Troops fighting in the growing combat area of cyberspace will operate from keyboards situated within each geographic military command, Cyber Command officials said.
The 900-member Maryland-based organization that is subordinate to the Nebraska-headquartered Strategic Command could mushroom from 900 to 4,900 cybersecurity professionals, sequester permitting. While the locations of the personnel have been decided, the size and composition of the workforce have not.
Each military service has distinct cyber support needs, officials said, and Cyber Command, like many information technology outfits, is suffering from a talent shortage. There also is the wild factor of looming budget cuts that begin on Friday unless lawmakers compromise on deficit-reduction legislation.
The cyberfighters, responsible for attacking the computers of adversaries and protecting Pentagon networks, are geographically embedded, "actually out there with all the other commands," Maj. Gen. Jennifer Napper, Cyber Command director of plans and policy, told Nextgov. "We work with every single one of the other CoComs." She was interviewed offstage after a Feb. 22 discussion on cyber defense teamwork hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
The unknown mix of civilians, contractors and uniformed service members will sit behind consoles at the Pacific Command's Hawaii station and every other Defense Department base.
As far as staff makeup, "each service is helping to decide for themselves because each service looks at it a little bit differently on all these teams that they are building out,” Napper said.
Cyber Command, while assisting all the other commands, depends largely on two facilitating Defense agencies, she added. One is the clandestine code-breaking National Security Agency, which "has certainly long understood everything you ever wanted to know about communications and networks," Napper said. NSA and Cyber Command share one leader, Gen. Keith Alexander.
The other entity is the Defense Information Systems Agency, akin to an IT help desk that "actually does the majority of the heavy lifting on operating, maintaining and securing the Department of Defense information network today,” Napper said. “They are the backbone.”
Brig. Gen. Frederick A. Henry, DISA chief of staff, said he views the agency as a service provider to the command. That means supporting "mission operations across the gambit in defense of the nation -- not in the defense of the DoD information networks, but in defense to the nation,” he said during the panel.
Henry added that protecting the nation’s computers involves partnering with industry, law enforcement, the Treasury Department and other civilian agencies that oversee vital private networks. The Homeland Security Department, charged with defending U.S. computer systems, has not commented on a new Pentagon plan to assign a Cyber Command corps to guard the same critical infrastructure.