Battle Staffs Need More Cyber Training, Leaders Say

Developing cyber warfare capabilities turns out to be only one piece in the complex challenge military leaders have in trying to incorporate a new warfare domain into their mission management and planning process.

Commanders need to understand cyber effects if they’re to use the capabilities now at their disposal, and planners have to understand how best to leverage those capabilities to provide commanders with viable and ready options. The trouble is, cyber is still a new tool for most battle planners and experienced experts are rare. That’s raising a need to expand who gets trained on how to use cyber effects, as well as how to make that understanding more accessible to more planners.

“We focus on developing technical gurus,” explained Maryland Air National Guard Capt. Matthew “Tux” Weiner, group weapons and tactics officer of the 275th Air Force Support Squadron. “What we don’t teach them is how to be planners. We don’t teach them Joint Pub 5 [Joint Operation Planning], we don’t teach them Joint Pub 3-60 [Joint Targeting] and we don’t teach them about the Joint Target Cycle.”

Another problem: Cyber is still so highly classified that cyber operators are kept apart from planning and operations staffs. One result: Many commanders lack experience or understanding of how cyber can be used in military operations.

Both cyber operators and mission planners need more areas of common understanding, Weiner suggested. “The operators don’t need to be at that [senior planning] level, but you need trained and certified planners in the AOC [Air Operations Center] that understand our [cyber] capabilities, understand our effects, can distinguish between something called defensive cyber operations response actions and offensive cyber space operations,” he said. Planners must understand the nuances, such as the different authorities required for each and which cyber specialists can do which kind of work.

“I also believe we … haven’t built a standard on planning,” he added. With artillery and air power, for example, there are established planning methodologies and software to help imbue new planners with decades of military understanding and experience. That’s missing for cyber today. “We don’t have a solution out there … where you go in there and build off some piece of software or some piece of equipment and it takes you through your entire response action for what you’re going to do,” Weiner said.

That’s an immediate need, he added, posing a challenge to the military the training community to develop and standardize methods for training cyber mission planners.

“Within Army Mission Training Complexes, Cyber cells are being integrated in the mission operations training”, said retired COL Bob Pricone, VP of Training at GDIT. “We’re beginning to develop a body of knowledge to enable better cyber mission planning. But it’s still an emerging practice.”

Weiner said his command has begun the process and has a waiting list of 200 officers to get into the Guard’s program: a three-week tactical planner’s course that includes a week on JP-5 and two on JP-3-60. “But that shouldn’t be the first time they see it,” he said. “We need to start building cyber planners from the time they go through their service schools and come out into operations.”

Classification Conflicts
Frank DiGiovanni, DoD Director of Force TrainingFrank DiGiovanni, director of force training at the Pentagon, experienced this problem first hand when as an Air Force officer, “I had a cyber person and a space person working for me, but they could not talk in the battle staff about their capabilities.”

The two were sequestered in another part of the air operations center, he said, because of classifications that barred most AOC staff from knowing what they were doing or could do – a problem that has yet to be solved, he said.

“We have to fix the security issue to make sure the people on the battle staff are read in,” DiGiovanni said.

Just as important is making sure commanders understand the cyber capabilities at their fingertips and that they have confidence that those capabilities will have an impact once unleashed. Planners alone don’t ensure commanders will use capabilities they see as unproven or untested.

“If the commander isn’t confident in the capabilities – because he hasn’t seen it in training or exercises – it won’t be used,” DiGiovanni said. “It’s a complete value chain which includes the leaders, the planners, the operators and the maintainers. All those people have to be exercised and trained to understand the capabilities. It’s a big problem.”

Maj. Gen. Stephen Fogarty, chief of staff at U.S. Cyber Command, said though the Army is acutely aware of the problem, finding actual real-world experience is helping to shine the way forward. “There’s nothing like operations to accelerate learning,” he said. “We have learned tremendously.” The Army’s Cyber Center of Excellence is adapting its training to address the knowledge shortfall, Fogarty said, “so those lieutenants, NCOs and warrant officers in the training, they’re going to come away with not only the ability to [conduct cyber warfare] at the national level, but actually to provide effects down to the tactical level.”

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