A cyber network operator deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

From Cheryl Pellerin, Armed Forces Press Service:  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. . . .

“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. . . .

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 objectives; and

— 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. . . .

“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 systems.

“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.  (photo: Cpl. Kyle N. Runnels/ Department of Defense)