For much of its short history, U.S. Cyber Command was thrust into operations without having finalized its organization and force. Now that the cyber mission force has been built, the command is beginning to work out strategic problems and how to employ its capabilities in an environment where operations can change at the millisecond level.

“We just finished the build and are now thinking our way through how do you put steel on target in this space,” Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command, said during a Nov. 14 keynote presentation at the CyCon U.S. conference in Washington, D.C.

Despite lessons being learned throughout the process of teams building, Cyber Command decided not to make any substantial changes to their construct until the force was assembled.

“We’ll tailor and we’ll task organize in order to best meet that mission,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, commander of Army Cyber Command, told Fifth Domain during an August interview when asked how the force was able to get at tough problems during the build without altering the team structures too disruptively. “We’re always going to have the ability to task organize or tailor but we think we’re at a point now we know enough that it’s time for the next evolution of this.”

Stewart cautioned that the organization is still less than 10 years old and it will take time to fully mature and act totally independent from its parent organization, the National Security Agency.

As Cyber Command develops its own access to targets, it will have to get to the point where it can conduct independent operations without having to rely on the NSA, Stewart said.

Despite the sometimes “frustrating” differences between Cyber Command and the NSA — which has a keen interest in watching and not disrupting targets, while Cyber Command might want to deny or disrupt a target (often called intelligence gain/loss) — Stewart lauded the “great partnership” between the agencies, which are "working together to find options that allow us to implement the things we want to do on the Cyber Command side while persevering in some cases really, really exquisite access and insights we can’t get anywhere else,” he said.

Cyber Command is working to get off NSA systems and develop its own tools and infrastructure, something that was envisioned since the command originally stood up.

Another strategic problem cyber experts continue to struggle with is the issue of sovereignty in the digital domain, which knows no physical geographic bounds.

“If this domain is global, tell me where the boundaries of my adversary” are, Stewart asked rhetorically, admitting he didn’t have the answer to this problem.

He explained that one of the issues to wrestle with is how to deal with a device or infrastructure being used by an adversary in a third country. “How do you deal with it if the country doesn’t have the capability to take care of their own malware? Do we act unilaterally?” he asked.

Despite the work left to be done, others are very optimistic about the place the DoD is in with cyberspace currently.

The force is at an inflection point, according to George Franz, managing director with Accenture Federal Services and former director of operations at Cyber Command, told Fifth Domain in an October interview.

Not only has Cyber Command now been elevated to a full unified combatant command — which comes with new and unique authorities — but, he said, the force is fully built; there are now national and DoD cyber strategies that seek to change the calculus in cyberspace by engaging adversaries on their turf; new national-level authorities have been enacted allowing the force to do its job; and the commanders in cyber leadership roles have served at various levels of the cyber force for many years who are experienced and understand cyber.

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

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