Cyber Defense

Army giving cyber capabilities to tactical units

The Army is continuing efforts to bring cyber operations to the front lines, with a recent exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif., where Army cyber forces provided support to both offensive and defensive operations as a means of working these new capabilities into tactical units.   

This exercise is a key element in an ongoing pilot, Cyber Support to Corps and Below, to help the Army develop, understand and employ cyber operations into tactical formations, an Army release stated.

Several Army units took part in the exercise. They included the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade from Fort Meade, Maryland, an Army Cyber Protection Brigade from Fort Gordon, Georgia, Cyberspace Opposing Force from the 1st Information Operations Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, the 201st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade from Joint Base Lewis—McChord and Fort Gordon's Army Cyber Center of Excellence and 7th Signal Command.

The exercise expands upon previous brigade combat team rotations as part of the pilot. In an exercise last fall at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., cyber warriors were deployed with a brigade combat team in preparation for the exercise at Fort Irwin.

The cyber elements “integrated early and often” with the brigade, said pilot lead Lt. Col. Jonathan Burnett—from familiarizing the unit with cyber operations, to covering capabilities, execution criteria and rules of engagement. 

Leaders said the presence of cyber planners helped the unit better understand the capabilities of cyber on the battlefield.

Military officials have previously expressed the need to integrate greater cyber and network capabilities with the full force. Col. William Hartman, commander of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade in the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, said in October that the pilot programs are intended to “define what cyber capabilities to integrate at the corps level and below, determine the expeditionary capability required to support our deployed tactical forces, leverage our combat training centers and operational deployments.” That also would help develop long-term requirements for combat training centers, he said at the annual Association of the United States Army.

During the recent exercise, teams also worked to create a realistic cyber environment, making improvements to the training center’s infrastructure. The teams replicated real-world network providers by establishing Wi-Fi access points and providing laptops and smartphones.

“One of the main reasons we're out here is to gain context for current problems, so as we look out to future problems and try to develop future solutions, we have an understanding of what the cyber force is facing now, here at the NTC and at the tactical level,” said Capt. Matthew Hutchison from the Army Cyber Institute at West Point, N.Y. Knowledgeable cyber planners provided after-action reviews during and following the rotation to help Army decision-makers make improvements to cyber training, manning, rules of engagement and training.    

“We hope to add value by understanding the current challenges facing staff integration and cyber planning at the maneuver headquarters, as well as the expeditionary nature of cyber enabling at the maneuver headquarters,” Capt. Frederick Waage, another West Point cyber researcher, said. 

About the Author

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

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