U.S. Cyber Command’s cyber teams are now built and transitioning to readiness, and now the force needs a dedicated platform to conduct training.

Given the importance of properly preparing cyberwarriors, the Army (acting as Cyber Command’s executive agent for all the service’s cyber teams) has been using a rapid acquisition approach called other transaction authorities to field a training platform.

The Persistent Cyber Training Environment, or PCTE, is not a single entity, but rather a complex system of systems that will require many moving parts for individual and collective training, as well as mission rehearsal.

According to Jim Keffer, director of cyber at Lockheed Martin, it will be more than just a cyber range. It’ll require event management; scheduling for training exercises; scenario design features; control of the exercises; assessments; red forces; library of capabilities that can be linked to designing adversary network mock-ups (which will require good intelligence); and classrooms to put all this together.

The reason such a high-end training environment is being fast-tracked is because cyberwarriors don’t currently have anything akin to what traditional war fighters use to prepare for combat. Capstone cyber exercises that only occur once or twice a year are not enough for the force, and in many cases the first-time cyberwarriors will engage with an adversary in the real world and not in simulations.

“It’s like a fighter pilot going up and the first time he’s flown actual combat is against a real adversary,” Keffer told Fifth Domain. “That’s not a good way to fight wars. That’s not a good way to train your troops. That’s not a good way to decrease the risk to your forces.”

Incremental approach

The overall PCTE is made up of a number of cyber investment challenges, or CICs, that the Army is releasing incrementally and will eventually string together.

This will “bring together some of the best technology that’s out there” to address immediate needs in various categories as the longer-term vision of what PCTE might look like coalesces, Deon Viergutz, vice president of Cyber Solutions at Lockheed Martin, told Fifth Domain in an interview.

The Army will release five CIC’s to get multiple industry approaches as it heads up the full PCTE indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract, Viergutz said, adding, “I believe that is still under work, the long term for PCTE and the acquisition.”

While CIC one has been awarded, CIC two should be awarded in the next few weeks. According to contracting documents, CIC two is focused on enabling user access to the PCTE and training aids through a portal. CIC three, which is forthcoming in mid- to late-June, is focused on red team planning, as well as master exercise control. CIC four, estimated for release in July, will focus on training assessment.

There is no information released yet regarding CIC five.

One important question remains unclear, however: In the end, who will be the integrator of systems — the government or a contractor?

“The seams between all these capabilities tend to be the weak points. Having an integrator to kind of tie all that together — the ranges and all these different capabilities — would be important to make sure that the cyberwarriors get the best capability that they deserve ... as quickly as possible,” Keffer said.

“If the government wants to be the integrator, we’ll do all we can to help them out. If they want industry to be the integrator, industry has a lot of experience doing that, especially Lockheed Martin; we’re big in the training business.”