Aug 30 2011

Building a Force for Fighting in Cyberspace

The Army has identified the objectives for its Cyber Command — now it must determine how to achieve them.

The Army’s Cyber Command wants to achieve the same level of dominance in the cyber domain as U.S. forces project in air combat, where the U.S. military can suppress an enemy’s ability to operate in the air but doesn’t face the same threat itself. But the Army faces serious challenges in achieving that level of dominance, said Col. Thomas Goss, chief of the Cyber Command’s Strategic Initiatives Group.

“This is going to be more and more a contested domain,” Goss said in a presentation last week at the LandWarNet conference in Tampa, Fla. “We have to be ready to defend this domain.”

Challenge 1: Who’s Right for Our Team?

A key challenge will be recruiting the best possible candidates to become cyberwarriors. Like all soldiers, warriors in the Cyber Command will need characteristics such as intelligence, dedication, integrity and discipline, but cyberwarriors may have some differences when compared with other soldiers. 

During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, an audience member asked if the Army would consider being flexible in its physical requirements for command recruits. Goss didn’t provide a direct answer, instead saying the issue is one the Army will have to “wrestle with.” He added that among the factors that would inform the debate are how many recruits the Cyber Command will need, what skills the recruits will need and what skills they will be trained in.

Challenge 2: Who Are We Battling?

The asymmetric nature of cyberwarfare is another challenge the Army must overcome. Unlike conventional combat, advanced cyberweapons can be inexpensive, which can level the playing field for smaller nation states and independent enemies.

“Threats look at cyber as a low-cost way to affect Army operations,” Goss said.

Challenge 3: Can We Reduce Would-Be Targets?

The service’s networks represent targets to its enemies, so defending several networks represents another challenge, Goss said. “It would be significantly easier to defend if it were just one Army network,” he said.

Officials have stated repeatedly that the Army wants to reduce the number of networks it operates to one. In addition to consolidating its networks, the Army must change how it views these networks, Goss added. Typically, networks are viewed as a service provided to users, but from a defensive perspective, the service must regard them as a cyberspace domain, he suggested

Four Goals for the Future

The Army has identified four objectives for the Cyber Command, which Goss referred to as the “four Ps”:

  • Prevail in today’s wars.
  • Prevent and deter future conflicts.
  • Prepare to defeat adversaries.
  • Preserve and enhance the Army’s all-volunteer force.

Among the keys to prevailing in current wars are the ability to maintain cyberoperations even when the network is degraded, the ability to move beyond passive network defense and the ability to take the action to cyberenemies, Goss said.

To deter future conflicts, he added, the Army must work closely with the other military services and with other nations to develop a unified, effective defense.

Preparation is essential to the first two objectives. Effective training is critical in preparing cyberwarriors, so the Cyber Command must conduct live, virtual training exercises against “world-class opponents,” Goss said.

Preserving the Army’s all-volunteer force — its most precious military resource — will require the service to develop creative approaches in how it recruits and retains talented cybersavvy soldiers, Goss said.

The Army currently is working on its Cyber 2020 Strategic Plan, which it expects to release in October, he said.