If you ask top military leaders what they want to help bolster cyber capabilities, here’s what they’ll tell you: easy access to a training environment for cyber warriors to hone their skills both individually and collectively as a team, and to conduct mission rehearsals.

It’s really no different than infantrymen needing a shooting range for target practice.

With that in mind, the Army has been tasked by the Department of Defense to run DoD’s cyber training effort under a program and concept known as the persistent cyber training environment.

“They’re going to have to have training capabilities that are largely uniform across the joint cyber force, that have both virtual and physical spaces, that in my head are the equivalent of … a wing going to Nellis or a brigade going to National Training Center,” said Bill Leigher, director of government cyber solutions at Raytheon, told C4ISRNET at the West 2018 conference in San Diego, California.

“Right now the cyber force really tends to have none of that.”

Raytheon is working on a proof-of-concept response to the Army’s joint program that not only incorporates classic collective remote training capabilities, such as modules dispersed personnel can access, but also a virtual reality solution that creates an immersive experience for cyber warriors.

Raytheon’s solution allows Cyber Command’s cyber mission force personnel to be placed into a “virtual room” that includes a variety of workstations, graphics, whiteboards, video screens and instructors that can dial in from anywhere.

Howard Miller, capture manager with Raytheon’s Global Training Solutions at Raytheon, told C4ISRNET that the VR pitch is really a proof of concept. He noted that, in creating this solution, Raytheon wanted to demonstrate what is in the art of the possible, understanding that not everyone might have access to a VR machine.

VR is only one portion of Raytheon’s solution. Miller said they wanted to build a solution that could be expand or contract based on the need.

Picture a virtual classroom, with a constructive portion, a standard learning component, learning management and constant curation that can be launched from a dashboard or portal. End users could access the system from a mobile device or a computer, Miller said.

Aside from the individual and collective training component of an eventual PCTE solution — which aims to keep cyber warrior’s skills current — the mission rehearsal piece will be critical. Leigher compared this to the compound SEAL Team 6 constructed in Nevada prior to the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden.

“There are obviously going to be times where you want a service member to put their hands on a server or do something that requires that physical touch,” Leigher said.

But through the rehearsals, that same individual will be able to dial into a virtual training environment that might emulate an adversary network. And through such things as artificial intelligence, machine learning and virtualizations, that service member can eventually say, “I’ve defended this space 1,000 times and it really starts to build muscle memory,“ according to Leigher.

Looking ahead, this type of approach allows cyber to transform from what Leigher described as a pick-up game to a a joint operation where different teams within Cyber Command “are operating on the unified platform, and all of a sudden there’s an event where they have to launch an operation on very short notice.

“If nothing else, [this is] allowing them to set their sights a little bit further out on the horizon … In general right now, they’re kind of struggling [to move] beyond the way that they’ve always done things.”