President Donald Trump on Friday elevated that status of U.S. Cyber Command in move he said would improve responses to cyber security threats and position better position it for resourcing.
The transition of U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) from a sub-unified combatant command under U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to a separate unified combatant command was expected and puts it on an equal footing with USSTRATCOM and the eight other unified combatant commands. The elevated status also means the commander will report directly to the secretary of defense.
Trump said in a statement that in addition to bolstering U.S. cyberspace operations, the change “will also help streamline command and control of time-sensitive cyberspace operations by consolidating them under a single commander with authorities commensurate with the importance of such operations. Elevation will also ensure that critical cyberspace operations are adequately funded.”
A Pentagon spokeswoman told Defense Daily that the command will be better positioned for funding because the change “consolidates and enhances the advocacy for resources for cyberspace operations.”
The mission of USCYBERCOM is to plan, train, coordinate and operate cyber mission forces across all domains and make sure that the U.S. and its allies can freely operate in cyberspace.
The Defense Department said that the new status of USCYBERCOM shows the “growing centrality of cyberspace to U.S. national security” and demonstrates the department’s long-term commitment to the domain.
“This decision means that Cyber Command will play an even more strategic role in synchronizing cyber forces and training, conducting and coordinating military cyberspace operations, and advocating for and prioritizing cyber investments within the department,” Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, said in a Pentagon briefing for reporters.
Michael Daniel, the White House cyber security advisor under former President Barack Obama, backs the new status of USCYBERCOM, saying in a statement it has “effectively operated in this status for some time, so the elevation more reflects current reality than a big change.”
Daniel, currently president of the Cyber Threat Alliance, also said that he backs separating USCYBERCOM from the National Security Agency so that it “can fully develop its own independent capabilities.”
USCYBERCOM and the NSA are currently led by Adm. Mike Rogers who is dual hatted as commander and director respectively. Trump ordered Defense Secretary Mattis to work with Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence, on a recommendation and plan for the future command relationship between USCYBERCOM and the NSA. The president also wants Mattis to recommend a commander for USCYBERCOM.
Earlier this year Rogers and USSTRATCOM Commander Gen. John Hyten recommended to Trump that USCYBERCOM be elevated to a unified combatant command but told Congress that it should still be linked to the NSA until it can develop greater cyber capabilities on its own. That recommendation is in line with Congress’ direction contained in the FY ’17 National Defense Authorization Act. The NSA is the U.S. government’s premier provider of signals intelligence and information assurance capabilities.
USCYBERCOM stood up in 2009 and has dedicated Cyber Mission Teams that are part of ongoing operations, including the fight against the Islamic State. The command also has service elements with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines that have various Cyber Mission Forces. Last fall all 133 of USCYBERCOM’s Cyber Mission Force teams achieved initial operating capability with full operating capability slated for Sept. 2018, to include nearly 6,200 personnel.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) welcomed the status change for USCYBERCOM and the eventual separation of it from the NSA, but pointed to other cyber security needs for the nation.
“We must develop a clear policy and strategy for deterring and responding to cyber threats,” McCain said a statement. “We must also develop an integrated, whole-of-government approach to protect and defense the United States from cyber attacks.”