WASHINGTON — The Army's cyber branch is using pilot programs and training center rotations to show commanders at a variety of echelons what cyber capabilities can be brought to the table and, at the same time, refine how cyber will be a part of tactical operations both on the defensive and offensive side, cyber leaders said today Tuesday at an Association of the US Army forum.

And there's room for improvement in how cyber support teams communicate to commanders what tools and capabilities can be used in operations, they said.

"The Army's dependency on networks is increasing significantly, and it's not going to decrease," Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, the 25th Infantry Division's commanding general, said today at an AUSA cyber forum in Arlington, Virginia.

There are a variety of things in which Army cyber is not yet up to speed. "The policies, permissions and authorities are not changing at the speeds relative to the threats; the skills are not developing at the speed relative to threats; commanders' awareness in broad terms remains to be lacking and a big change in command for communications and cyber remain confusing across the force," Flynn said.

The commander stressed cyber teams need to get in the warfighting formations "and they need to get out there yesterday ... and you need to send your very best people because they need to be reliable and credible upon arrival, they need to describe to commanders what they offer."

Cyber teams that are incorporated into formations "have to be the best," Flynn said, which means having a clear understanding of maneuver warfare, doctrine and can speak to commanders in their own language.

J.D. McCreary, Georgia Tech Research Institute's Disruptive Technology Programs chief, agreed the Army's challenge in incorporating cyber capabilities is getting commanders and forces to understand the art of the possible. "When we say 'cyber,' people start to roll their eyes back when they think about us."

The commanding general of US Army Cyber Command Lt. Gen. Edward Cardon told reporters after the forum that he is "excited about the progress" being made through training rotations and pilot programs, adding it is giving commanders an idea of what capabilities exist that can be used in their missions.

Flynn stressed that it is key for embedded cyber teams to develop strong relationships with the commanders and that communicating in terms the leaders will understand while they are already in high operational tempo, high stress environments is important.

Without strong relationships, "they are going to be put in what I would call the 'iIsland of mMisfit tToys,'" Flynn said. "They are going somewhere off to the side, nice to have, but they are not being employed because they can't bring to the commander what they offer."

And Col. William "Joe" Hartman is experiencing the struggles of incorporating cyber support firsthand as the commander of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade tasked to conduct a pilot program to determine cyber capability and integrate it into tactical forces.

The pilot, Hartman said, includes several major components, including supporting combat training center rotations and integrating cyber effects.

So far the program has worked with the 3rd Brigade 25th Infantry Division and the 75th Ranger Regiment task force. Next up, the brigade is supporting a Stryker Bbrigade for an upcoming rotation at the National Training Center in January, Hartman said

In the spring, the team was "effectively" integrated with the 25th ID brigade staff and delivered several cyber effects during the rotation such as denial of enemy communications to prevent the delivery of lethal effects and prevention of the enemy's ability to ascertain certain content, according to Hartman

"These cyber effects were able to be integrated in both a wide-area security mission and then a combined arms maneuver phase," he said. "We learned a lot of valuable lessons at [the Joint Readiness Training Center] that we will try to address moving forward."

While the pilot program saw some success, the effort marks the first time a cyber team attempted to integrate at the infantry brigade level and communication was a problem. "While we provided some very technically smart folks, they weren't able to communicate with the brigade commander and staff, in terms that they were able to easily understand, what capabilities we were providing and how to best integrate those capabilities," Hartman said.

The pilot team also learned it needed to be involved in preparations leading up to the training process earlier to show commanders what capabilities it could bring to the table and how those could be integrated before training rotations got underway, Hartman said.

"We also discovered we needed better cyber kit," Hartman said. "It's difficult to get lots of support from a maneuver guy when you need to get four people and load kit into the back of a Humvee, getting that just prior to move out and at the end of the day, the kit being developed wasn't mobile or portable enough to really be integrated with an infantry on the move."

These types of discoveries is the reason the pilots are so important, Cardon said. "They show up with all this kit, but they didn't have a vehicle, so it's like, 'Great, for us to be a part of it, we need space in the vehicle' and they are looking at you like, 'You don't have your own vehicle?'"

Cardon added that the pilots have been good for experimentation. For instance, the cyber team had built and brought a capability to a training rotation that required stopping in order for it to work, which would have been problematic in an actual operation that requires moving quickly. "It's like, 'OKkay, we can't build a capability like that,'" Cardon said. "I think ultimately [the effort] is going to build out a set of options that we are going to be able to provide the commanders with the right authorities."

Email: jjudson@defensenews.com

Twitter: @JenJudson

Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.

More In Land