In a move that may increase funding and organizational reshuffling of the U.S. military's cyber forces, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are set to tell the U.S. armed services what roles they are expected to fulfill in supporting cyber operations in the coming decade.
In April, U.S. Cyber Command gave each of the armed services a list of cyber capabilities that it needed them to develop to conduct operations around the world. Now, Pentagon's brass are updating that list to account for cyber challenges that may emerge later in the decade.
Cyber Command's order told the services, "These are the capabilities we need you to provide -- capabilities in support of regional combatant commands, capabilities in terms of areas of expertise that the Air Force might have, that the Army might have," Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force's chief information officer, said during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon today.
Cyber Command is now refining those instructions "given the threat, given the national imperative" to defend the U.S. from crippling cyber attack, added Basla. "We are looking at this through a couple of lenses -- defense of the nation and support to our regional combatant commanders."
To this end, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and OSD are deciding what cyber capabilities the individual services will need to bring to the table between fiscal years 2014 and 2020. Once that happens -- as early as next week -- they will tell the service to plan accordingly, accordingly to Basla. (Keep in mind that the individual services provide cyber fighting forces to U.S. Cyber Command in the same way they provide traditional forces for the regional combatant commands.)
"There is work being done, even today in the tank with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to talk about the current requirements for U.S. Cyber Command," said Basla. "So we will [soon] understand what those demands are, what our capabilities are and [will] address those gaps."
Keep in mind that last September, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said he was wary of investing too much in cyber until he had a clearer picture of what Cyber Command wanted from his service.
This may well mean reorganization for Air Force cyber forces, and it will likely impact the service's cyber budget, added Basla.
"The demand signal has increased and will continue to increase," said the three-star general. "We see an increase in the demand signal [from Cyber Command], that's going to be one of the things the Air Force has to respond to."
Given the ever increasing demand for cyber operations, the Air Force will fight to defend its cyber budgets from cuts and may see finding increases over the coming years, said Basla.
"We've been holding the line. This is one of those areas where we've said we cannot afford to take reductions and may in fact, be one of the growth areas in a very tight budget environment," said Basla. The air service (and the rest of the military) is currently looking at how much money it will need to spend on cyber related activities in the second half of this decade.
The Air Force has designated "cyberspace superiority" as a core mission for the service, similar to the way the service sees dominating airspace as a key mission.
Basla warned that at a time of declining budgets, any investments in cyber may come at the expense of other Air Force programs.
"You all know that it's a zero-sum game. If we decide, based on something that comes out of this tank session today or the meeting with [Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter] next week, if we find out that we have to respond to cyber demands in the [fiscal year 2014] timeframe and adjust that [long term spending plan] accordingly, something else will have to be reduced in order to do that, unless -- and I certainly don't see this at this moment -- there's some top-line adjustment."
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.