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US Congress advised to create separate US cyber force branch

The Air Force and Navy flight demonstration squadrons, the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels, fly over the Pentagon, May 2, 2020. Photo: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ned T. Johnston

A new report from the US national security think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies calls for the US to create a new armed service branch.

A new report from the US national security think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies calls for the US to create a new armed service branch.

The United States Congress has been warned that its current standing cyber forces are not fit for purpose and strongly urged to create a United States Cyber Force as the seventh independent armed service.

The advice comes in a report from national security and non-profit think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), which was formed in the wake of the 2001 September 11 attacks.

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The 25 March report – United States Cyber Force: A Defense Imperative – points out that while an officer without any experience holding a rifle would never be given an infantry command, the same is not currently true of officers commanding a cyber warfare unit.

“This mismatch stems from the US military’s failure to recruit, train, promote, and retain talented cyber warriors,” the FDD report said.

“The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines each run their own recruitment, training, and promotion systems instead of having a single pipeline for talent. The result is a shortage of qualified personnel at US Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), which has responsibility for both the offensive and defensive aspects of military cyber operations.”

The FDD spoke with more than 75 serving and retired officers, all with “significant leadership and command experience in the cyber domain”, and according to the report, their feedback “paints an alarming picture”.

The main issue is a lack of coordination between the services, as well as competition when it comes to recruitment. CYBERCOM currently recruits from the other major services, but those services do place a priority on cyber skills. Retention is also an issue, as cyber skills are not valued, and there is often little opportunity for promotion.

All of this prevents, according to the report, “the generation of a cyber force ready to carry out its mission”.

Creating a new service out of a whole cloth is not without precedent. The US Space Force was stood up in 2019 and there was no US Air Force until 1947 – the air service was a wing of the US Army until then.

By creating a US Cyber Force, recruitment can be managed from the ground up to create a workforce that matches CYBERCOM’s needs, while also allowing for the kind of institutional learning that the Army War College provides for its graduates. An independent cyber force would also allow for better spending.

“Without the responsibility for procuring planes, tanks, or ships, a cyber force could also prioritise the rapid acquisition of new cyber warfare systems,” the report said.

As to staffing, the FDD suggests the cyber force need to be no larger than 10,000 personnel, saying that “as the Space Force has shown, a smaller service can be more selective and agile in recruiting skilled personnel”.

“America’s cyber force generation system is clearly broken,” the report concluded. “Fixing it demands nothing less than the establishment of an independent cyber service.”

You can read the full 40-page report here.

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