SecDef adviser: ’99 percent sure we’ll elevate’ CYBERCOM

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This Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo shows the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Following the passage of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed the Defense Department to elevate Cyber Command from a subunified combatant command under Strategic Command to a full-fledged combatant command, DoD is making this action a key priority.
“We are driving very hard at that solution,” Maj. Gen. Burke “Ed” Wilson, deputy principle cyber adviser to the Secretary of Defense, said March 30 at the AFCEA NOVA Warfighter IT Day.

He noted strong consensus for the move among the entire U.S. government, to include the new administration.

“I don’t see anybody that has come in and said that’s not a smart thing to do across the department or interagency,” he said, adding he is “99 percent sure we’ll elevate and do it fairly quickly.”

This marks an important milestone as it signals that the U.S. as a nation is taking all facets of cyberspace operations seriously, he said, citing network operations, defensive operations and offensive operations, which the U.S. has been using very heavily, especially in the fight to counter Islamic State group, he added.

Wilson also addressed key questions surrounding the elevation as well as the future of the still infant command. Assuming the current commander of CYBERCOM, Adm. Michael Rogers, is nominated to serve as the commander — which upon elevation will require Senate confirmation — will he also continue to be dual hatted as the director of the NSA?

This invariably leads to questions about separating the two organizations, which are currently co-located and for which Cyber Command is very heavily reliant upon.

This has been an ongoing discussion among the Defense Department and Congress, in which the latter has generally opposed splitting too early for fear CYBERCOM might fail on its own.

The 2017 NDAA stipulated a series of certifications DoD must present to Congress prior to the split. These include, among others, that if separated, capabilities of either organization won’t be degraded and that the Cyber Mission Force reach full operational capability.

While hitting initial operational capability in October of 2016 the CMF is not slated to reach FOC until October 2018, making that the earliest possible date of an NSA-CYBERCOM split provided Congress does not change the law.

While Wilson said the department is projecting that the CMF will hit FOC in October 2018, he noted that the FOC declaration will not mean full mission readiness. Few teams will be what is known as C1 at that time, which means the unit can fully carry out its wartime mission, Wilson said, calling it a bit of phasing in.

Wilson added that there is consensus CYBERCOM and NSA will split but it won’t be a quick process. They will have to make assessments regarding the maturity of the command given it is only seven years old. They are currently assessing what will need to be put in place in terms of resources, people and capabilities.

He also added that CYBERCOM is beginning to exhibit more independent behavior and capabilities as it grows the cyber mission force, there is still heavy reliance on NSA.

On the NSA side, the intelligence organization is also undergoing a major reorganization itself, which Wilson said DoD wants to see completed before the two organizations split.

One of the main efforts behind the reorganization, or NSA21 as it is called, is the merging of it’s two directorates: Signals intelligence (offense) and the information assurance directorate (defense). Wilson said that effort will be completed this fall.

Wilson said he would forecast a split in the late fiscal year 2018, 2019 or 2020.