U.S. Cyber Command teams will likely use Army-provided platforms to help deliver cyber consequences on the battlefield, a service official said Aug. 23.
These joint common access platforms, as they’re known, are essentially what allow cyber operators to connect to their target and to deliver the effect beyond friendly firewalls.
The decision to have the Army provide these platforms is pending with Cyber Command, Col. Kevin Finch, program manager for electronic warfare and cyber within Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, told Fifth Domain at TechNet Augusta. The Army would develop the capabilities to all of the service cyber components.
Cyber Command created what it calls the Joint Cyber Warfighting Architecture, which governs all its capability development across the force proving a common framework. Maj. Gen. Karl Gingrich, director of capability and resource integration, J-8, Cyber Command, previously told reporters that the organization itself doesn’t have enough acquisition authority to meet the needs of the entire cyber mission force.
U.S. Cyber Command is reconsidering how it buys and develops the tools cyber warriors need.
But through the new architecture, leaders can communicate their needs directly to the services, which in turn can issue contracts.
“If we can leverage the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to make specific investments and make sure that they are deconflicted so we are effective and efficient in use, that’s what one of the benefits of the JCWA is. I think we won’t see the need for executive agent type relationships,” he said. “I think we can use other means, existing authorities, rules and regulations within DoD to become even more agile.”
Providing cyber tools from the top to the bottom
The Army is also focused on developing ground forces that can conduct localized cyber and electronic warfare effects and also link up with high end, remote cyber mission forces.
The Army is responsible for outfitting these forces with capabilities such as tool development environment and platforms, infrastructure and firing platforms. All of those have been approved by the Army to begin developing. For firing platforms, just as an Apache helicopter fires missiles and bullets, the same type of weapon is needed for the cyber context, Col. John Transue, capability manager for cyber at the Cyber Center of Excellence, said Aug. 21.
Transue described how service officials are now working with the program manager to create a system in which tool developers and operators can develop tools quickly. Finch described this as a “big win.”
“We’re giving them a laboratory environment where they can build their own tools. That is huge because nobody can make them faster than them and then the fact that they are co-located with the operation guys makes that spin a lot faster,” Finch said.
Other capabilities the Army is pursing on the requirements side but that have not been officially approved fall under what Transue called “counters.” This includes counter adversary command, control, computers, communications and intelligence, counter adversary critical support infrastructure and counter adversary weapons systems.
“The actual bullets [are] the effects that we would be trying to provide. We are working on obtaining those effects and the requirements are coming. We expect those to be approved by this winter,” he said.
Finch also described the “golden opportunity” the Army has as it procures electronic warfare and cyber capabilities that will eventually become integrated at the tactical edge.
Currently, the Army is developing the Terrestrial Layer System Large, the service’s integrated signals intelligence, electronic warfare and cyber platform that will be mounted on a ground vehicle, Multi-Functional Electronic Warfare Air Large, the Army’s first organic brigade electronic attack asset mounted on an MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and cyber capabilities for the 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion, which will create localized cyber effects through the electromagnetic spectrum operating alongside companies in the field.
TLS, Finch said, could do cyber in three ways:
- onboard it to the platform by plugging a card in;
- plugging in a laptop and using radio frequency to deliver an effect;
- having forces dial in remotely to send the effect.
On the MFEW Air side, he explained that ground forces will be able to plug into it to conduct cyberattacks from the air. Contractors have previously noted that this is a requirement for the program outlining how forces can conduct “attacks” on Wi-Fi networks, intercepting messages between enemy combatants and even allowing friendly forces to delete and alter messages to adversaries, an information operations component that could help control the battlespace.
Leidos is working to enable local brigade commanders to use "cyber bullets" that scan local wi-fi networks.
Getting on contract
On the contracting side, the Army awarded multiple companies a contract worth up to $1 billion called R4.
While few details have been available on this contract, only that it is focused on research and development — not materiel solutions — in support of the cyber mission, Finch described the contract’s scope.
It will essentially provide the ability for the Army to equip the entire portfolio of cyber capabilities, which can be understood as high end cyber mission force to the tactical Cyber Warfare Support Battalion and everything in between. This also includes the aforementioned Joint Common Access Platform, Finch said.
It’s important because leaders “need to have a vehicle that you can quickly get contracts awarded onto and not go through the 12 or 18 month process it takes to get a … contract done, already have everything done where you basically go request for whitepapers and they submit it and you evaluate them and you award it,” he told Fifth Domain. “We have to be able to speed up that loop.”
Moreover, while many military leaders have lauded the speed and flexibility other vehicles such as other transaction authorities have afforded, Finch said that was not right for this because OTAs don’t cover sustainment.