DoD fighting wars on multiple cyber fronts simultaneously

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This is the second year in a row the Defense Department has increased funding for cyber and electronic warfare, the top uniformed officer told Congress, as the military continues to conduct cyber operations against multiple adversaries at once.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee in a rare dusk hearing June 12 that this is the second year the department has provided an increase in funding for cyber, space and electronic warfare after a period of reduced funding.

Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of Cyber Command, told Congress last month that he asked for a 16 percent increase in funding.

“In FY18, and in 17 for that matter, we began to reverse a trend that for over the past five years in areas like space, cyberspace, electronic warfare we have been underfunded. This year is the second year in a row where we have increased our resources to Cyber Command,” Dunford said.

Additionally, amid questions surrounding the capability and capacity of the nation’s cyber force – Cyber Command’s cyber mission force is slated to reach full operational capability in 2018 and Dunford said 70 percent is currently at that stage – Dunford assured members that DoD can and does run parallel and simultaneous cyber campaigns against multiple actors.

“We do Congressman and without going through details, we’re actually simultaneously conducting cyber operations now against multiple adversaries,” Dunford said responding to a question asking if DoD can perform operations against other actors today simultaneously, in addition to those against the Islamic State group.

This could refer to an amalgam of operations. The New York Times reported in March that the military had begun a cyber campaign under the previous administration to degrade North Korea’s missile program. North Korea – which includes not only its evolving nuclear capabilities but also its ballistic missile capabilities that threaten U.S. partners and interests in the region – is considered by the intelligence community to be top of the threat list.

During a few recent hearings in front of both the House and Senate Armed Services committees last month, Rogers hinted at operations being conducted in the Pacific theater, but provided no indication of the targets or context for operations.

“I can remember a year ago, two years ago, one of our fundamental concepts was we are always going to deploy forward in full teams. One of the things we found with practical experience is we can actually deploy in smaller sub elements, use reach back capability, the power of data analytics, we don’t necessarily have to deploy everyone,” he said. “We can actually work in a much more tailored focus way, optimized for the particular network challenge that we’re working. We’re actually working through some things using this on the Pacific at the moment.”

He also explained in a separate hearing that the force spends a lot of time aligning its capability to meet combatant commander requirements, working with them on their priorities, what capabilities should be applied, etc. “I want [combatant commanders] to set the priority, not me, I have an opinion and we’ll partner together … That’s what we’re doing in the Pacific from a defensive and offensive side,” Rogers said.

The U.S. has also deployed cyber protection teams to defend the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense battery deployed to South Korea, which has suffered attempted alleged cyber attacks from China, according to a CNN report.

Dunford, during Monday night’s hearing, noted that cyber capabilities fit into the broad tool bag to combat North Korea’s ballistic missile threat.