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New approaches to training, contracting and war fighting key to Cyber Command’s success

Stepping before a microphone in a banquet room filled with business and community leaders dressed in suits, Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart declared his mission and challenge simply through his appearance.

The Deputy Commander of U.S. Cyber Command had decided to forego a dress uniform and wear fatigues because “one of the things we are trying to make sure everybody understands is that we are, no kidding, a war-fighting command,” Stewart said. “We didn’t build U.S. Cyber Command to sit on the sideline and react to the adversary… We are not going to allow nation states to continuously poke at us… We built U.S. Cyber Command so we can take the fight to our adversary wherever they are.”

Speaking at the Fort Meade Alliance’s Key Leader Series event in January, Stewart described recent developments within America’s newest unified combatant command and the challenges it faces in trying to develop a new kind of fighting force to dominate an intangible and fluid battlefield.

“Our greatest single challenge today is maintaining readiness of the force,” he said. “The lead time to train individuals in this space so that they can be effective is still way too lengthy… I think this is where industry can help us… How do you create that training environment that allows us to take an individual from zero to full capacity in a third of the time we do it in now?”

The military, he added, needs to get better at identifying the candidates best suited for cyber jobs and better at sustaining and advancing their cyber warfare careers over the course of decades. To retain highly skilled personnel, Cyber Command must also ensure its people have an impressive quality of life, including access to outstanding educational opportunities for their children, top-quality medical care, desirable communities, and first-rate fitness centers and other amenities on post.

Stressing that strong resiliency services are vital to Cyber Command, Stewart said, “I cannot tell you how important it is to look after the mental aspects of our workforce. They see and hear things that are absolutely disgusting. It has got to have an impact on them… If you do nothing else except invest in the resiliency of our workforce, I would be one happy individual.” 

Industry can play additional roles in supporting the mission of U.S. Cyber Command. Still a new organization, Cyber Command has not yet fully staffed or stood up its acquisitions operations. And Cyber Command leaders are looking to diverge from traditional military or intelligence acquisition models. For example, the Command partnered with the Maryland Innovation and Security Institute to create DreamPort, a state-of-the-art technology facility designed to enable public-private interactions and drive the development of new cyber technologies.

“I’m a big open source guy. I am a big believer in the wisdom of the crowd,” Stewart said. “DreamPort is absolutely critical for us because that is the place where we hope we will be able to take all of our greatest challenges in this space and give industry partners an opportunity to help us solve problems.”

Cyber Command will also be seeking innovations on a faster pace.

“We want solutions delivered to our workforce within 90 to 180 days,” Stewart said. “That means we are going to have to disrupt the entire acquisition model and I’m okay with that.”

U.S. Cyber Command is still evolving its operations while it is actively carrying out its three main missions – defending the Department of Defense information network, holding targets at risk, and helping combatant commanders integrate cyber space operations into their war fighting plans. The work, Stewart said, is a little like “flying the airplane while we’re building it.”

Cyber Command still needs to develop a fully integrated cyber tactical system that can deliver a single, comprehensive picture of cyber operations (and replace the current environment that segments information across multiple views). It needs to determine how to best organize cyber teams for combat, integrate those efforts into kinetic warfare and eventually expand the number of cyber combat teams.

“We do not have enough forces to defend all of the things that are demanded of us right now,” Stewart said. In exercises, Cyber Command has run short of teams to protect infrastructure while also supporting combat by other U.S. forces.

However, “we are on the mission today and we will only get better,” Stewart said. “Not everybody wants us to be in this space because they know when the Department of Defense rolls in, we are the 800-pound gorilla and we will dominate in this space.”

Click here to view photos from the event.