The Department of Defense has issued a special notice requesting information for market research for the much-discussed and highly anticipated Persistent Cyber Training Environment.

The Army, which issued the special notice, was tapped by DoD to spearhead the PTE, as it is often called. According to the notice, issued October 17, the PTE is "a training platform that allows cyber mission forces to train in emulated network environments utilizing current cyber tool suites. The PCTE supports both individual and team training, in addition to large scale exercise and experimentation via a distributed close network across multiple classifications."

"This past year the deputy secretary of defense designated the Army as the executive agent for cyber training ranges, and then in this last year’s program budget review the Army was specifically given some resources…to do persistent training environment, to lead the development for the whole DoD capability," Ron Pontius, deputy to the commanding general of Army Cyber Command, told C4SIRNET recently.

Funding is slated to begin in fiscal 2017, and in the meantime, the Army is "working through the governance and management and the requirements and the acquisition approach for when resources start flowing in FY17," Pontius said.

The PTE is often touted by top officials within DoD’s cyber community as an absolute necessity for training and maintaining cyber chops.

The military writ large has "the ability…to do high-fidelity, highly realistic training where our teams, our tactical forces, can be immersed in a simulated environment that looks real to them," Lt. Gen. Kevin McLaughlin, CYBERCOM deputy commander, told the House Armed Services Committee this summer. However, "the issue that we have is we cannot do that at scale… [the] the persistent training environment is a focused effort in the Department of Defense to allow us to actually do that type of training routinely – every week, every day – so that the men and women that are on our teams have the ability to the level of training that we’re doing down in Suffolk [Virginia] right now. We only do that a few times a year."

The Joint Staff facility located in Suffolk, VA is home to the annual Cyber Guard exercise, a whole-of-government simulation with participation from several additional governmental agencies and private sector organizations that replicates a large-scale cyber incident. The Joint Staff facility also is involved in the Cyber Flag exercise that simulates military-only cyber operations.

With these exercises, the PTE "really is about individual training, collective training and mission rehearsal," Pontius, said. "So being able to provide training for the team members, for a whole team – because when you really talk about a Cyber Guard or Cyber Flag, you’re talking multiple teams or really large exercise... but we need to be able to do training more often and at a lower level."

The special notice said DoD currently uses a combination of loosely affiliated or independent virtual environments that lack automation necessary to both establish and maintain persistent and scalable training environments.

According to the notice, the future training platform should include:

- Realistic vignettes/scenarios as part of a system of individual and collective training from initial qualification through certification to mission rehearsal;

- Event scheduling, management and execution;

- Standardized training assessment;

- A live, highly expert joint opposing force (OPFOR)/aggressor to realistically simulate adversary threats and vulnerabilities, in addition to "canned" scenarios mimicking an automated OPFOR based on the current threat.

"The cyber PTE will provide scenarios event management and access for high quality, individual and collective training and mission reversal capabilities for our cyber mission forces at the time and place of need for all four services and for U.S. Cyber Command," Pontius said.

Pontius said the Army is working hand in hand with CYBERCOM on requirements for building cyber ranges, but they are also leveraging the other work that's been done across the force. He said the Joint Staff and the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics co-led an evaluation of alternatives for a PTE. Based upon this evaluation, the Joint Staff and CYBERCOM coordinated development of the initial requirements document that was approved by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Requirements Oversight Council in June.

"The evolution of the platform will largely focus on integration of available applications, enabling increased automation to ultimately support multiple simultaneous training events," the notice said. "At maturity, the DoD joint PCTE will be a constellation of federated, interoperable common training capabilities enabling full spectrum training from individual competencies to the team, unit, group and force training, exercises, TTP development and mission rehearsal."