Army working to put cyber warriors on the front lines

A pilot program embeds cyber teams into a brigade's companies, conducting defensive and offensive operations while on the move.

The Army’s efforts to incorporate cyber operations are continuing to get down to the ground level, as a recent exercise in California showed.

As part of a pilot program called Cyber Support to Corps and Below, cyber teams were embedded with the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team conducted defensive reconnaissance of an adversary’s cyber operations while also showing the ability to conduct offensive operations, electronic warfare and information operations as the brigade was on the move, according to an Army release. In the process, the brigade became the fifth so far to integrate cyber into its activities.

The cyber team in the pilot, which goes by the acronym CSCB, was able to collect information on cyber activities and feed it to an analytical cell, where that information can be used to identify actionable intelligence, the Army said.

The two-week exercise took place at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., where the Army has a number of mock cities and villages where, in addition to more conventional maneuvers, cyber teams can practice disrupting an enemy’s networks while also protecting their own.

"We definitely rely upon these defenders to harden our networks," said Capt. Robert Busby, defensive cyber operations planner.

During the course of the exercise, cyber team, which had spent 180 days preparing for the event, worked with 24 of the 25 companies that make up the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, not just engaging in cyber operations but also with communicating with other troops. The event’s organizers noted that it’s important that cyber teams avoid too much tech-speak and be able to talk to other troops in an operational language they understand.

Making cyber operations and electronic warfare a seamless part of military operation has been a main focus of the Army and other military services for several years, as they prepare to combat asymmetric threats from adversaries with easy, fairly cheap access to that kind of technology. Last year, an Army brigade commander said that cyber attacks to the network were the biggest threat on the battlefield.

Other recent exercises within the Army have included Cyber Quest, which focused on using new cyber and EW tools for situational awareness, and Cyber Blitz in the spring. Other exercises also have sought to apply cyber operations to the battlefield.

One goals of the CSCB pilot is determining the proper size and mix of skills for a cyber team, depending on the mission, something the Army said it expects to have a better idea of by the time it gets to its next NTC exercise.