WASHINGTON — Russia and China have each dedicated significantly more military cyber forces to conducting cyber effects than the United States, according to research by a London-based think tank.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Military Balance+ database, which evaluates global military trends, sought to provide a breakdown assessing the military cyber capabilities of these nations based mostly on active duty military forces with a responsibility for cyberspace operations (though some data was gathered on reservist units).

According to the report, 33% of Russia’s military cyber forces are focused on effects, compared to 18.2% of Chinese military forces and 2.8% of U.S. forces. This data was derived from the composition of principal cyber forces according to roles assigned to individual units.

Authors of the report clarified that “effects” generally refers to actions to deny, degrade, disrupt or destroy as well as those conducted by proxies in conjunction with a government actor. It can also include a range of other capabilities such as the ability to research vulnerabilities, write or use malware, and maintain command and control through exploits.

“Russia is a highly capable cyber power. Cyber capabilities are part of a broader framework of information operations, and strategic documents generally refer to cyber security under the rubric of ‘information security,’ ” the Military Balance report read.

In July 2021, Russia released an update to its National Security Strategy, devoting a section to information security and stressing the further development of military cyber forces and capabilities.

The IISS report noted that China has also shown significant improvements in its military cyber capabilities over the last decade, integrating offensive cyber operations into recent military exercises.

Russia also allots a significant amount of personnel to incident response, the report noted, with 80% of its forces dedicated to the mission. That is compared with 29% on the U.S. side and 9.1% on the Chinese side.

All three nations dedicated roughly the same proportion of forces to conducting cyber intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, hovering between 50% and 54%.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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