U.S. Cyber Command is reconsidering how it buys and develops the tools cyber warriors need.

The Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture (JCWA), was established by Cyber Command within the last year to guide capability development priorities. Cyber is unique within the Department of Defense in that from an operational perspective nearly all aspects are joint. This means in the traditional warfighting realm, the services are responsible for manning, training and equipping for a certain function, infantry or fighter pilots, for example. While those forces are part of a theater-wide campaign plan beneath a combatant command, they are still deployed under their own services.

In cyber, by contrast, the services don’t own any of the offensive cyber teams or capabilities. While developed by the services, they are deployed by Cyber Command in support of combatant commands through Joint Force Headquarters.

Given this setup, Cyber Command wanted to move away from the services developing their own unique cyber tools and capabilities and rather create a more joint architecture where capabilities can be developed for the use of the entire cyber mission force across all the services.

The JCWA could be that framework. Cyber Command’s executive director equated it to an enterprise approach.

“Just like any corporate enterprise would look at how they would manage a broad business, we are looking at Cyber Command as an enterprise and the Joint Force Headquarters is part of that enterprise,” David Luber, told reporters May 7 at Cyber Command.

In written testimony to Congress this year, Cyber Command’s leader, Gen. Paul Nakasone, said this architecture consists of five elements:

  • Common firing platforms to be used at the four cyber operating locations of the service cyber components. These platforms will be worked into a comprehensive suite of cyber tools;
  • Unified Platform, which will integrate and analyze data from offensive and defensive operations with partners;
  • Joint command and control mechanisms for situational awareness and battle management at the strategic, operational and tactical levels;
  • Sensors that support defense of the network and drive operational decisions, and;
  • The Persistent Cyber Training Environment, which will provide individual and collective training as well as a way to rehearse for a mission. The Army is managing PCTE on behalf of Cyber Command and the joint force.

Maj. Gen. Karl Gingrich, director of capability and resource integration, J-8 at Cyber Command, said that the JCWA provides a framework for talking to senior Department of Defense leaders as well as Congress, who might not be steeped in cyber operations on a daily basis. This philosophy helps all those parties understand the context for where the command is seeking to make investments and where gaps exist.

Moreover, the JCWA is meant to keep the command constantly innovating from a capability standpoint by adapting to how adversaries are responding.

“What we don’t want to do is lock ourselves into antiquated technology that then drives how do business in the cyber domain,” Gingrich said. “We have to have an architecture that is capable of allowing us to innovate and go where we need to go.”

No more executive agents?

Cyber Command, while it possesses unique authorities from other combatant commands to buy and develop capabilities, still relies on traditional executive agents to build its systems. Executive agents often act on the behalf of the Department’s leadership for joint projects. For example, the Air Force is responsible for building all the cyber command and control capabilities for Cyber Command and, by extension, the joint force. The Army is procuring the Persistent Cyber Training Environment as the executive agent for training platforms.

The JCWA will allow Cyber Command to communicate directly to a service to procure a specific capability, Gingrich said.

“Through the requirements process, we can govern what they are buying, we can advocate for them so they have the resources that are there, but through that construct, we don’t need an executive agent relationship where one service buys tools for everybody,” he added.

Military officials say the $75 million the command gets each year for acquisition isn’t enough for ongoing procurement of capabilities needed in an environment that can change in milliseconds. The new architecture will allow Cyber Command to take advantage of the collective acquisition authority of each of the services on an ongoing basis while deconflicting what is being developed to ensure maximum effectiveness and efficiency.

“As a command, by having this set of standards and opportunities, we bring together the best of all the different developers, the best in breed of all the different tool capabilities and most importantly the talent of the people” across the joint force, Luber said.

Previously, the command was mostly focused at capabilities in the near term and making modifications to tools for teams already involved in operations.

Now, Gingrich said, the JCWA is looking to project these capabilities into the future and is working on the next program objectives for fiscal years 2021-2025.

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

More In Cyber