IT and Networks

DoD sets sights on weaponizing cyber

The Defense Department appears to be preparing to make major moves in the military's cyber domain, with several components advancing their capabilities and policies, and the Defense secretary eyeing a specialized cyber corps.

At the Defense Information Systems Agency, the sweeping Joint Regional Security Stack initiative to overhaul IT infrastructure across military bases also is serving as means for DoD to empower troops to act in cyberspace. DISA is helping to implement JRSS at dozens of sites in the U.S. and abroad, but the agency also is changing the way it trains in and conducts cyber operations, starting at Fort Meade, Maryland, where DISA, U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency all are housed.

"When you start looking at the command and control and the capabilities that we are going to put at the combatant commander's fingertips, not necessarily at the signal, communicator, cyber fingertips, we are getting ready to change the way we work," DISA Director LTG Ronnie Hawkins said April 7 at the C4ISR & Networks conference in Arlington, Virginia. "In fact within DISA, within the joint force headquarters, we are even training differently…I would tell you that we have to get it to where we treat the JRSS as a weapons system and we are operationalizing that within DISA and within the Department of Defense."

See our complete coverage of the C4ISR & Networks Conference at our Show Reporter site.

The same day, a top Navy official outlined a new strategy that will establish cyber as a weapons platform, including through the impending launch of 40 cyber mission teams that will deploy around the world, ashore and afloat. The teams will be part of the broader forces under CyberCom, of which each service has a component and provides support.

"The decisions around when to apply a [cyber offense] capability is at the CyberCom level," Kevin Cooley, executive director and command information officer for Fleet Cyber Command/10th Fleet, said April 7 and the C4ISR & Networks Conference. ""We're spending time making sure we're ready to execute should those options be considered appropriate by national command authority to do that. This is a warfare domain, so just like in other warfare domains we have the capability to be tactically offensive and tactically defensive [and] strategically offensive and strategically defensive."

The announcements come just weeks after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a Fort Meade audience he is mulling the creation of a military cyber corps, rather than each service running its own cyber sub-component, and hinted at the possibility of elevating CyberCom to a combatant command. Both options are much-discussed subjects that remain open-ended.

"There may come a time when [a cyber corps] makes sense. I think that for now we're trying to build upon our strengths. We're trying to draw from where we already are strong and not to take too many jumps, organizationally, at once," Carter said at March 13 appearance at CyberCom. "I think you have to look at this as the first step in a journey that may, over time, lead to the decision to break out cyber the way that…the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, the way Special Operations Command was created, and with a somewhat separate thing, although that still has service parts to it. "We're trying to get the best of both."

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