Army Cyber Warfare Units Are Seriously Undermanned: GAO

A ceremony marks the launch of the first-ever Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space Detachment in the U.S. Army, Jan. 1, 2019. (U.S. Army/Pvt. Caleb Minor)
A ceremony marks the launch of the first-ever Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space Detachment in the U.S. Army, Jan. 1, 2019. (U.S. Army/Pvt. Caleb Minor)

The Army needs more personnel for its ambitious plan to fend off cyberattacks by high-tech enemies, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Army has rushed to meet the threat of cyber and electronic warfare from China, Russia and other potential adversaries, but the plan's accelerated schedule has gotten ahead of the training and equipment needed for implementation, the GAO said in a report released Thursday.

In short, the Army needs more troops with cyber skills to fill the ranks of the specialized units being created to meet the threat, but there's stiff competition from the higher-paying private sector.

"Those units are short of people, and the Army faces competition finding people with in-demand cyber skills," the report states. "We recommended that the Army comprehensively assess the risk of accelerating the creation of the new units."

The Army, through the Defense Department, concurred with the recommendation that risk assessments should be conducted before activating the specialized units.

The DoD said that the Army will ensure that a risk assessment "is conducted before activating any new organizations it plans to field in an accelerated manner for the purposes of conducting multi-domain operations."

The House Armed Services Committee ordered the GAO report to examine how the Army is changing its doctrine, organizations and training to meet the threat of great power competitors such as Russia and China -- particularly in cyber and space.

The report found that the Army activated a cyber battalion in December 2018 but, as of March 2019, the unit was understaffed by more than 80 percent.

In its response, the Army said the Cyber Warfare Support Battalion is a pilot program, and "the Army does not conduct formal risk assessment for experimental or 'pilot' units."

A risk assessment will be conducted "if and when the Army decides to establish such a unit," the service added.

However, the GAO said, "If the Army does not assess risks for units activated at an accelerated pace, those units may be unable to effectively conduct multi-domain operations."

The urgency in meeting the cyber threats posed by Russia and China was underlined in March in a Cybersecurity Readiness Review by outside experts commissioned by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. The review warned that the U.S. may already be overmatched in cyber warfare.

"Competitors and potential adversaries have exploited [Navy] information systems, penetrated its defenses, and stolen massive amounts of national security IP [intellectual property]," according to the review. "This has lessened our capabilities and lethality, while strengthening their offensive and defensive capabilities.

"The erosion of U.S. economic strength resulting from the national losses of IP will, in the future, further weaken U.S. military capability as our competitors will be capable of funding their [military] growth at a relatively faster rate," the review adds.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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