Army’s Cybersecurity ‘Greatly Concerns’ Wormuth After Pipeline Attack

Army Secretary nominee Christine Elizabeth Wormuth smiles as former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel introduces her during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing, May 13, 2021.

Army Secretary nominee Christine Elizabeth Wormuth smiles as former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel introduces her during a Senate Armed Services Committee nomination hearing, May 13, 2021. AP / Andrew Harnik

Biden’s Army Secretary nominee told the Senate she’d fight deep troop cuts and support long-range fires and new measures against sexual crimes and extremism, if confirmed.

The Army’s ability to confront cybersecurity threats was a major focus Wednesday during a hearing for the nominee to become the service’s secretary, following a ransomware attack on a major pipeline that has caused panic buying at gas stations along the East Coast. 

“I am greatly concerned, frankly, by the threats that we face in the cyber domain. All you have to do is look at the long gas lines that are probably happening in your neighborhood right now,” Christine Wormuth told senators on the Armed Services Committee, who are considering her nomination to be the next Army secretary. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to lead the largest U.S. military service.

The chaos is affecting regular soldiers, including on Fort Bragg, N.C., where just one gas station is open and fuel fill-ups are limited to 10 gallons per car, according to the official XVIII Airborne Corps Facebook page.

The military faces its own cyber threats not just targeting networks and software like the SolarWinds hack, but also weapons. None of the weapon programs evaluated in fiscal 2020 were found to be survivable against relevant cyber threats, said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who referred to comments made by Raymond O’Toole, the acting director of operational test and evaluation, during an April 28 readiness hearing.

“I’ve been on the readiness subcommittee for over eight years, and we get routine reports on service readiness…However, we don’t measure how ready our forces or weapons systems are to counter cyber threats,” Kaine said.

Wormuth said she will take cybersecurity seriously, and believes cyber threats are a serious issue when it comes to the integrity of the Army’s modernization programs and secure communication networks.

The Army must do a better job of explaining its cyber opportunities to potential recruits, in order to develop a larger cyber-skilled workforce, Wormuth said. 

Army Cyber Command has about 16,500 soldiers, civilians, and contractors who conduct operations worldwide, according to its website. It operates from Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and regional cyber centers in Arizona, Hawaii, Germany, Korea, and Kuwait.

Wormuth’s nomination comes at a challenging time for the service, which is facing potential steep cuts to its budget and a reckoning following the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén, with dozens of recommendations from the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee.

If confirmed, Wormuth said, she will “lead as a hands-on secretary,” working closely with military leadership and ensuring that soldiers and Army civilians have the best quality of life possible, which would include improving housing, healthcare, childcare, and spouse employment opportunities.

“I will do everything in my power to ensure we have a healthy command climate at every Army installation that fosters Army values and ensures the well-being of our people. There is no place in our nation’s Army for sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, extremism, racism, or other harmful behaviors that inhibit readiness,” she said.

One of the areas of concern for the service’s 2022 budget are cuts to the Army’s end strength to make up for minimal growth to the defense budget’s topline and priorities in the other services. Wormuth said she will advocate against deep cuts to the force because she does not want to see a return to 15-month deployments and using stop-loss policies, which were necessary at times to keep numbers up in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

“I don’t think anyone would be well served by looking at the Army as…of just a bill payer,” she said.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville on Tuesday said he and acting Army Secretary John Whitley have reached an agreement to keep the total number of active-duty soldiers at 485,000, due to the resources the service is anticipated to receive in the 2022 budget. McConville had previously said he would like to grow the force up to 550,000, based on an Army analysis.

Wormuth told senators Thursday she agrees with the Army’s assessment that long-range precision fires are still the service’s top priority, not only because of their importance in the Indo-Pacific theater, but in Europe as well. 

“It’s the highest priority in my view because of the need to address the anti-access area denial challenges that we face in both Europe and Indo-Pacific. And given the quite sophisticated integrated air defenses that we’ll likely be facing, I think it behooves us to develop capabilities that allow us to strike targets from very long distances,” she said.

Air Force Gen. Timothy Ray, the leader of Air Force Global Strike Command, recently called the Army’s pursuit of this long-range weapon capability a “stupid idea,” expensive, and redundant, since the Air Force already has that capability.

However, Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in response that the Pentagon’s new joint warfighting concept emphasizes that every military service will need to be able to defeat an enemy’s long-range missiles.

“This means you want each service to bring those long-range fires; so, the joint warfighting concept succeeds if all of the force can apply fires wherever they happen to be, wherever the target is, whatever the lines of conflict, that is the joint warfighting concept,” Hyten told Defense One in April.

Research and analysis are still needed to determine whether the Army’s long-range fires will be economically feasible once the concept becomes reality, Hyten said.