The U.S. Cyber Command’s (CYBERCOM) 133 Cyber Mission Force teams have achieved initial operating capability (IOC) on schedule as of Oct. 21, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced Oct. 24.

IOC is an assessment of capability and means all of the units have reached a threshold level of IOC and can execute their fundamental mission. This achievement does not represent the overall combat readiness of the Cyber Mission Forces teams, Cyber Command said.

However, this status “reflects a team’s overall progress toward achieving full operational capability and serves as a standard baseline in building the 133 teams,” DoD said in a statement.

The teams focus on aligning with the DoD Cyber Strategy’s three main missions: defend DoD networks and ensure the data is held secure, support joint military commander objectives, and defend U.S. critical infrastructure when directed.

The total Cyber Mission Force currently encompasses about 5,000 individuals in 133 teams. CYBERCOM aims for the force to grow to almost 6,200 personnel by the end of fiscal year 2018, with all teams fully operational. The full operational capability will be tied to a validation that all teams are capable of operating at full mission capacity, the department said.

The next main milestone is Sept. 30, 2018 for full operational capability “because our experience is that it takes about two years to get a team from the time we stand it up to fully mission-capable,”  Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of CYBERCOM, said in the announcement. Rogers is concurrently director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and chief of the Central Security Service (CSS).

CYBERCOM officials highlighted that as of mid-October 2016 almost half of the cyber teams have already achieved full operational capability. Even in their pre-IOC form the teams in development, or “build-status,” have played a role in supporting missions to help protect the U.S. against cyber attacks since their 2013 inception because of the “dynamic nature of the cyber domain,” the department said.

Rogers explained they have been used in this way because “The reality is, because of the dynamics of cyber, we have needed to apply capacity as soon as we’re generating it. And so we find ourselves in a situation – a little unusual in the military arena – wherein as soon as we get a basic framework, we have been deploying the teams and putting them against challenges.”

Rogers also commented on how quickly the Cyber Mission Force teams have developed.

“One of the reasons DoD has done exceptionally well to rapidly train and build this force is that each branch of the military services has come to the conclusion that cyber is a mission set that requires dedicated expertise over time,” Rogers said in the announcement.

“That wasn’t always the case, and I have to compliment the services, the services’ cyber component leadership and the entire team for all of the extremely hard work to achieve this goal,” he added.

The teams will support their three-part mission sets through several assignments, including:

  • Cyber National Mission Force teams to defend the nation by seeing adversary activity, blocking attacks, and maneuvering to defeat them;
  • Cyber Combat Mission Force teams to conduct military cyber operations in support of combatant commands;
  • Cyber Protection Force teams to defend the DoD information networks, protect priority missions and prepare cyber forces for combat; and
  • Cyber Support teams to provide analytic and planning support to National Mission and Combat Mission teams.

The teams will also support joint military commander objectives with the military services’s Combat Mission Force teams supporting combatant commands under the Joint Force Headquarters Cyber (JFHQ-C) construct. This includes JFHQ-C MARFORCYBER in support of U.S. Special Operations Command; JFHQ-C ARCYBER in support of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Northern Command; JFHQ-C FLTCYBER in support of U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Southern Command; and JFHQ-C AFCYBER in support of U.S. European Command, U.S. Strategic Command, and U.S. Transportation Command.

Other Cyber Mission Force teams are assigned to both the Cyber National Mission Force and Joint Force Headquarters DoD Information Networks, Cybercom component headquarters.

The Cyber National Mission Force plans, directs, and synchronizes full-spectrum cyberspace operations to deter, disrupt, and, if necessary, defeat adversary cyber actors to defend the nation, CYBERCOM said.  Defending the nation missions include defending the U.S. and its interests  against cyberattacks of “significant consequence,” defense of the nation’s critical infrastructure when directed by the president or secretary of defense; and alignment to the most sophisticated cyber adversaries like nation-state and non-nation-state or emerging threat actors.

DoD defines significant consequences as loss of life, significant property damage, serious adverse foreign policy consequences, or serious U.S. economic impact.