Cyber Defense

Marines put new cyber unit into play

The Marine Corps is stepping up its cyber game, with the creation of a new cyber unit as part of the U.S. military’s overall cyber force. The Marine Corps Cyberspace Warfare Group, activated during a March 25 ceremony, will execute a mission focused on manning, training and equipping Marine Cyberspace mission teams performing both defensive and offensive cyber operations in support of Cyber Command and Marine Forces Cyberspace Command.

The new unit is described as a firewall to prevent hackers from successfully targeting email, information storage, banking and other related activities. 

The MCCYWG Command Element – a measure of unit organization within the Marine Corps that provides operations, intelligence, logistics, communications, and administrative support – is responsible for the organization, training and equipping the 13 cyber mission force teams the Marines will contribute to the overall 133 across the joint Cyber Command Force. 

“The CMF teams conduct full spectrum cyberspace operations as directed by the Commander they are operationally responsible to (OPCON),” a Marines Corps spokesperson told Defense Systems by email. “The previously identified OPCON relationships are those relationships that have remained unchanged. The teams are geographically and functionally aligned to support both Service and Joint mission sets.”

“We’ve always had the means to communicate and the means to protect that communication, but today we’re in an environment where those methods are more and more reliant on a system of transmissions, routers and networks,” said Col. Ossen J. D’Haiti, the commanding officer of MCCYWG. “So, the ability to protect that, the ability to control that and deny an adversary to interdict that, is crucial to command and control.”

“[Cyberspace operations] ensure that our systems are secure to stop hackers from getting into our systems where our personal identifiable information and everything else is stored,” said Sgt. Brian Mueller, a digital network exploitation analyst with MCCYWG. “While the offensive side is, what can we do to hinder an enemy.”

“We’re still evolving, but I think five years from now, as the Marine Corps comes online and understands more and more what is happening in this space, the Cyberspace Warfare Group will look much different than it does today,” said D’Haiti.

To that point, Maj Gen Daniel O’Donohue, commanding general of the marine corps Forces Cyberspace,  in congressional testimony last March described the progress his force has made noting that Cyber Command certified the first Marines’ Cyber Mission team as fully operational along with the first Cyber Protection Team and the second Cyber Mission Team reaching initial operational capability. 

“MARFORCYBER is on track to have over 75 percent of its CMT, CPT, and CST teams resourced by the end of fiscal year 2015,” he said in prepared remarks. “In order to fulfill the requirements of USCYBERCOM, we have been actively engaged in building and sourcing our national and combat mission, protection, and support teams (CMT, CPT, CST). With one CMT currently certified, the plan going forward is to have MARFORCYBER’s second CMT certified early in calendar year 2015.”

He added “In addition, we stood up our Joint Forces Headquarters-Cyber, now at Full Operational Capability, which directs and coordinates the actions of cyber forces in support of directed missions. The current glide slope for team build-out is to have two CMTs, three CPTs, and one CST at either IOC or FOC by the end of fiscal year 2015. No later than the end of FY17 all teams will be FOC, meaning the Marine Corps will furnish one NMT, three CMTs with one CST in support, and eight CPTs. Three of those CPTs will be dedicated to Marine Corps’ specific needs. All other teams will function in support of joint requirements from unified and sub-unified combatant commands.”

In terms of the overall force, Cyber Command Commander Adm. Michael Rogers told Congress on March 5 that “we have 123 teams of a target total of 133; those teams comprise 4,990 people and will build to 6,187 when we finish. In terms of progress, we have 27 teams that are fully operational capable today, and 68 that have attained initial operating capability.”

“Our Combat Mission Teams (CMTs) operate with the combatant commands to support their missions, while National Mission Teams (NMTs) help defend the nation’s critical infrastructure from malicious cyber activity of significant consequence. We have Cyber Protection Teams (CPTs) to defend DoD Information Networks alongside local Computer Network Defense Service Providers (CNDSPs). Each of them complements the efforts of the others,” Rogers said in his prepared testimony regarding the structure of the force.  “I should emphasize that Cyber Mission Force teams can and do contribute to our nation’s cyberspace efforts even before they reach full operational capability. Elements of teams that are still “under construction” are already assisting the combatant commands and our partner departments and agencies. Cyber Protection Teams, for instance, played important roles in defending the Joint Staff’s unclassified systems after an intrusion last summer, and in remediating the vulnerabilities that the intruders had utilized.”

As to the scope, O’Donohue said “MARFORCYBER is in its sixth year of operation. Our focus remains developing ready cyberspace capability for the naval, joint and coalition force. Consistent with our Commandant’s guidance, we are developing tactical cyber capacity as an organic aspect of how we fight.”

About the Author

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

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