To combat the ever growing cyber threat, the Defense Department is deploying teams of experts to provide offensive, defense and support capabilities.
The Army and Navy have begun releasing these Cyber Mission Forces (CMF) into the wilds of their network protection efforts.
“All 40 of the Navy Cyber Mission Force teams achieved full operational capability (FOC) as of Oct. 6, as validated by U.S. Cyber Command, one year ahead of the designated target date. This means all Navy teams are now capable of operating at full mission capacity,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ben Tisdale of U.S. Navy Fleet Cyber Command. “Navy CMF teams have been, and are currently actively engaged, against challenges globally and as part of the joint force. We also focus on sustaining the manning, training, capabilities and operational readiness of the teams through a comprehensive sustainment training plan.”
The Army reported comparable results, and also reached FOC with most of its teams a year ahead of schedule. In addition, the Army has commissioned Cyber Mission Forces elements within reserve and National Guard units. Those additional teams are currently undergoing unit readiness training and, in some cases, are still being formed.
“Reserve component teams are already conducting critical cyberspace missions and will reach full operating capability by 2024. The end state will have 11 National Guard and 10 Army Reserve teams,” said Cathy Vandermaarel, deputy director of public affairs for Army Cyber Command.
Officers from both branches expressed hope that the early successes of the CMF teams would enable the program to continue to expand. While Tisdale stressed that he couldn’t talk about specific missions, in general, the teams are reporting successes.
“Navy CMF teams are operating in all mission areas, providing unique expertise and solutions to counter threats to our nation’s information systems. The Navy’s cyber workforce provides full-spectrum cyberspace operations support to DoD, combatant commanders, and fleet commanders’ mission areas,” Tisdale said. “The Navy’s interoperability within the CMF mission, through our trained and skilled cyber workforce, is critical to protecting our nation’s security and, when called upon, responding to those adversaries.”
For the Army, Vandermaarel stressed the CMF teams have proved their worth and are here to stay.
“The construction of Cyber Mission Force teams shouldn’t be considered a temporary program … CMFs are a new unit with cyber expertise; they are not fleeting, but built into the makeup of the relatively-new cyber field within the military,” Vandermaarel said. “That said, the CMFs are actively engaged in training and real-world missions daily. The cyber environment ensures there’s always important work for them to do and their leadership is working hard to ensure successful mission accomplishment while taking care of the soldiers who make up the teams.”
The biggest challenge for the CMF program may be finding enough people to serve in all the new teams, even as the military’s reliance on things like networked systems and big data analytics continues to grow, officials said. And, unlike personnel trained in some military disciplines who mostly drill and train when not actively fighting, Tisdale stressed cyber defense is an ongoing need, with no downtime, and always critical stakes.
“Given the dynamic nature of the cyber environment, our cyber mission force teams must sustain a high degree of readiness at all times,” Tisdale said.
The Navy must ensure CMF personnel keep up to speed with the latest threat intelligence and continually hone their skills to maintain readiness.
“We monitor each team’s operational readiness continuously and find innovative ways to test and improve their ability to achieve assigned tasks,” Tisdale said. “Every day, our Navy cyber mission force teams are either on a real-world mission or in a simulated training environment to maintain their skills at the highest level possible.”
Over the next few years, the CMF units will almost certainly have their skills and training put to the test. The Army and Navy were able to deploy all of their planned active duty cyber units a year ahead of schedule. That fact could bode well for reserve and National Guard units, if they follow the same blueprint, officials said.
Neal Sayatovich is a freelance writer.
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