WASHINGTON — Congress would approve roughly half of the money the Army requested for a new cyber tool that will allow commanders to not only visualize, but also understand the cyber environment within their battlespaces.
Congress would authorize $12 million less than the Army wanted for the service’s Cyber Situational Understanding (Cyber SU) program, under the annual defense policy bill for fiscal 2021, released Dec. 3. The Army initially requested $28.5 million. The plan must still be signed into law by President Donald Trump.
The program will allow personnel and commanders to better understand their terrain by ingesting data and information from a variety of systems and sensors. Just as commanders must understand the obstacles and forces — friendly or otherwise — in their battlespace to make informed decisions, so too must they understand their cyber terrain, which they are currently unable to do from the command post. The system will be integrated into the Army’s Command Post Computing Environment, a web-based tool that will consolidate current mission systems and programs into a single user interface at the command post.
This is different than tools for the cyber mission force that feed up to U.S. Cyber Command and conduct remote operations on behalf of combatant commanders or in defense of the nation. This tool is specifically for ground-based brigade commanders to assess their terrain and risk in cyberspace and on the electromagnetic spectrum.
The Senate Armed Services Committee version of the bill released in June, sought to cut funding for the program that some saw as redundant to another program being developed within the Department of Defense.
That program, called Project IKE, is being run by the Strategic Capabilities Office and is being designed for the cyber mission force to help visualize the cyber environment and plan operations.
However, Army officials have said that a visualization tool such as Cyber SU is key for noncyber commanders to visualize and understand their terrain from a cyber perspective, given that is another dimension they must consider when conducting operations. It was not planned solely for conducting operations in cyberspace, they’ve noted.
Paul Mehney, spokesman for the Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, said in a statement that the program office for Cyber SU is coordinating with the Strategic Capabilities Office to conduct a lab-based assessment of IKE to determine whether, in its current state, it can enhance the Army’s cyber and electronic warfare picture at the tactical level or whether it can be integrated into the Command Post Computing Environment. Officials expect the assessment to be complete in April.
The Army has conducted several engagements with soldiers and units to date on Cyber SU, to include the 82nd Airborne Division and 915th Cyber Warfare Battalion, the Army’s first tactically focused cyber, electronic warfare and information operations unit that will augment deployed brigades. Feedback on the system so far has been positive, Mehney said, adding the first applications users and commanders an easy-to-understand picture of the cyber-electromagnetic environment under their direct influence.
In early 2021 the program office will begin formal DevSecOps with a brigade combat team to try to improve system and design for future increments.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.