Following a plan laid out before its establishment, U.S. Cyber Command is on its way toward becoming a unified combatant command, Army Gen. Keith Alexander told an audience of military and civilian cyber experts this month.
The move will increase the prominence of the command, as CYBERCOM has functioned as a sub-unified command reporting to U.S. Strategic Command since its formation in 2010.
Several news outlets reported in May that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would recommend that the command be elevated, although a specific time frame for the move is unclear. Any elevation of a command requires presidential approval.
“We came up with a paper in the April, May, June time frame of 2007 that said we probably need a unified command,” Alexander, CYBERCOM chief, said at the TechNet Land Forces conference, hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
“The problem is to get to a unified command; it’s too big a step to jump, by pulling it all together, to make a unified command,” he said. “So the most logical is to set it up as a sub-unified and then grow it to a unified.”
Alexander indicated that progress is being made.
“It’s a long, long process,” he said. “They’re working their way through that. I’m sure it will take some more time.”
The current position of CYBERCOM leads to some reporting contortions, as Alexander reports directly to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for matters involving the National Security Agency, which Alexander also heads, but reports to Strategic Command chief Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler for matters involving CYBERCOM. The dual position was chosen to allow CYBERCOM to work more closely with NSA, the home to most of the country’s more advanced cyber capabilities. CYBERCOM is located at Fort Meade, Md., for similar reasons.
However, Alexander might have to step down if CYBERCOM becomes a unified command, said Dale Meyerrose, former assistant director of national intelligence.
“If, in fact, the individual became a unified commander, you would probably need to separate the director of NSA from commander of Cyber Command,” he said.
Meyerrose, who now runs the Meyerrose Consulting Group, said he had advocated for CYBERCOM to be a unified command while still in uniform.
“The fact that it was made a sub-unified command kind of shot behind the rabbit, from my perspective,” he said.