Army Cyber Battalion understaffed by over 80 Percent as Global Threats Outpace U.S Preparedness
In 1939, the Polish Army boasted of having one of the finest cavalries in the world. But within a week of the German invasion that launched World War II, Germany had advanced 140 miles and within the month, Poland was a conquered territory, split between Germany and the Soviet Union, which had secretly entered into an alliance with Germany.
There are countless lessons from the first week of World War II, but the importance of preparedness is among the top of the list. The August 15, GAO Report on Future Warfare, therefore, should be a wakeup call to the lapses in U.S. preparations for the inevitable cyber conflicts that are growing in scope and rapidity. The GAO and the House Armed Services Committee requires this assessment:
For decades, the United States enjoyed uncontested or dominant superiority in every operating domain—land, air, sea, cyber, and space—but today every domain is likely to be contested by other great-power competitors and potential regional adversaries.
The rise of great-power competitors, such as China and Russia, prompted the Army to transform the way it plans to fight. The Army is developing a new warfighting concept to guide how its forces will engage jointly with other services in multiple domains, especially in cyber and space.
The Army is moving to address these growing threats, but as reported by the GAO, the investment in time, training, and resources may be leaving the U.S. highly vulnerable.
The Army is establishing new cyber and electronic warfare units for multi-domain operations, but did not fully assess the risk of activating some units at an accelerated pace and is experiencing staffing, equipping, and training challenges. For example, the Army activated a cyber battalion in December 2018, and as of March 2019, this unit was understaffed by more than 80 percent.
The changes to the military capacity of the army and other divisions reflects the changes shaping the world’s geopolitical reality. But like the great cavalries of the twentieth century, the question remains whether the changes are rapid enough. “The 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion,” for example, “will focus on providing offensive cyber capabilities … will be attached to an Army corps and will be capable of planning and conducting electronic warfare operations.” These units are expected to begin deployment in 2023.
Other units are being designed to plan and conduct operations in and across multiple domains, with specialists in cyber, electronic warfare, space, and intelligence assigned to the same unit. For example, a recently activated Intelligence, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space (ICEWS) unit will be capable of planning and directing operations in any or all of those areas. The ICEWS unit will function as part of a larger Multi-Domain Task Force, which will be capable of expanding those operations into other domains such as land and air.
Less clear from this particular report is the extent to which each of the services are collaborating with the others to create a comprehensive cyber command. Ultimately, these changes are needed in each force, but it may be that the cyber command is much like the need for a separate air force that grew out of the unique nature of these efforts as World War II evolved.
The latest GAO report should be a stark reminder that a great deal needs to be done to prepare the U.S. for the world around us. Cyber borders are not well protected with concrete walls.
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My novel, Burn Rate, is an attempt to also highlight some of the technological changes that could our military and technological superiority. Please take a look.