The Army and Navy components of the U.S. military’s Cyber Mission Forces have reached full operational capability, the services announced Thursday, beating their 2018 deadline by roughly a year.
The Army and Navy announcement marks a major milestone for U.S. Cyber Command, which has grown since 2010 from a rough plan to build a military unit complementary to the largely civilian National Security Agency to what will soon be a full combatant command.
Together, the Army and Navy components comprise about 60 percent of the 6,200 cyber troops divided among 133 teams that will make up a fully operational U.S. Cyber Command next year.
The remaining 40 percent of troops will come from the Air Force and Marine Corps.
Cyber Command, which reached initial operational capability last year, is responsible for protecting Defense Department computer networks and digital components of weapons systems at a high, strategic level and with assisting other military units with digital defense.
The command can also be tasked with helping to defend U.S. critical infrastructure, such as energy plants, water plants and airports if they’re facing digital attacks.
The command is tasked with conducting offensive cyberattacks and other cyber operations if directed by the president.
The Defense Department has historically been cagey about describing offensive cyber operations but former Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged near the end of his term that Cyber Command had conducted offensive operations to disrupt communications and recruiting by the Islamic State.
For the Navy, reaching the fully operational milestone required “a training throughput of more than 18,000 course completions, 1,800 personnel, and 2,000 hours of executing full-spectrum operations during certification and training events,” the service said.
Cyber Command is currently run by Adm. Michael Rogers who also leads NSA. Lawmakers and executive branch officials have long debated ending that “dual hat” relationship but have delayed because they’re unsure that Cyber Command is prepared to stand on its own.