Army Cyber Command Focuses on Protecting Vital Networks

Warfighters operating on the front lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, can be confident that a corps of “cyber warriors” has their backs, and is working to protect the computer systems they depend on, a senior military official reported.

Less than a year after it stood up Oct. 1, Army Cyber Command is leading a corps of 21,000 soldiers and civilians who serve worldwide operating and defending all Army networks, Army Lt. Gen. Rhett A. Hernandez, its commander, told American Forces Press Service.

Hernandez oversees a 24/7 operation that, operating under the U.S. Cyber Command umbrella, is responsible for defending the largest piece of the Defense Department global infrastructure grid.

In simplest terms, Army Cyber Command provides security for these networks so commanders, regardless of their location, can communicate with their own forces, higher headquarters and other elements, he explained.

“We are operating and defending all the (Army) networks, regardless of where they are – from our installations worldwide, in garrison, in a field environment, all the way to the tactical edge where our soldiers are engaged in combat operations,” he said.

This capability is particularly critical to combat troops, whose missions – and lives – depend on information and intelligence these networks provide. “Without it, they would be hard-pressed to conduct the operations they are doing,” Hernandez said, “because cyber really enables mission command,” as well as soldiers’ ability to carry out their commander’s intent.

“We are allowing them to operate in an environment that gives them the information they need to do that,” he said. “Our job is to ensure they have those enabling capabilities they
need to be successful.”

Meanwhile, Army Cyber Command has the capability, when directed, to ensure troops have freedom of movement in cyberspace, and to deny that access to adversaries.

Ten months since starting from “what I would call scratch,” Hernandez said, he’s proud of the new command that has emerged and the increased operational focus it brings to the daily defense of Army networks.

“That’s not to say we were not defending our networks in the past,” he said. “But with an operational view of what we need to do to ensure we are doing all we can possibly do to defend our network, I believe we have made tremendous strides.”

Hernandez attributed much of that success to close cooperation and sharing within Army Cyber Command, the sister service cyber commands and U.S. Cyber Command.

“You get an unprecedented unity of effort across the board,” he said. “It is not only servicewide, but it is horizontal, between the other services, and it is vertical, between (U.S.) Cyber Command and the services.

“So you can imagine the synergy that comes from that … as you conduct operations in defense of your networks every day,” he added.

This synergy is critical, he said, in keeping ahead of a complex, rapidly changing cyber threat. “When I think about where we are today, the (focus) is not so much what it is we are able to do to operate and defend our networks today,” he said. “It is what we have to do to ensure we are able to operate and defend against an evolving, changing and growing threat.”

Toward that end, Hernandez is addressing the acquisition process, pressing to make it more responsive and to ensure that cybersecurity gets factored into buying decisions.

Major equipment acquisitions that take five to seven years just won’t cut it in keeping ahead of evolving cyber threats, the general said. “We really need capabilities that we can bring to the force in 12 to 18 months,” he said, even if it means accepting incremental solutions rather than waiting for perfect ones.

Meanwhile, cyber threats have brought new considerations to acquisition decisions. “In the past, we had a mindset, ‘Let’s just increase the capability we provide to the field, regardless of the potential threats that might be with them,” Hernandez said. “But I think in the future, we need to ensure that the things that we are building have to better defend our networks to ensure we maintain the ability to operate.”

But ultimately, Hernandez called people the centerpiece of cybersecurity and cyberdefense. He’s working to promote training and leader development across the ranks to improve the Army’s ability to work within the cyberspace domain.

That’s essential, he said, not only for the growing corps of specialized cyber-warriors, but for all soldiers and Army civilian employees who access and rely on military networks to do their job.

“We are talking across the board,” Hernandez said. “So we are trying to create a 21st-century training environment that brings together home-station training as well as field training to ensure that soldiers and leaders can train in that (cyber) environment.”

Meanwhile, Hernandez emphasized the role every soldier and Department of the Army civilian plays in promoting cybersecurity.

“Every user needs to understand and appreciate that every time they enter the net — regardless of what that net is, whether it is the Internet, an Army or military net – they are entering a contested environment,” he said. “And others are working to take that freedom to operate either away from them, or away from us. … So it is critical that (they) ensure they do those things that will protect [themselves] and protect the rest of the force.”

By Donna Miles – American Forces Press Service

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