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Space Force…Please. Cyber Force…Please!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By J. Scott Frampton
July 8, 2021

Remember the old 1980s television commercial, “Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines!…What a great place to start!” I know, a classic—but it seemed to always fall short of the mark. Cyber is the fifth domain of the modern battle space and it is missing from that commercial and our modern reality.

Domains are areas that define mental and physical limits of operations, such as land, sea, air and outer space. In the, “American way of war,” it is customary to assign military services to specialize in these domains. When military force is applied in multiple domains, joint operations are undertaken, creating a force multiplier, which usually takes place under the auspices of unified commanders. Hence, the Army operates best in the land domain, Air Force in the air domain and Navy in the sea domain. The Trump administration created the Space Force to operate in the space domain—a premature decision considering the threats we are enduring as a nation are currently in the cyber domain. (The Marine Corps is a special lot of warriors who are comfortable in all domains, but only for short and intense periods of time.)

Given these particulars, domain specialization defines the tenets of warfare concentration, attentiveness and operations, and the way Americans defend themselves in the broadest sense. On this basis alone, we should be comfortable with creating a new service within the arsenal of military forces that is dedicated to the cyber domain and equal in stature to the other services. As the, “American way of war,” has been defined traditionally as power projection, this approach seems intuitive.

There are other reasons to consider creating a Cyber Force, including the nature and purpose of an offset; the cultural and psychological attributes of a service, force or branch; and the sheer magnitude and seriousness of modern cyber domain threats.

An offset, in military parlance, describes a means of compensating for a known disadvantage. It attempts to address force structure and technological inferiority in an era of power competition—a challenge United States leaders have not had to consider seriously for generations. An offset also propels defense capability beyond peers, competitors and potential enemies. It is a new concept of operations or capability that redefines the characteristics of military might, and also is fertile ground for innovative ideas.

The virtue of a new service branch is clear. History provides excellent lessons for when a new service or branch is selected as the best means to achieve a national security end. In the 1770s, land and sea defined the battlespace exclusively—hence the need for an army and a standing navy, as the U.S. Constitution makes clear. The founders were skeptical of a standing army because of the threats it presented to governmental authority. The need for a standing navy was due to the physical resources needed to maintain an effective navy (ships, harbors, fitters and maintenance). Regardless, need was based on domains of war. Given this context, and as noted before, a Space Force is probably a good idea—but it is too soon considering the existential threats that currently exist in the cyber domain. The need for a Cyber Force is greater than one in space.

Many times, the only way to deeply change a bureaucracy is to bring it to crisis. The experiences of cyber attacks in the past have not risen to the level demanding change yet. However, it is not difficult to imagine a cyber attack on the shocking level of Pearl Harbor or the attacks of 9-11. As history informs us, insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. Might we be falling into this trap concerning the cyber domain?

The United States military branches have boosted cybersecurity spending in their recent budget requests, as have other agencies, but this is not enough. A Cyber Force brings more to the conversation than mere resources. It brings with it culture, history, traditions and innovative energy within the assigned domain. Further, it brings a recruiting focus, training, equipment, leadership and a spirit of teamwork that budgets alone cannot achieve.

The approach to defending our nation against its foes always has rested on a foundation of military thinkers, such as Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Mahan, Napoleon and Khan. To disregard their lessons and guidance in terms of national security is ignorance at best and recklessness at worst. This is true especially within a framework of domains of war. In its simplest terms, Cyber Force is an offset and deserves a seat at the joint chiefs of staff table.

Author: J. Scott Frampton earned his doctorate in public policy and administration from Walden University. He is a retired Marine Corps officer. He can be reached at [email protected].

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