Grady talks spectrum, cyber concerns in nomination hearing

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Adm. Christopher Grady told senators that Defense Department moves to free up swaths of spectrum would have consequences when it comes to operations, training, and readiness.

Adm. Christopher W. Grady, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, speaks in Norfolk, Va. in October 2021. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Theodore Green

Adm. Christopher Grady, the nominee for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks in Norfolk, Va. in October 2021. (Photo credit: Petty Officer 1st Class Theodore Green/Department of Defense)

The Biden administration’s pick for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has concerns over spectrum-sharing and cyber talent.

“The management of [the] electromagnetic spectrum to the Department of Defense is absolutely critical. We operate in there. We have critical activities that we do within that spectrum and within that domain,” said Adm. Christopher Grady, who currently leads U.S. Fleet Forces Command, during his nomination hearing Dec. 8 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The admiral said he wanted to “lay out the risks and the challenges of sell off, and to do it in a data-based and in threat-based way so that we go into that very significant policy decision well informed... It's a significant issue though, for sure.”

Grady expressed concern about the Defense Department’s move to free up portions of the 3.1-3.45 MHz spectrum, noting in responses to policy questions that DOD’s decision to open up parts of the radio frequency bands was “an area of concern” as “frequency bands of dual use can adversely impact DOD operations, from training and readiness to real-world operations” and that cooperation with industry would be required.

Additionally, Grady wrote that, if confirmed, he would review recent actions and potential conflicts around the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to support licensing ground operations in the frequency bands close to that used by the global positioning signal (GPS).

The Defense Department is currently working to implement its EMS strategy released in 2020 and spectrum -- with its use for communications, cyber operations and mitigation -- has become an increasing concern as the U.S. government and private companies have withstood several cyber attacks in recent years.

At the committee hearing, Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) voiced concerns about the ability to thwart cyber threats with a dearth of technical workers.

“This is an area that is going to become an increasing threat to all of us around the world. And so we really have to think about our cyber readiness. As our nation is really grappling in the aftermath of unprecedented cyber attacks in the U.S., we're expected to face a shortage of 3.4 million skilled technical workers next year,” Rosen said.

When asked how he would prioritize recruitment and retention, Grady responded saying that he supported solutions that boost the cyber workforce, including the debated civilian cyber reserve, describing cyber as a sort of precursor to elevated conflict.

“If you're willing to serve your country, if you can pass a security clearance but you may not look like me, I don't care…we need to encourage that, because that's an area that we know we have to win in, and we know our adversaries are throwing a lot at it and we have to outpace that,” Grady said.

“We tend to think about warfare as something that has a start point and an endpoint. And I think cyber is one that tells us that there's a lot happening in the gray zone that we have to think about even before conflict starts, and indeed, conflict could kick off in cyber before anything else.”