by 2018. “You can tell we’re at the tipping point now,” he said. “The capacity and capability is starting to come online.”

Partnerships will also be a hallmark in the new year. While officials such as Rogers have lauded partnerships with industry, he said that the United States. will begin building partnerships with other governments in cyber operations.

Lastly, he added that the force needs to focus on the basic building blocks, mainly cyber hygiene.  Rogers said his force is focusing on how to make cyber hygiene foundational much in the way soldiers handle firearms or weapons. “If [DOD] gave you a weapon, you must ensure that that weapon is appropriately treated, appropriately used, always secured. That is pounded into our culture,” Rogers said. “You have constant responsibility of the security of that weapon…And you don’t ever forget that. We need to do the exact same thing in the cyber realm.”

About the Author

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

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