Weapons and equipment are the foundation of military combat capability and an important factor in determining the outcome of wars. In the current situation of increasingly fierce competition among major powers and of increasingly evident militarization of cyberspace, all countries have increased capital investment; strengthened the development and deployment of cyberspace weapons and equipment; promoted research and development, as well as transformation, and application of emerging technologies; and sought to shape new technologies for military development and future operations.
As a concept for integrating cyberwarfare systems, the US Cyber Command created the Joint Cyber Operations Architecture (JCWA) to guide cyberwarfare acquisition and investment decisions, with the aim of enabling cyber forces to execute command and control decisions, as well as training in having access – through a unified platform – to the broad tasks of the system. Since 2021 the US military has continued to use the JCWA as a guide and rely on various services to develop and improve cyberwarfare systems and tools.
The JCWA includes several acquisition programs, as well as cyber tools and sensors to support cyber operations. According to the US Defense Department’s 2022 budget, the U.S. Air Force is responsible for requesting to the Joint Cyber Command and Control (JCC2) a budget of 79 million dollars, more than double the previous year’s 38.4 million dollars due to a number of programs, including the Internet Key Exchange (IKE) project. i.e. an artificial intelligence-enabled tool that will provide a new way for cyber forces to understand the common operational framework in warfare.
Funds will be transferred to the project, and the IKE software development has moved from the planning to the execution phase.
The US Air Force is responsible for the Unified Platform (UP) for fiscal year 2022. The research and development budget is equal to 101.8 million dollars. The US Army will also be responsible for the Persistent Cyber Training Environment (PCTE) research and development budget for fiscal year 2022, which amounts to 52.9 million dollars. The budget for the US Army’s Joint Common Access Platform (JCAP) has so far been kept secret.
The US Army offered the PCTE, version 3, in the second quarter of 2021, following the release of version 2 to the US Cyber Command in October 2020. The PCTE version 3 will provide users with additional response channels and give training managers an overview of the network status. It will also include a content repository to host previous scenarios built by content or training curators. This makes it easier to train or simulate the activities.
Security Insider (https://www.secrss.com/) says that the US Army plans to deploy and distribute version 4 of the PCTE platform to the U.S. Cyber Command in the first quarter of this year. The version provides a more intuitive engine for discovering training activities, exercises or modules available to troops, designed to reduce redundancy and enable better individual and team training.
The Army also continues to lead the Cyber Innovation Challenge to award contracts and apply new technologies to the PCTE platform. The latest contract, awarded in February 2021, includes “enhanced assessment” and “traffic generation” features and functionalities that will be incorporated into version 5 of the PCTE. The “enhanced assessment” is critical to the US Cyber Command, as it helps improve force readiness reports. On the other hand, the “traffic generation” is also a key capability that helps cyber forces in areas including “friendly space,” “grey space” and “red space,” operating in the entire IT and intelligence environment, not just in certain networks.
In June 2021 the main annual US Cyber Command exercise, i.e. Cyber Flag 21-2, used the PCTE platform again, thus enabling the US Cyber Command to expand the exercise of activities.
The PCTE team is applying the exercise readings to future events for subsequent versions of the platform. The PCTE and project team have developed studies to support and monitor thousands of daily events – even the most insignificant – and make them available to the other major Cyber Yankee service as well.
The US Army is also exploring the PCTE integration with other JCWA components to enable the interoperability of the US cyber mission forces. The above integration not only reduces access and accounts for multiple systems, but also seamlessly feeds data response to the combat platform. For example, the US armed forces are conducting initial pilot work to enter and incorporate the PCTE data into the JCC2-Project IKE component.
The Pentagon formally handed Project IKE over to the US Cyber Command in April 2021 and it is serving as a reference point for key cyber tools for its cyber mission force. The IKE project is considered a precursor to the JCC2, one of the pillars of the JCWA, available to the US Cyber Command.
The JCC2 seeks to integrate data from a variety of sources to help inform and support commanders’ decision-making; assess readiness down to the individual level; visualize cyberspace and give situational awareness to all levels of combat forces.
The IKE project enables users throughout the chain of command to plan, prepare, execute, and evaluate cybersecurity operations. IKE will be used to map the network and assess the readiness of cyber teams and command forces in cyberspace. IKE enables commanders to understand the status of offensive and defensive teams, as well as friendly and enemy forces in cyberspace, which is critical to its command and control, and to ensure the dissolution of crises in conflicts between combat teams. IKE is already used by the US combat troops and currently has thousands of military users.
The US Cyber Command plans to migrate its various service network components to the JCAP. It will provide it with the infrastructure for offensive missions by fiscal year 2024. Service cyber forces will move on crisis platforms, using the separate tools that now operate proactively, and link their respective cyberspace activities more closely. The Army plans to withdraw its current offensive cyber tools in 2024 and then move to the JCAP. The Army is developing the tool for the U.S. Cyber Command and the Army, which will be deployed in four joint mission operations commands: the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps, which have already signed a memorandum of understanding.
The JCAP uses an innovative software acquisition approach and the system is updated quarterly to add new functionalities, thus giving the Army the freedom to continue to repeat and gradually add more functionalities to the system itself. In December 2020 Mattel Technologies announced it had been awarded a 265 million US dollar contract to support the project over 42 months.
Furthermore, the US Army awarded a 2.4 billion US dollar contract to 14 companies to provide IT services for the national cyber range complex. The companies will provide incident planning and execution, site safety and security, IT management and range modernization services, as well as operational support for the military in cyber missions. The National Cyber Range is therefore a US Army program focused on improving battlefield resilience by creating an operationally representative cyberspace environment for respective mission testing, training and simulations. As part of the Capability Set 21, the Army plans to implement a tool called Cyber Situational Awareness to prepare units for combat as early as this year. Cyber Situational Awareness is a tool designed specifically for commanders on the ground, not intended for use in cyberspace operations, but to help commanders better perceive cyber and electromagnetic situations to make more informed decisions. (1. continued)
Giancarlo Elia Valor