Cyber Defense

Cyber units get ready to take the field

The U.S. Cyber Command is still working to get its full 6,200-member, 133-team complement up to full operational capacity b 2018, but its leaders have said all along that individual teams would be put to work as soon as they’re formed. And the first teams of cyber warriors are now expected to take the field early this fall.

Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the Cyber Command, said recently said the first portion of the cyber force should get to initial operating capability by Sept. 30, NPR reported. At a presentation at the National Press Club, Rogers compared the expected deployment to putting a fighter squadron in play with only five of its 24 aircraft ready, but said that the demands of cyber operations make the deployments necessary.

"We find ourselves in a situation a little unusual in the military arena," Rogers said, according to NPR. "As soon as we get a basic framework, we are deploying the teams and putting them against challenges."

Those comments echo what Rogers and other military leaders have said before. In May, Defense secretary Ash Carter said he had tasked the Cyber Command with taking on offensive operations against ISIS, “as the first major combat operation of Cybercom.”

The initiative also reflects the Defense Department’s efforts to coordinate cyber ops more tightly with other military operations. “The overall effect we’re trying to achieve is virtual isolation and this compliments very much our physical actions on the ground,” Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Congress. “And the particular focus is external operations that might be conducted by [ISIS].”

The Cyber Command was established in 2009, and its growing importance has led members of the House Armed Service Committee to propose elevating it to a unified command, in the same sense as the Northern Command, Strategic Command, Special Operations Command and others. Rogers also has supported this idea. 

The services have emphasized offensive operations as well as defensive. The Army, for example, has conducted exercises with cyber teams taking the field, as opposed to working from a command post. And annual, integrated exercises such as Cyber Guard, which looks to foster a whole-of-government approach to responding to threats,  and Cyber Shield, which pairs active-duty military with National Guard units in protecting the nation’s infrastructure, aim to integrate cyber as a part of overall military operations.

In addition to those large-scale exercises, the military also is looking to conduct regular, persistent training to develop what is still a young segment of its force, officials have said.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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