U.S. cyber analysts conduct exercise Cyber Flag 13-1, Nov. 8, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

U.S. cyber analysts conduct exercise Cyber Flag 13-1, Nov. 8, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Matthew Lancaster

US Cyber Command Has Just Half the Staff It Needs

The Pentagon wants to fully staff its Cyber Command with 6,000 workers by the end of the year, but a highly competitive private market could mean it will have to wait.

The Pentagon is at the midway point of staffing a projected 6,000-person Cyber Command, officials said, amid fears of a catastrophic threat to U.S. networks.

The military appears to be backing away from a long-held goal of establishing a full force by 2016. 

Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Nextgov,"We are about halfway through the overall build, in terms of manning for the cyber mission forces and continue to make progress in training and equipping the teams." She declined to provide a timeline for reaching that size.

As recently as August, Defense officials said the aim was to position 6,000 people in Cyber Command by 2016. The military has gained around 1,000 information security experts since January 2014, when officials said 2,000 professionals were in place.

(Read More: Is Obama's $14 Billion Cybersecurity Request Enough?)

Many factors are responsible for the enduring challenge of recruiting skilled information security pros -- including competition for talent with the more lucrative and nimble private sector and federal budgeting. 

There will be 3 1/2 times as many troops shielding military data as those deflecting hacks against private networks, such as power grids, according to figures provided by Henderson, 

The Command comprises three types of "Cyber Mission Forces" teams:

  • About 2,720 will serve on Cyber Protection Teams that safeguard dot-mil systems stateside and abroad. 
  • Roughly 780 individuals will work within National Mission Teams that repel incoming attacks against key industries, including the health care sector. 
  • Some 1,620 will belong to Combat Mission Teams that support overseas warfighters.

A 2015 national security strategy the White House issued on Friday states that “the danger of disruptive and even destructive cyberattack is growing.”

The Army, for one, "is on track to have approximately 40 Cyber Mission Force teams established by the end of FY 16," Army spokeswoman Jennifer Downing said in an email. The fiscal 2016 budget released this week stated $13 million, in part, would fund 22 employees to support "full spectrum cyber operations." 

The Pentagon wants the Cyber Mission Forces to include 60-person National Mission Teams, 40-person Cyber Protection Teams and 60-person Combat Mission Teams. 

Each military service is trying to hire an additional 20 to 60 computer whizzes starting next fall, according to the budget request.