Marines Focused at Tactical Edge of Cyber
Marines Focused at Tactical
Edge of Cyber, Commander Says
By Cheryl Pellerin, American
Forces Press Service.
Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia – June 10, 2013 –
– What differentiates his command from Army, Navy and Air Force cyber operations
is a focus on the forward-deployed nature of America’s expeditionary force in
readiness, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command said during a
recent interview here.
As commander of MARFORCYBER, Lt. Gen. Richard P. Mills heads
one of four service components of U.S. Cyber Command. The Marine command stood
up in January 2010.
Today, 300 Marines, federal civilians and contractors are performing cyber
operations, Mills said. That number, he added, will grow to just under 1,000, at
least until fiscal year 2016.
A cyber network
operator peers out the
back of an MV-22B Osprey
Each of the services’ cyber commands protects its own
networks, Mills noted.
“Where we differ is that we look more at tactical-level cyber
operations and how we will be able to provide our forward-deployed ... Marine
Air-Ground Task Force commanders with the capability to reach back into the
cyber world [at home] to have their deployed units supported,” the general said.
The basic structure for deployed Marine units, he said, is an
air-ground task force that integrates ground, aviation and logistics combat
elements under a common command element.
“We’re more focused at the tactical level, the tactical edge
of cyber operations, in supporting our forward-deployed commanders, and that’s
what we should do,” Mills said.
It’s an important capability, the general said, and one that will become more
important and effective for deployed commanders in the years ahead.
“Cyber to me is kind of like artillery or air support,” Mills
explained. “The actual weapon systems are well to your rear, back here in the
continental United States, and what you need to be able to do is request that
support be given to you and have it take effect wherever you’re operating.”
The Marine Corps cyber mission is to advise the commander of
U.S. Cyber Command, Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, on the capabilities of the
Marines within the cyber world and how to best use those forces in accomplishing
the Cybercom mission, Mills said.
“That’s our first job,” he added. “Our second job is to be
able to conduct cyber operations across all three lines of cyber operations -–
defensive and offensive cyber ops –- so we have to man, train and equip Marine
forces to accomplish those missions.”
In testimony to Congress in March, Alexander described the
three Cybercom lines, or missions.
-- A Cyber National Mission Force and its teams will help to defend the country
against national-level threats;
-- A Cyber Combat Mission Force and its teams will be assigned to the
operational control of individual combatant commanders to support their
-- A Cyber Protection Force and its teams will help to operate and defend the
Defense Department’s information environment.
Of the nearly 1,000 MARFORCYBER forces that will come online
between now and fiscal 2016, Mills estimated that a third will be in uniform, a
third will be federal civilian employees, and a third will be contractors.
MARFORCYBER has Marines in the joint community who work
throughout Cybercom at Fort Meade in Maryland. The Marine Corps cyber
organization also is developing teams to be tasked by Cybercom to conduct
operations across the spectrum of cyber operations.
“It’s very similar to what we do today,” Mills said. “The
units train and go forward from the United States and work for other commanders
well forward, and cyber will be the same way. We’ll ship forces to Cybercom when
requested, fully trained, fully manned, fully equipped, ready to operate.”
MARFORCYBER is a full-up component command under Cybercom
along with the Air Force, Navy and Army, the general said.
“All four of the component commanders talk regularly to each
other and meet regularly at Cybercom to coordinate our growth, coordinate our
requirements, [provide] input to Cybercom and take its guidance and direction,
and operate together in big exercises like Cyber Flag,” he said.
Cyber Flag is an annual exercise at Nellis Air Force Base,
Nev., which Cybercom conducts with U.S. interagency and international partners.
For the Marines, the smallest U.S. military service branch,
contractors play an important part in cyber, the general said.
“One of the challenges of cyber is that it’s such a dynamic
environment,” he explained. “You need people who are educated and current in
their specialties and who are available to stay on the job for long periods of
time, whereas Marines come and go in the normal assignment process.”
Contractors have skill sets that aren’t always available in
the active-duty Marine Corps, and can fit neatly into short-term projects, he
“They all operate under the same clearance requirements, the
same authorities, the same rules,” the general said. “That’s one of the things
that make them so expensive. They come at a cost, but you have to bear it to
make sure that your cyber capabilities are current and that you stay on the
In the newest domain of warfare, the battlefield is evolving,
Mills said, and Marine commanders have come to understand the impact cyber can
have on defensive and offensive operations.
“I think cyber commanders now understand when you go forward
you have to be able to defend your systems against intrusion by other states, by
rogue elements, and even by hobbyists who are just trying to break in and
infiltrate your nets,” the general said. “But they’re also beginning to
understand the positive effects cyber can have in your operations against
potential enemies. … It’s a very valuable tool in that quiver of arrows that a
commander takes forward, and they want to understand how it operates.”
In the new domain, even a discussion of weapons veers off the traditional path.
A cyber weapon, Mills said, “can be something as simple as a desktop computer.
It’s also a vulnerability to you, because it’s a way in which the enemy can
enter your Web system if you put the wrong hardware on there or open the wrong
attachment or email.”
Cyber weapons are much more nuanced than big cannons and large bombs and weapons
“The armories of the cyber world are very sophisticated
computers and very sophisticated smart people who sit behind those computers and
work those issues for you,” the general said.
Mills said he’s an infantry officer by trade, so he tends to
view everything he does through a combat-arms prism.
“I think the definition of combat arms is expanding a little
bit these days,” he said. “I don’t think cyber is any longer a communicator’s
environment -- it’s an operator’s environment. So we want that cyber expert to
sit in the operations shop right next to the air expert, right next to the
artillery expert, because we think that’s where it belongs.”
Mills pointed out the contrast between a Marine “kitted out” for battle with a
Marine dressed for a cyber operation who may be sitting behind a desk in the
“He’s got access to a huge computer system that allows him to operate within
that domain,” the general said. “He may go home at night and never have to
deploy forward. But he’s providing support to deployed forces, he’s conducting
actions against designated targets, he’s doing a lot of things -- but from the
foxhole or the fighting hole at his desk, rather than some foxhole or fighting