By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The leaders of the four service’s cybercommands fear that progress made building defenses against network attacks could be threatened by sequestration.
“The impact [of sequestration] across the Marine Corps would be significant … in our ability to train and exercise our forces,” Marine Corps Deputy Commandant Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, said in a congressional hearing July 25.
“The impact on Marine Corps’ cyber — and probably all cyber programs — would be disproportionate because of the speed at which we have to acquire new equipment and new software,” he testified before the House Armed Services subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.
Maj. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, commander of Air Forces Cyber, said sequestration cuts would be “devastating.”
“The strategy that’s been provided by the department to move us forward in cyberspace … rests on future acquisitions, on future changes, and I believe that under sequestration those would not be realized,” said Vautrinot.
Major advancements in technology over the last few years require sustainment, and under sequestration current capabilities may not be maintained, she said. Additionally, she feared that sequestration could cause new network security initiatives to “lose ground.”
Recently, the Air Force launched its Cyber Vision 2025 endeavor, which is meant to develop a framework for upgrading the nation's electronic warfare capabilities over the next decade.
Despite the threat of sequestration, leaders agreed that the need for further development in cybersecurity would continue to be a top priority given the constant and evolving threat.
“[Cyberthreats] are real, growing, sophisticated and evolving,” said Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, commander of Army Cyber Command. “There is a wide range of actors ranging from lone individuals to organized hacker groups, criminal syndicates, violent extremist organizations and sophisticated nation-states.”
Hernandez said there is no part of the Army that would be spared from the deep cuts that could take place under sequestration, and network security would be no exception.
Mills said cyberthreats are ever-present and widespread. The Defense Department's systems alone are attacked millions of times a day. These constant and serious threats require special responses, and over the last few years, the military has trained a cadre of specialists to face these challenges. Commanders from all four services said they are pleased with the progress they have made building up their personnel’s capabilities.
“Increasingly, these men and women view themselves as warriors, and that’s the paradigm and prism they use as they assess themselves,” said Vice Admiral Michael S. Rogers, head of the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command. “While our civilian counterparts offer many opportunities — and arguably an advantage — one area that they don’t offer is the ability to be a warrior, and the workforce really seems to crystallize around that idea.”
Army Cyber Command has over 21,000 soldiers, civilians and contractors working to thwart attacks, while the Navy has about 14,000 personnel and the Air Force about 17,000. As for the Marine Corps, its numbers are significantly smaller, but they plan to increase by 700 personnel.
“The morale [amongst these specialists] is extraordinarily high, because the people involved in cyber understand that they are cutting edge and are developing a new weapon system that’s going to have a huge impact on the battlefield,” said Mills.
This mentality of being warriors despite not being on a battlefield has been an essential component in retaining elite and skilled workers within the workforce, as they often can receive higher-paying jobs as civilians, said Rogers. This will certainly play a part in future retention rates as budgets are slashed, he added.