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Is it time for a new military branch?

Just as the skies became a new battlefield with the 20th century's technological advances, so has IT turned cyberspace into a new combat theater. The U.S. military needs a new, independent branch to dominate it, argues former NATO commander.

Jan. 6, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By MICHAEL HARDY   |   Comments
US-MILITARY-PENTAGON-AERIAL
The Pentagon is seen from the air over Washington, DC on August 25, 2013. The 6.5 million sq ft (600,000 sq meter) building serves as the headquarters of the US Department of Defense and was built from 1941 to1943. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) (SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images)
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Is it time for the military to unite its cyber defense efforts into a single U.S. Cyber Force?

Retired Adm. James Stavridis says yes. In an editorial published in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Stavridis argues that despite the centralized Cyber Command headquartered at Fort Meade, Md., the five services also each have their own service-specific cyber operation. Stavridis served as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe from 2009 to 2013. David Weinstein, who just completed three years as a strategic planner at CYBERCOM, co-authored the commentary.

“Each component, although technically subordinate to CYBERCOM, supports service and joint missions,” the authors wrote. “In other words, Fleet Cyber Command answers to both the Chief of Naval Operations and the CYBERCOM commander. When push comes to shove, though, the Navy dictates the criterion by which the 10th Fleet manages its cyber sailors. After all, the Navy, not CYBERCOM, is footing the bill.”

The model undercuts national security in at least two ways: It encourages unhealthy competition between the services, and it thwarts the development of universal standards. A single, stand-alone force – essentially its own branch, independent of the others -- would eliminate those problems, the authors contend.

A joint environment facilitates discussion among a variety of players with different perspectives, which does have its advantages. “This forced meshing of domain-related views has proven highly valuable for meeting combatant commanders’ intent for planning in all domains. Anyone who has worked in a joint environment—from the Joint Staff scripting strategic doctrine down to a Joint Operations Center churning out tactical orders—would agree that intellectual diversity is paramount to mission success.”

However, there is no single service specializing in cyberspace, the authors wrote. While the different branches contribute guidance, they are prone to bias toward their own histories and hampered by the newness of the domain.

“[A]s long as America’s cyber warriors belong to big Army, Navy, or Air Force, they will always be at least partially influenced by their experiences in another domain, thus depriving joint operations of an institutionally untainted warfighter,” the authors wrote.

A new, dedicated cyber force also makes budgetary sense, they argue, eliminating the redundancy that comes from each branch of service having its own cyber assets.

The last time the government created a new branch of service was in 1947, with the birth of the Air Force. That came more than 30 years after Army Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell recommended it, an example that the commentary’s authors draw on as an analogue to the present day.

Read the full commentary here.

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