Editor's Note

Getting on with the Cyber Command

Cyber efforts stack up as Congress delays in approving new commander

Given the nature of 21st-century warfare, there’s not much to debate anymore about the importance of hastening the acquisition and deployment of information and communication technologies. That’s especially true when considering the increasing role digital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plays in places such as Afghanistan.

For instance, it’s telling that for the first time this past year, the Air Force graduated more pilots of unmanned aerial vehicles than pilots of fighters and bombers.

Beneath those demands for faster ISR deployments, there's an equally urgent need for stronger cybersecurity and information assurance measures. As those needs mount, impatience grows as the Defense Department faces political obstacles to efforts to get its new Cyber Command up and running.

The new unified command, created by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in June 2009 as a subcomponent command of the Strategic Command, was supposed to reach initial operating capabilities in October. That didn't happen. And President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the command, Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, is still waiting for the Senate to confirm him. The date for his nomination hearing still hadn’t been scheduled as we were going to press.

Fortunately, Alexander’s current role as director of the National Security Agency/Central Security Service provides him a commanding view, if not a full commanding role, on the state of cyber threats. If anyone is acutely aware of the lack of a common defense against cyberattacks and the challenges of coordinating the military services’ responses to the daily assaults on military networks, it is Alexander.

And the services certainly haven’t been standing still in their bid to fortify their cyber defense teams. The Air Force formally created the 24th Air Force and broke ground in December on the cyber operations center of the new 688th Information Operations Wing. The Navy is forming the 10th Fleet and co-locating it with the Army Network Warfare Battalion at Fort Meade, Md. Brig. Gen. Steven Smith, who heads the Army’s cyber task force, said Army officials are expected to approve final recommendations for the service’s cyber operations plans in a matter of weeks. And the Marine Corps also has outlined plans for establishing a cyber unit.

But a host of cascading decisions — involving cyber tools, staffing and authority — remain in limbo until the Cyber Command and Alexander can get up and running. 

However distracted Congress might be, a quick approval of Alexander — and Howard Schmidt, whom Obama nominated to fill the new national cybersecurity coordinator post — represents a crucial step forward in addressing the nation’s mounting national cybersecurity concerns.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of Defense Systems from January 2009 to August 2010. He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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