Initiative signals new emphasis on electronic offensive and defensive operations
President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military on Friday to elevate its cyber warfare operations to a separate command, signaling a new strategic emphasis on electronic and online offensive and defensive operations.
The move means the U.S. Cyber Command, or Cybercom, will eventually become its own entity. It had been a subordinate part of the U.S. Strategic Command since it was established in 2009. “This new Unified Combatant Command will strengthen our cyberspace operations and create more opportunities to improve our nation’s defense,” Trump said in a statement. “The elevation of United States Cyber Command demonstrates our increased resolve against cyberspace threats and will help reassure our allies and partners and deter our adversaries.”
The move would expand the number of the Defense Department’s unified combatant commands to 10, putting cyber warfare on an equal footing with the Strategic Command, the Special Operations Command, and regional commands. Until now cyber warfare operations have been run under the umbrella of the National Security Agency, the country’s main electronic spying agency, with Admiral Michael Rogers heading both. Rogers will retain his “dual-hatted” role for now, but once Cybercom is fully elevated he could be replaced by another four-star general or admiral.
Discussions on whether to hive off Cybercom and place it directly under Pentagon direction have gone on for several years, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is currently reviewing plans. Rogers has said several times over the past year that they needed to recruit hundreds more skilled cyber operators before the separation could take place.
Cybercom is headquartered in Fort Meade, Maryland and will eventually comprise almost 6,200 personnel organized into 133 teams. These “Cyber Mission Force” teams are already actively conducting operations and will achieve full operational capability by the end of fiscal year 2018.
Kenneth Rapuano, who is assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said there was no firm timeline on when Cybercom would be fully stood up as a combatant command. He said the move is not a response to any particular incident—such as Russian hacks during the 2016 election—but is a reflection of the command’s growing importance.
“This is a new sphere of warfare, and we have a steady increase in escalation in cyber incidents around the world,” Rapuano said.
John McCain, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee, welcomed the move, but said more needs to be done to prepare the U.S. and its military to meet cyber security challenges. “We must develop a clear policy and strategy for deterring and responding to cyber threats,” McCain said.