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Cyber mission force reaches key milestone

October 25, 2016 (Photo Credit: MC2 Joshua J. Wahl, U.S. Navy)
After narrowly missing its self-imposed deadline, U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber mission force has reached initial operating capability.

All 133 teams reached this milestone Oct. 21.

The mission force was slated to meet IOC by Sept. 30; however, a spokesman from CYBERCOM said at the beginning of October that as of Oct. 3, 99 percent of the CMF achieved initial operating capability, with 132 of the total 133 teams reaching IOC by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2016.

“One of the reasons DoD has done exceptionally well to rapidly train and build this force is that each branch of the military services has come to the conclusion that cyber is a mission set that requires dedicated expertise over time,” said Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of CYBERCOM. “That wasn’t always the case, and I have to compliment the services, the services’ cyber component leadership and the entire team for all of the extremely hard work to achieve this goal.”

The IOC designation certifies that all teams have reached a threshold level and are capable of executing their fundamental mission, DoD said. IOC reflects overall progress toward achieving full operational capability and is not designed to represent the overall combat readiness of the teams.

Since standing up six years ago, CYBERCOM has faced difficulty engaging in the fight while building capacity and capability. CYBERCOM’s No. 1 mission is to defend DoD networks, so these systems are under a daily barrage of attacks from a variety of state and nonstate actors.

The Cyber Mission Force is expected to reach FOC by Sept. 30, 2018.

“[O]ur experience is that it takes about two years to get a team from the time we stand it up to fully mission-capable,” Rogers said.

Nearly half of the cyber mission force teams had reached FOC as of mid-October, according to CYBERCOM.

“The reality is, because of the dynamics of cyber, we have needed to apply capacity as soon as we’re generating it,” Rogers said. “And so we find ourselves in a situation — a little unusual in the military arena — wherein as soon as we get a basic framework, we have been deploying the teams and putting them against challenges.”

While still unconfirmed, one of the next challenges for CYBERCOM and top defense and administration officials will be whether to split the command from its parent organization, the National Security Agency, which Rogers also heads.

"As Cyber Command, particularly, gains more capacity and more capability, the demand on Cyber Command’s time, resources and capabilities just continue to grow,” Rogers said at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington in September.

Explaining how the command got to where it is today, Rogers said during a FedTalks event Oct. 18 that the decision to join the two organizations was meant to harness the NSA’s capabilities, insight and knowledge. Going forward, as officials are still working through this process, Rogers said some of the questions being examined are, “Are the assumptions that we made still accurate … Have things changed? Is the environment different? Does that lead us to think we should do something different?”

“The challenge in my mind is, ‘What’s the right time, what’s the right process so that we do it in a way that enables both organizations to fulfill their missions with minimal risk,” Rogers said.

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