Army leaders promote need for offensive cyber capability


The ability to defend and attack networks is viewed as a critical element of warfighting.

The Army needs to develop offensive cyber capabilities it can wield in battle the same way it uses artillery or air power, top service commanders explained at the Association of the United States Army annual conference yesterday.

Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, commander of Army Cyberspace Command at Fort Meade, Md., said cyber threats against Army networks today are “real, growing, sophisticated and evolving . . . they are changing the way we operate.”

The threats require sophisticated defensive systems to detect and deter attackers. But the Army also must have the ability to “conduct cyber offensive operations when directed,” he said, adding that the ability to conduct cyberattacks should be integrated with traditional joint fires capabilities such as artillery.

Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, commanding general of the Army’s III Corps and Fort Hood, Texas, said he incorporated cyberattack capabilities in a recent exercise, which allowed him to degrade the command-and-control system of an opposing force by 40 percent. Campbell said both offensive and defensive cyber capabilities must be incorporated in all exercises the Army conducts in the future.

During that exercise, Campbell said he also used social media to “target” the local populace, adding the service must figure out how to leverage social media as part of any campaign. The use of social media in battle is “bigger than the [public affairs office],” which currently manages it.

Campbell emphasized that cyber operations are integral to what happens on the battlefield and should not be relegated to the staff. Cyber operations “are a leaders business,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, agreed the service’s networks are under attack and said, “we need an ability to respond proactively.” The service needs a cadre of soldiers “trained to understand what they are doing and react at the speed of sound,” she said.

Building a viable cyber force goes beyond standard recruiting practices, Legere said. The Army stood up the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Meade in December 2011 to support cyber operations and plans to staff it with university trained soldiers and civilians with a background in math and logic, Legere said.

But, she warned, for the troops of the 780th to become “game-changers” in cyberspace will require an additional three to five years of training. 

(Image via jannoon028/