The Defense Department has not yet formally decided to expand U.S. Cyber Command, according to a senior Pentagon official. "That decision has not been made yet. I'm not saying it won't be made. It hasn't been made," the official said.
"It's fair to say that this has not been given the green light," the official told Killer Apps when asked about a Washington Post report that the command is set to grow from 900 people to 4,900 civilian and uniformed cyber operators.
While U.S. Cyber Command has been working with the Pentagon since last April to define the cyber capabilities it wants from each of the armed services, no final decision has been made on the numbers of troops, where they will be drawn from, and what the various cyber fighting units will be called, according to the official.
"There is no doubt that we will expand our [cyber] forces; everyone is on the same page with that," said the official. "Exactly what the figures are, what they're called, and their precise makeup, that does remain to be seen. So in concept yes, we're expanding it. Has it happened on paper yet? No."
"The decisions in terms of the budget and people have not been made," said the official. "It remains in the building for approval," said the official.
The Post reported yesterday that the Pentagon late last year approved the plan to dramatically increase the size of U.S. cyber command and organize it into three tranches: "National mission forces" would protect help defend critical national infrastructure such as power grids, financial networks, and transportation networks; "combat mission forces" would engage in offensive cyber operations; and "cyber protection forces" would "fortify the Defense Department's networks." It's important to note that the Post did say that the details of the expansion are still being hammered out.
While Killer Apps wrote last fall that an increase in cyber forces is coming -- and with it, a scramble to figure out how to pay for increased investments in cyber -- the Pentagon official today said that staff from Cyber Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense have still not reached a formal decision on whether to grow the command.
The Pentagon's cyber plans are being debated by a group of senior defense officials (known as the Deputy's Management Action Group) who report to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, according to the official. The Pentagon is indeed hoping to grow its cyber forces, especially in light of increased threats to critical infrastructure against which the Pentagon will play a role in defending, but the plan as reported by the Post "has not been cleared" by the Pentagon, he added.
"It will also have to go to Congress because it's going to involve money and people," said the official.
"Everything's a little slow right now," due to fiscal uncertainty caused by the fact that the Pentagon is operating under a Continuing Resolution that is keeping its budget flat -- combined with the fact that the Pentagon may be forced to make dramatic budget cuts should Congress fail to reach a deficit reduction agreement by March 1.
Even without sequestration, it will be tough for the services to staff and fund Cyber Command's requests. Here's what Killer Apps wrote the Pentagon's growing cyber forces last November following a discussion with Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, the Air Force's Chief Information Officer.
"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.