The Finnish Armed Force’s cyber unit is struggling to recruit the top-tier expertise it needs largely due to the prospect of lower salaries in government than in the private sector.

The FAF-C5A is looking to recruit much of the talent it needs from within Finland’s ICT/cybersecurity domain. The unit is hoping for a bigger budget, and improved resourcing, to help recruit ICT specialists from inside the Armed Forces.

The FAF-C5A stands as the Finnish military’s main line of defense and response against cyber threats directed at the country’s critical state, military and industrial infrastructure.

The unit, which includes an IT-Services Division, Five CIS Support Divisions and a Cyber Division, is responsible for the FAF’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Information Systems and Cyber Defense.

FAF-C5A chief, Brig. Gen. Mikko Heiskanen, acknowledges the unit is not in a strong enough financial position to openly compete with private-sector salaries when searching for talent.

“There is little prospect right now that we can meet the salary demands of the top experts in this field given our current resources and what we can pay,” Heiskanen said.

To attract specialists the FAF-C5A is counting on a combination of patriotism, in combination with the challenge of working on the front line of advanced cyberwarfare defense and offensive technologies.

The FAF-C5A will need to fill at least 200 positions for high-end ICT-cybersecurity specialists by 2024. Under Finnish law, these full-time positions are available only to Finnish nationals.

The Finnish government, which is expected to expand cyber defense, military-led intelligence gathering and confidential communications intercept laws in 2018, has promised to substantially increase resources available to the FAF as part of the country’s more ambitious cyberdefense strategy.

Motivated by the increasing threat of cyberterrorism, the proposed changes to Finland’s intelligence gathering, supervision and intercept laws would give broader-ranging and more expansive powers to military and homeland security services.

The reinforcement of current laws will elevate the FAF-C5A’s ability to gather intelligence on serious international threats, both in Finland and abroad. Expanded powers will require the FAF-C5A to scale-up its core information systems, radio signals and telecommunications intelligence’ capacities.

A larger budget for the FAF-C5A is needed to underscore recently strengthened cybersecurity-based cooperation agreements with NATO, the U.S. and Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Finland and NATO signed a landmark political framework agreement on cyberdefense in February 2017. Additionally, the FAF-C5A plans to run more regular cyberwarfare threats-based joint exercises with its counterpart in the United States European Command.

The bigger budget is also linked to the unit’s support for the Finnish Army’s new M18 C5 digitalized combat theater communications system.

At an advanced stage of final tests, all Army brigade-level units are expected to have the system operational by 2019. The FAF-C5A is tasked with constructing a protective shield around M18 C5 to defend against all ICT-linked battlefield communications against cyberattack threats.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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