The Army, along with the rest of the military services, is in the midst of an ambitious endeavor to build a joint cadre of several thousand cyber warriors that will conduct offensive cyber operations, defend the country from cyber attacks and operate the military’s own networks via three different groups of cyber mission teams.
But the soldiers the Army is contributing to those teams and the ones who currently operate within the service’s own formations are drawn from a “potpourri” of specialties that span several occupational branches, some of which pre-date the Internet itself.
Army Secretary John McHugh is currently considering a proposal that would change that by establishing a branch of the service whose members are dedicated to cyber, putting the career on par with more traditional military work fields like infantry, aviation and armor.
In an interview with Federal News Radio, Col. Carmine Cicalese, the branch chief for cyber and information operations at Army headquarters, stressed that no final decision had been made, but the notion of a dedicated branch had the potential to bring several benefits to the Army’s nascent workforce of soldiers who work primarily in the cyber field.
“It does a couple things for you, one of which is to give you a professional identity, which is an important thing,” he said. “It also helps to establish a guaranteed training and education and professional career path, so that you have a way of moving throughout your career into growth positions and then ultimately leadership positions, so that 20 to 30 years from now we’ll have general officers and sergeant majors who came through a cyber track. They’ll be steeped in cyber with regard to Army and joint operations, and that formal track is what helps build the profession of arms.”
The Army already has a large and growing body of uniformed cyber professionals, but very few job titles — or military occupational specialties, in Army parlance — that specifically include the word “cyber.” Instead, most enlisted members and officers are drawn from other fields that have traditionally been dedicated to other disciplines.
Among them are enlisted personnel from the “35Q” field, currently part of the military intelligence branch and “25D” soldiers, who are part of the signal branch. Officers who make up the de facto cyber workforce come from signals, intelligence and a handful of other legacy Army branches and functional areas.
Given the military’s current emphasis on building up cyber expertise, those soldiers are getting significant training in cyber defense, offense, network operations or some combination of the three, depending on their specific assignments.
But absent a dedicated field, there’s no guarantee that any individual soldier will continue to work in the cyber field throughout his or her career, and some risk that they’ll be re-tasked into careers that have nothing to do with cyber.
“That’s what would occur otherwise,” Cicalese said. “You go do something for a while, and then that expertise is doing something else.”
Even if the Army doesn’t wind up creating a special branch for cyber, the service has taken other steps in recent months to institutionalize it as a vital discipline.
Like each of the other DoD services, it now has a three-star command dedicated to cyber. And late last year, the Army renamed its Signal Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Georgia. It is now the Cyber Center of Excellence, and the Army’s Cyber Command is in the process of relocating there from its initial headquarters at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
At Fort Gordon, where the National Security Agency is also a major tenant, the Army also wants to begin to inculcate a new piece of doctrine which it terms Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA). The idea is to blend Army operations in cyberspace with what it’s already been working on for years with respect to electronic warfare and manipulating the electromagnetic spectrum.
“It’s not a final decision, but the Army is certainly contemplating the idea of collecting all of the cyberspace-related fields at the center of excellence,” said Col. Jim Ekvall, the Army’s chief for electronic warfare. “We know we’re going to develop a cyber school there. We believe what will eventually happen is that the electronic warfare school will move there. So in essence, you will have one location, with one commanding general who is going to be the single force modernization proponent for cyberspace.”