SASC: National cyber power on track, still facing significant threats and challenges

The Senate Armed Services Committee convened to discuss the cyber posture of all of the military service branches earlier this week as the Pentagon continues to make progress in this battlespace.

“As we approach full operational capability later this year, maturation of the Cyber Mission Force continues at an impressive pace,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on Cybersecurity.

He noted that according to outgoing NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers’ testimony earlier this month, the Cyber Mission Force is “on pace to reach that milestone earlier than planned.” He added that challenges remained after the first-of-its-kind force is built, however, including ensuring that it is sustained.

“When it comes to acquiring the cyber weapons that the force will need to deter and defend its cyberspace, there too is significant room for improvement,” Rounds said.

The chairman noted that the FY2019 budget request for the Defense Department included $1.8 billion for manning, training, and equipping the new cyber force. The Army and Air Force each requested $700 million, while the Navy only requested $318 million.

Rounds also highlighted a report by the Defense Science Board Task Force on cyber deterrence, which he said “notes the importance of strong cyber deterrent for the next 10 years, a period during which we will not have the defensive capability to defeat our peer adversaries offensive capabilities.”

The subcommittee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said there were three primary issues regarding cyber operations:

— How disorganized the Department of Defense is when it comes to information warfare or information operations;

— The slow pace of progress in equipping the cyber units that we have built. “We still lack basic joint capabilities for commandant control;”

— “We have to squarely face the reluctance to use military cyber units to respond to attacks against us to confront Russian hackers and trolls, to harass North Korean operators who attacked Sony, and to disrupt ISIS internet operations outside areas of declared hostilities.”

The new commander of CYBERCOM, Army Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, said that the Army’s 41 active Cyber Mission Force teams were now fully operational and on station performing their mission. Meanwhile, he said, the service was in the process of building 21 Army Reserve teams as well. He said he expects the 21 reserve component teams to “reach initial operational capability by 30 September, 2022, and full operational capability by 30 September 2024.

“We are leveraging the private sector, the academic community, and the key allies to rapidly develop and deliver new capabilities to the Joint Force and our Army. In the future, the Army will require a sustained investment in science and technology to capitalize on the advancements in artificial intelligence and other innovative capabilities,” he said.

As for the Navy, Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, Commander of Fleet Cyber Command, he said he is continuing “to observe an upward trend in the capacity, the capabilities, the sophistication, and the persistence of cyber threats against our networks.” He added that the service was in the process of modernizing existing networks, “investing in new technologies and partnerships” by “transitioning to cloud-based technologies, machine learning and artificial intelligence,” and “carefully  managing our talent” through the expansion of “our direct commission cyber warrant officer and cyber warfare engineer programs.”

Maj. Gen. Loretta Reynolds, commander of Marine Forces Cyber Command listed three priorities for her service:

— Secure, operate, and defend the Marine Corps – recognizing that our ability to command and control is our center of gravity,

— Fulfilling our responsibility to provide warfighting capabilities through the development of ready, capable cyber forces to United States Cyber Command.

— Provide support to the Marine Corps as it works to operationalize the information environment – experimenting with tactical cyber, and sharing lessons on the integration of cyber with other fires (ph) and other information capabilities.

Major General Christopher Weggeman, Commander, Air Force Cyber, said noted that “threats are growing rapidly and evolving. Our adversaries are acting with precision and boldness, utilizing cyberspace to continuously challenge the United States below the threshold of armed conflict, imposing great cost in our economy, national unity, and military advantage.”

He said the Air Force was on pace to have all of its Cyber Mission Force teams online by the end of FY2018. “As of today, 35 of 39 cyber mission force teams have declared full operational capability,” he said.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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