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Cyber Mission Force Set to Add More Teams

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Right now, U.S. Cyber Command has about 133 cyber mission teams spread across the services, which make up its Cyber Mission Force — the "action arm" of Cybercom, said Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, who serves as both the commander of Cybercom and the director of the National Security Agency. 

People look on computer screen
Weapons Squadron
Airmen from the 32nd Weapons Squadron look at computer monitors at the 32nd Weapons Squadron on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., June 10, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie
VIRIN: 190610-F-DN281-010C

"We originally built the force in the department — 133 teams — that were dedicated to our Cyber Mission Force," Nakasone said during testimony Tuesday before the House Armed Services Committee. "The previous secretary of defense has approved a 14-team growth in the future years defense plan. We're going to grow five more teams this year." 

The general told lawmakers that may not be enough. He said there's an on-going study within the department to look at how many teams will really be needed. Also, he said, operations involving Ukraine are teaching Cybercom a lot about how it conducts operations, and that this will inform decisions going forward about how many teams the Cyber Mission Force will need. 

"We're a different force today than we were even four years ago when I took over," Nakasone said. "My sense is that while 14 teams is likely the start, I would not be surprised if the department comes to a determination that more are necessary." 

Cybercom's Cyber Mission Force ensures commanders across the services are able to freely operate in the cyber domain and accomplish their missions. The CMF's work includes defending the use of friendly cyberspace capabilities, as well as protecting data, networks, net-centric capabilities and other systems. It also involves projecting power in and through cyberspace through the employment of cyberspace capabilities. 

The words “Integrated Cyber Center” identify  a large, modern building.
Cyber Command
U.S. Cyber Command reached initial operating capability May 21, 2010. The mission for the command has changed much in the last decade.
Photo By: Bryan Shindledecker, DOD
VIRIN: 180504-D-IM742-2002M

As Cybercom increases the number of service-based teams in the CMF and increases its own workforce to meet current and projected mission needs, officials will need to rethink how the command accesses new talent, Nakasone said. That doesn't just involve Cybercom itself, but also the military services that are responsible for recruiting and training service members assigned to Cybercom. 

Bringing in new talent is not a problem, Nakasone told lawmakers, but retaining that talent is. There will need to be new tools and new ideas explored to keep the brightest employees on board. 

"We continue to recruit a population of young men and women that want to serve our nation — and they want to work in cyberspace, which is incredibly attractive to them," Nakasone said. "The challenge is not necessarily the recruiting. The challenge isn't the training. The challenge is ... the retention. And that's both for military and civilian." 

Nakasone discussed several ideas Cybercom has looked at as ways to enhance retainability for those who sign on. 

Marines in cyber operations
Cyber Ops
Marines with Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command in the cyber operations center in Lasswell Hall at Fort Meade, Md., Feb. 5, 2020.
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200205-M-VG714-0024

"One is certainly targeted supplements to very, very high-end capability," he said. "This is targeted local supplements based upon people that are coders or people that have significant technical abilities that pay them at 28% more than the going rate." 

While that might not be enough to be fully competitive with the private sector, he said it gives Cybercom and the services a leg up over what's available now. 

Other possibilities, he said, might include military officers with the right credentials in cyber to come aboard at a higher grade than what is typical, as well as offering enlisted personnel opportunities to enhance their own careers and develop their skills by working with industry or attaining advanced degrees. 

"These are all areas that perhaps we haven't traditionally done within our services," Nakasone said. "But this is the dynamic nature that I think we've got to approach the problem here in cyberspace." 

Soldier types on laptop
Cyber Operations
The Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group, 335th Signal Command (Theater), holds the Cyber X-Games 2019 cyber training event June 7-16, 2019, at Moffett Field, Calif.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Erick Yates
VIRIN: 190614-A-RN359-913C

The ideas are coming from Cybercom and will certainly benefit Cybercom, Nakasone said, but they can't be entirely implemented by Cybercom. The military services will need to get on board. 

"As I've talked to the service chiefs, one of the areas that I've mentioned is, this is a shared responsibility," he said. "[It's] shared in terms of what you have to do as leading your service, but also shared in the idea of we have a lot of different areas that we need to be able to make sure that we keep our best people." 

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