Realistic training is the key for making critical tasks second nature for soldiers on the battlefield. Every soldier learns marksmanship skills on a rifle range and learns to maneuver on the battlefield with his or her squad, platoon and larger force. The need to train critical cyber skills is just as important.

The U.S. Army’s conventional forces have established world-class training environments to conduct large-scale maneuvers and hone their tactics, techniques and procedures. Developing comparable environments for cyber mission forces is more complex, but necessary for mission readiness in cyber and the other warfighting domains.

Today’s cyber mission force fights in support of, and alongside, conventional forces delivering cyber effects during all phases of the operation. In the Army, a brigade combat team deploys with units that provide intelligence, medical and maintenance support. Today, those teams also include cyber forces. During an operation, our cyber forces must understand not only how to deploy their cyber expertise, but how to fight while integrated within or in support of the larger force. An increasingly multi-domain battlefield means the cyber mission forces must operate and collaborate across air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

Based on my experience training cyber protection teams and other cyber forces, the need for realistic, persistent environments to “train as we fight” is clear. The U.S. Army is leading the charge to create a Persistent Cyber Training Environment, known as a PCTE, to hone their cyber skills during individual and team-level events.

It will be a secure environment to support realistic distributed cyber training. But the solution must provide more capabilities than a typical cyber range or a virtual environment that supports capture-the-flag type exercises. PCTE must allow the cyber force to train for full-spectrum operations by providing realistic scenarios in support of operational missions; these cyber specialists need to know what it will be like fighting in multi-domain operations.

The Army’s brigade combat teams conduct world-class training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. There, the U.S. Army’s maneuver forces conduct their operational missions based on realistic scenarios against a competitive opposing force. This level of realism prepares individual soldiers and combined arms teams for a wide range of missions; and it is necessary to achieve the highest level of mission readiness.

The Army created a series of different prototypes ahead of PCTE development next year. Their goal is worthy of high-praise: to create a world-class training environment for cyber mission forces and their unique mission. Doing so will fill a gap when it comes to providing on-demand cyber terrain to conduct realistic cyber training. PCTE will help deliver training to the point of need, allowing all our forces to maintain the competitive advantage; Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen will be able to connect to PCTE 24/7 from around the world to continue honing and adapting their cyber skills.

It is critical that the team the Army selects to deliver the final PCTE has experience in large-scale integration of complex systems, system engineering and rapid development capabilities, as well as a deep understanding of the operational context. Additionally, it will be important to capitalize on the decades of experience at training maneuver forces at NTC and maintain a warfighter focus as PCTE capabilities are developed.

Technology keeps advancing at a faster pace, increasing exponentially the potential damage our missions face from cyber threats. Providing our cyber warriors with a PCTE will ensure our forces can train as they fight, helping ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace, while denying our adversary the same.

Don Bray is the director for cyber training at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. He is a former U.S. Army officer with 35 years of service. His posts includes Commander, Cyber Protection Brigade and Acting Cybersecurity Director for the U.S. Army CIO/G6.

More In