U.S. Should Create Military Cyber Force to Help Deter China, Experts Tell Congress

February 9, 2023 4:59 PM
U.S. Capitol on Dec. 29, 2022. USNI News Photo

The U.S. should consider creating an independent Cyber Force, similar to the Space Force, to take on the asymmetric and technological challenges China has created to disrupt the American approach to war, the former executive director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission testified Thursday.

The top officers of the 12-year-old U.S. Cyber Command “laid out some good metrics” to measure readiness, “but the services aren’t meeting them” in terms of training and equipping, retired Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, now with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said in his opening remarks before the newly-created House Armed Services committee on cyber, innovative technology and information systems.

“Readiness is relatively the same as it was” six years ago, he said. Montgomery used that date to mark China’s standing up its cyber support force.

“U.S. cyber forces are inconsistent in organization, readiness, and training across the military services, Montgomery wrote in his prepared remarks. “Additionally, the size of each service contribution to the cyber mission forces has not changed appreciably since the original agreements in 2012, despite significant changes in the cyber threat.”

He also called upon Congress to look more closely at what the new assistant secretary for cyber policy needs to better carry out that position’s responsibilities.

The Chinese Communist Party “has been working diligently and capably (to make) the United States military, deaf, dumb and blind in any conflict,” said David Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In the “American way of war,” as Brose put it, such givens as “movement and communications is highly contested” by the Chinese in a host of ways from sea and land to space.

“Hiding is nearly impossible,” Brose, the author of “Kill Chain,” said.

Like the other panelists, Brose didn’t call for new platforms and systems to meet the challenges that Chinese advances in asymmetric warfare have made. He suggested adopting “an arsenal of alternative military capabilities” that are low cost, like loitering munitions, that can be paired with more traditional military platforms. Their effectiveness would be further improved by integrating artificial intelligence and autonomy into their operations.

“It’s more about defense than offense,” he said.

The approach has been effective in Ukraine where Kyiv’s forces have been able to “degrade and deny a Great Power” easy military victory, Brose said.

Montgomery called for a flexible and innovative approach to solving immediate battlefield problems. Ukraine is working with Boeing, the Danish army and the U.S. Navy to successfully develop a land-based version for the anti-ship Harpoon missiles to keep the Russian navy at bay.

He called for more “innovation that started at the major, lieutenant colonel level” like the Marines adopting a modified Israeli Iron Dome air defense and using the tubes of the Army’s High Mobility Artillery Rocket System to give dispersed forced long-range strike capability.

“That’s where you save money” and foster innovation, Montgomery said. He added in the prepared remarks that it keeps these programs out of the “Valley of Death” where research and development successes have to wait up to two years to be included in a program of record in a budget proposal.

These innovative approaches plus more American training of Taiwanese expanded reserve forces and employing countermeasures like smart mines in addition to anti-ship and anti-air missiles would bolster defenses against a possible invasion, he said.

What is needed “is redundancy and resilience” in future wars, Montgomery said.

Many innovative ideas that have succeeded on the battlefield also don’t move forward because they lack the scale that the Pentagon buying process encourage, author Peter Singer said. A way around that bias has been the Navy’s Task Force 59, a testbed for experimentation in the Persian Gulf. It allows an idea to be tested locally, then in the region and, if successful there, adopted service-wide.

Another way would be using a “Shark Tank” model to achieve scale, Singer said. In the television show “Shark Tank,” prospective entrepreneurs are asked sharped questions about their product or service and at the end the panel of potential financiers decides whether to invest in the project or not.

“That’s where you get scale,” he said.

Much of what was suggested as alternatives – munitions like Javelins [anti-armor] and Stingers [anti-air] – at the hearing to deter Chinese aggression fall into the billpayer category when the Pentagon final budget proposal is shaped, in addition to scale challenges, Montgomery said.

As an example, the Ukrainians “burned through eight years of Javelin production in nine months of conflict,” he added.

Congress appropriated $1.2 billion in spring to rebuild the Javelin stockpile, but it will take years to restore it to pre-Ukrainian war levels.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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