By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2013 – Two years ago, U.S. Pacific Command set out on a big experiment during its Terminal Fury exercise, subjecting participants for the first time to simulated cyber intrusions and network access denials, among other unexpected curve balls the exercise planners threw their way.
Pacom’s cyber cell, serving as a testbed for the newly established U.S. Cyber Command, grappled with scenarios that shot holes through their cyber defenses, compromising their command-and-control systems and, by extension, their ability to control their forces.
The exercise underscored what already had become abundantly clear throughout Pacom and the entire Defense Department: the cyber domain is the new military “high ground” -- an advantage to those to use it effectively, and the downfall of those who don’t.
So in officially standing up its Joint Cyber Center last year at the direction of then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Pacom officials set out to capitalize on cyber capabilities and make them integral to the entire command structure.
“The intent is to be a fusion center to integrate cyber in all its versions in the entire cyber portfolio into the command’s daily and warfighting battle rhythm,” Air Force Brig. Gen. John “Mark” Hicks, Pacom’s director of command, control, communications and cyber, told American Forces Press Service during a telephone interview from Camp Smith, Hawaii.
Pacom’s vast area of responsibility -- more than half the globe -- makes it particularly reliant on its secure and unsecure networks to operate, Hicks explained.
“Nothing happens out here -- we don’t have visibility on anything, we can’t command and control anything, my boss, [Navy] Adm. [Samuel J.] Locklear [III] can’t do his mission -- without assured and secure communications,” Hicks said. “That means communications, not just with his own forces, but also between our allies and partners, because that is a very big part of our job here.”
Collaborating closely with Cyber Command, the Defense Information Systems Agency and the services, the CyberPac team helps to ensure the command’s networks provide a reliable command-and-control platform. In addition, they coordinate with other U.S. government agencies to promote the global debate on the future of cyberspace.
“We view cyber as a global common, much like sea, air and space,” Hicks said. “So we are advocates for unfettered, free and secure use of the Internet and other telecommunications.”
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Cyberthreats come in many forms, Hicks said. They range from hackers intent on stealing intellectual property to well-organized campaigns by state and nonstate actors to exploit national secrets, deny service or bring down vital military networks.
Recognizing that cyber threats have no respect for national borders, CyberPac increasingly is reaching out to regional allies and partners to encourage closer cooperation across the cyber domain.
“As I like to put it, communications interoperability is both an agent of and a necessary condition for improved relationships,” Hicks said. “So by helping partner nations build their military communications and cyber capacity and capability, we are building partner capacity, improving our relationships with them in a non-threatening way. That potentially opens the door and allows greater access for other U.S. military activities.”
So in addition to its other activities, CyberPac is leveraging Pacom’s exercise program and hosting workshops and other bilateral and multilateral forums that promote closer military-to-military cyber engagement.
“There is a very palpable sense of concern with respect to cyber vulnerability in the Asia-Pacific,” Hicks said, citing the frequency of software pirating and intellectual property theft through cyber intrusions. “This is a very needed capability in the Asia-Pacific.”
Vietnam participated for the first time in the Cyber Endeavor workshop that ran concurrently with the Pacific Endeavor exercise. And despite widespread criticism of China’s suspected role in cyber incursions, Pacom officials hope it will agree to join other regional countries at future cyber venues.
“We are continuing to reach out and hope to include the People’s Republic of China in that list in the new future,” Hicks said. “This is something about which everyone in the Asia-Pacific can agree. It provides a nonthreatening opportunity for us to work together toward a common goal, with the collateral benefit of building relationships.”