Could USCYBERCOM Transform the Entire DOD Culture?

Published: October 21, 2015

Critical Infrastructure ProtectionCybersecurityDEFENSEDISAIntelligence

The US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) is moving fast to implement its strategy to defend and exploit cyberspace in support of US national interests. But equally impactful could be CYBERCOM’s influence as cultural change agent within the overall US Department of Defense (DOD). Elements in a recent strategy document give hints of this potential.

USCYBERCOM is charged to direct, operate and secure DOD’s networks and systems in support of its overall defense mission. In "Beyond the Build: Delivering Outcomes through Cyberspace,” which is self-described as “the Commander’s Vision and Guidance for US Cyber Command,” Adm. Michael Rogers “emphasizes integration of cyberspace operations into new ways of defending, fighting, and partnering against learning adversaries in the contested cyber domain.”

Underscoring the need for DOD to adapt to the ever-changing realities of cyberspace the guidance outlines how the leadership views and defines the following three areas:

  • Mission Intent – Ensure DOD mission assurance; deter or defeat strategic threats to US interests and infrastructure; and achieve Joint Force Commander objectives
  • Mission Imperatives – Defend the nation’s vital interests in cyberspace; operationalize the cyber mission set; accelerate full-spectrum capacity and capability development; and integrate cyberspace operations in support of joint force objectives
  • Mission Enablers – Demonstrated value and credibility through effective operations and processes; Defined command and control through defined supported/supporting relationships with Combatant Commanders and others; Cooperation and collaboration with partners inside and outside government, including industry, academia, and foreign allies; Professionalized workforce consisting of military (both active and reserve), civilian, and contractor personnel; and Acquisition Agility to accelerate the development and acquisition of new tools.

The document is one of many released on the DOD Cyber Strategy Web page.

Cyber Mission Forces

One element under the Mission Imperatives above is “accelerate full-spectrum capacity and capability development” and includes building out the capacity of the Cyber Mission Force. DOD is developing its cyber forces to strengthen its cyber defense and cyber deterrence posture. According to information posted on the DOD Cyber Strategy page, the current plan is to build out 133 teams by 2018 in the following configuration:

  • National Mission Teams (13) – Defend the United States and its interests against cyberattacks of significant consequence.
  • Cyber Protection Teams (68) – Defend priority DOD networks and systems against priority threats.
  • Combat Mission Teams (27) – Provide support to Combatant Commands by generating integrated cyberspace effects in support of operational plans and contingency operations.
  • Support Teams (25) – Provide analytic and planning support to the National Mission and Combat Mission teams.

According to recent comments by CYBERCOM Deputy Commander Air Force Lt. Gen. James McLaughlin, each team will reach initial operating capability (IOC) “by the end of 2016 … And by the end of 2018, we expect all those teams to be at full operational capability.” McLaughlin noted that these teams represent tactical forces “that did not exist before 2013.”

Culture Change Underway?

One interesting statements in the strategy that caught my eye is this: “We must help the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) transition from an acquisition and engineering organization to an operational partner that can maneuver at the tactical level to operate and defend DOD networks.”  This appears to be a clear reference to the JFHQ-DODIN now at DISA charged with the defense of the DODIN and suggests a culture change at DISA.  In discussing the matter with colleagues it may be simply a matter of operational efficiency since DISA is at the center of JIE efforts, so it makes sense to give it overall responsibility for defensive cyber ops. In keeping with the morphing weapons systems view of all of DOD’s networks the agency has been undergoing reorganization recently to transform it from a combat support agency into a combat agency outright.

What impresses me most, if what we read and hear from the podium and elsewhere is an accurate representation,  is the speed at which DOD is making these changes, setting up teams, transferring/establishing authorities, and forming joint collaboration/operations, etc.

In an organization with such a strong culture that is based on tradition (which cuts both ways, producing bureaucracy and inertia) the cyber mission is breaking down a lot of the barriers, out of necessity. In a world where change can be slow-going it seems like cyber could stand a chance at transforming the culture of the DOD, with ripple effects that could eventually touch on other broad areas like acquisitions, legacy O&M, etc.  Let’s watch and see.