The U.S. Air Force delivered to U.S. Cyber Command the first iteration of a critical new cyber platform that will give teams important tools and help with coordination, Department of Defense officials said.

The Air Force is developing the Unified Platform, a system that will allow cyber forces to share information, conduct mission planning and provide the command and control tools they need to conduct cyber missions, on behalf of the joint force. An Air Force spokesman confirmed to Fifth Domain that increment 1, formerly known as the minimum viable product, was delivered and operationally accepted by Cyber Command April 9.

The military’s cyber teams can now use that increment, which includes capabilities supporting defensive cyber operations and interoperability.

Air Force budget documents released in March 2019 said the service plans to spend about $100 million on the program in fiscal year 2020, including money for research and development funds.

The first delivery is significant because Cyber Command has been working to develop its own cyber operations infrastructure separate from that of the National Security Agency. Cyber Command has been co-located with NSA since its founding as a means of sharing personnel and infrastructure to get it started.

This so-called dual hat arrangement still exists. But some in the military believe Cyber Command needs to develop its own infrastructure because its warfighting mission is fundamentally different from NSA’s foreign intelligence mission. The latter requires undetected persistence on foreign networks for intelligence gathering and the former requires gaining access for both intelligence and disruption.

Unified Platform will serve as a tactical cyber operations system for individual cyber teams to conduct and coordinate operations.

Cyber Command’s long-term vision for cyber operations is for missions to start with Unified Platform and flow into what the military calls Joint Cyber Command and Control (JCC2), which will provide joint commanders enhanced situational awareness and battle management for cyber forces and missions.

“JCC2 establishes congressionally directed focal point to provide integrated JCC2 solutions to all echelons for execution of cyberspace operations to enable and accelerate planning/collaboration between Cyber Mission Forces and Combatant Commands,” Air Force budget documents for fiscal 2020 read. “It will integrate Cyber C2 with Joint, Coalition and inter-agency C2 to enhance multi-domain operations, reduce planning time, improve decision quality and speed resulting in a shorter kill chain. Capabilities will be developed to address the Cyber Mission Forces used to conduct cyber operations.”

The Air Force is planning to spend $11.6 million in research and development funds for JCC2 in FY20.

For years, the Department of Defense had referred to the military cyber infrastructure’s under a broad banner known as the Military Cyber Operations Platform, or MCOP. One industry source said MCOP is not a program and that top personnel within Cyber Command’s capabilities directorate are discussing the idea more conceptually than in years past.

While fiscal year 2019 Air Force budget documents made reference to the further development of MCOP, there is no mention of the idea in fiscal 2020 documents.

What’s next on Unified Platform?

Northrop Grumman was awarded a $54 million contract in October 2018 as the system coordinator for Unified Platform.

Most recently, on Feb. 22, the Air Force awarded five companies under a contract called the Cyber Enterprise Services contract within Unified Platform, which will enhance multiple cyber platforms with a provision of services in the areas of command and control, planning, generation, execution, assessment, reporting and visualization.

The five companies include Northrop Grumman, Accenture, ManTech, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics One Source.

Industry officials had previously said CES was valued around $150 million with six awards valued at $25 million a piece.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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