A weapons systems program needed for Department of Defense cyberwarriors is ramping up following the first major contract award in October.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a $54 million system coordinator contract for the Unified Platform, one of U.S. Cyber Command’s largest and most critical national security programs to date. Officials have said the program will integrate capabilities necessary to conduct operations, delivered on an ongoing basis through a “cyber factory."

With the system coordinator contract awarded, the program is quickly ramping up production capability, explained the Air Force, working as the executive agent for the program, in response to written questions.

“In line with congressional direction, we are integrating and rationalizing current capabilities and assessing how best to meet current and emerging war fighter needs with next-generation capabilities,” the Air Force said.

The main work will take place in San Antonio, Texas, under the Unified Platform project management office, part of the Cryptologic and Cyber Systems Division under the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence & Networks Directorate of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

The Air Force said it will be using a variety of vendors with "discrete task-based efforts,” as well as a range of contracting vehicles, to keep up with emerging cyberwarrior needs.

“By using a broad, available and vetted talent pool through a mix of [contracting] vehicles ... Unified Platform will benefit from the best and the brightest,” the service said.

Currently, cyberwarriors are using a variety of different and disparate systems developed by each of the services over the years. Now with a unified cyber force under a single joint four-star command, these systems need to be consolidated to help with command-and-control and mission planning.

Hence, the force is trying to use rapid equipping authorities to get cyberwarriors systems quickly.

There will be a several deliveries of capabilities to warriors over time, the Air Force said, with one of its top officials saying the first tools could be available this spring.

The Air Force will be taking on the system integrator role for the time being, noting that Northrop’s award as system coordinator is not synonymous with it. Rather, the system coordinator role serves as an aide to the program management office by implementing certain tasks directed by the program management office.

Two initial critical tasks include standing up the “cyber factory” and Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) implementation, a framework designed to guide enterprises through complex software development.

Also of significant importance is DoD cyberwarriors gaining their own infrastructure to plan and launch attacks separate from the National Security Agency, which uses its systems primarily for espionage. While Cyber Command and the NSA are still currently co-located, a temporary arrangement in which both are set to split under the proper conditions, one critical condition to splitting is the development of DoD-specific tools, systems and infrastructure.

Cyber Command’s deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, noted during a recent speech that the command is thinking its way through how to “put steel on target” in cyber, a reference to the physical world of metal bombs falling on targets below. Unified Platform is one aspect of that equation in that it will allow for greater situational awareness, more cohesive mission planning and coordination among various teams that could be geographically dispersed.

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

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