The ongoing battles in Syria and Iraq between U.S. and allied forces against ISIS is giving American Cyber Command forces its first combat experience, which is helping the force gain much needed experience at a very rapid pace.
This according to Lt. General James McLaughlin, deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command, who testified and answered questions before the House Armed Services Committee on June 22.
“The war on ISIL is the first at scale opportunity to do that in support of U.S. Central Command. In many cases this is the first actual live opportunity for these forces to conduct that type of mission. We've learned more in the last several months since it was announced publicly that we are supporting this and it's given us the opportunity to mature and plow back in lessons learned in a real circumstance that might have taken us several years to have learned, this is the nature of military operations,” McLaughlin told the committee.
The committee meeting was held for the Cyber Command leaders and for Thomas Atkin, acting assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security office of the secretary of defense, to bring the elected officials up to speed on how Cyber Command is growing and maturing, along with how it is learning its trade of defending the nation and armed forces from a cyberattack.
McLaughlin and Atkins also gave an overview of that growth along with a broad idea of what the organization is doing to prepare itself to handle future threats.
McLaughlin noted that of the 133 planned cyber mission teams 46 are in place, up to strength and fully mission capable, while 59 are still in the process of being assembled and trained. The force itself now consists of 4,684 active duty, National Guard and reserve component members, but the goal is to have 6,187 troops eventually on staff.
“The department's recent budget submission clearly reflects the high priority of this effort. Of the $6.8 billion of DoD's cyberspace budget request, $3.9 billion are design ated for cyber security or cyber defense activities. This contributes to a broader $19 billion investment across the Administration on cybersecurity and in support of the Cybersecurity National Action Plan,” Atkins said in his opening remarks.
He added that any Combat Command commander can now call on Cyber Command for support.
Cyber Command just came off a major field training exercise called Cyber Guard where the teams practiced responding to what was described as “an attack of consequence” that took place outside the Department of Defense. Another exercise, dubbed Cyber Flag, is now being conducted.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) took the discussion in a new direction citing comments made by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg that a cyber attack could result in a conventional counterattack and asking what the rules of engagement were for U.S. forces.
Atkins said the government as a whole would have to consider what type, if any, response would be required.
McLaughlin added that Cyber Command already has the authority, which it has used, to respond within the cyber domain to attacks. He also would not into detail during a public hearing, but said he in the closed committee session to follow he would show the committee members the level of attacks endured each day by the DoD and give an example of a Cyber Command response.