A cyber protection team at work at Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Nellis Air Force Base, during the Red Flag 14-1 exercise

A cyber protection team at work at Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Nellis Air Force Base, during the Red Flag 14-1 exercise U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brett Clashman

What Will $5 Billion in Military Cyber Spending Pay For?

The Pentagon is spending more on cybersecurity, but is it spending it in the right way? By Patrick Tucker

The Pentagon’s wants $5.1 billion for cyber operations next year, an increase of about $4 million over this year’s budget, but exactly what the military wants to buy with that money is unclear.

“There’s no set of program elements that led to this number. Maybe there needs to be, but right now there isn’t,” said outgoing comptroller Bob Hale, rolling out the Obama administration’s fiscal 2015 spending request at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Budgeting for more cybersecurity makes sense to defense planners who argue the threat continues to grow. But how to spend that money is still very much up for debate at the Pentagon.

“The question isn’t the funding side, but figuring out the proper roles and responsibilities, especially in how the line is better set between DOD, the rest of government and private responsibilities,” said Peter Singer, director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at the Brookings Institution. Though that’s not a new worry, either.

“We haven’t yet gotten to point where we are able to figure out how spending translates into capability. That is -- if I double my cyber spending, does it give me a 10 percent, 100% or 1,000% increase in capability? Cyber is a realm where it doesn’t translate like that well,” Singer said.

Among the most important new areas of cybersecurity funding in the president’s request is $13.3 million for the creation of the Joint Information Environment, a single, secure (and more easily monitored) cloud-based information sharing system for the military. In the Quadrennial Defense Review, Pentagon officials say that system “is critical to developing a more defensible network architecture and to improving network operations.”

Part of the $5.1 billion sought for cyber operations will go toward the continued development of 133 special cyber mission teams. They’ll have various functions, from assisting with battlefield attacks to protecting DOD websites from incursions. Most importantly, these teams will be the nation’s frontline defense against internet-based attacks on infrastructure. The Pentagon expects to have 6,000 cyber mission team staffers in place by 2016, including 13 national mission teams with eight national support teams.

“Some of the infrastructure protection roles that DOD is eyeing are really where the private firms who own and operate [power supplies] should be stepping up instead,” Singer said.

Here are some additional requests for cyber expenditures:

-- The biggest additional chunk of money is being requested for Cyber Command activities, with a request of $67 million this year versus $38 million for fiscal year 2014, an increase of $29 million. (There’s also $83 million in additional funding for Fort Meade Cyber Command headquarters.)

-- The Air Force’s rapid cyber acquisition program will see $4 million in requested funding versus $2 million from last year.

-- The budget also asks for $4.9 million in funding for a new cyber operations technology development for the Air Force.

-- Defense Department-wide cyber security research has a $15 million request in funding up from $13.9 in fiscal year 2014.

Other cuts include the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Agency’s Cognitive Computing program and the Department of Defense (Air Force) Cyber Crime Center.