New Strategic Triad for the US

"Ultimately, we need to create a separate cyberservice"

From James Stavridis, Foreign Policy:  As we sail more deeply into the turbulent 21st century, however, there is another triad that bears considering that will be a critical part of U.S. security in the decades to come. . . . .

This "New Triad" consists of special operations forces, unmanned vehicles, and cybercapabilities. Each has an important individual role to play, but taken together, the sum of their impacts will be far greater than that of each of the parts when used alone.

First, consider special operations forces, or SOF. They have become a tool of choice in a wide variety of actions in today’s world, from the spectacular mission that finally killed Osama bin Laden to training African partners to thwart the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, and from helping Colombian forces fight the FARC insurgency in Latin America to providing security for disaster relief operations in Pakistan. . . .

Because they are trained in languages, cultural mores, high-tech communications, medicine, concealment, and many other discrete skills, they can operate in the widest imaginable variety of geographical settings. They are also small in number, highly motivated, and relatively cost-effective. They are generally precision-guided in their approach, can limit collateral damage, and blend in when needed.

The second capability in the New Triad is unmanned vehicles and sensors. This branch of the triad includes not only the airborne attack "drones" that are endlessly debated at the moment, but unmanned surveillance vehicles in the air, on the ground, and on the ocean’s surface. They also operate at depth in the world’s oceans, both in the water column and on the ocean’s floor. For example, the use of "underwater drones" might someday allow attacks on enemy shipping or ports, as well as the exploitation of underwater fiber-optic cables deep on the ocean floor. This could one day provide a rich environment for intelligence collection, "blinding" communication pathways, and the conduct of cyberoperations.

While expensive, such systems have the obvious advantage of not requiring the most costly component of all: people. Also, without people operating them, they can perform in far harsher environments and hold a higher degree of political deniability for covert and clandestine operations. And they are highly accurate, are largely networked together via overhead systems, and can provide direct feeds to conventional and special operations forces.

Finally, and potentially most powerfully, there is the world of offensive cybercapability that is just beginning to emerge. This part of the New Triad has the potential to operate with devastating effect, possibly able to paralyze an opponent’s electric grid, transportation network, financial centers, energy supplies, and the like.

Cybersystems can also collect information and intelligence, manipulate enemy navigation and operational systems, and perform in clandestine and unattributable ways. Although expensive to design and create, they become quite cost-effective to operate over time. . . .

[I]t is probably time to consolidate the myriad cyberforces owned and operated by the separate services and other parts of the Defense Department and merge them into a single organization, much as was done with today’s U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. . . .

Frankly, putting the military side of the nation’s cybercapability under Cyber Command is at best an interim solution. Ultimately, we need to create a separate cyberservice, just as we have an Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Just as we finally grasped that the skies were a new domain and created the U.S. Air Force over 60 years ago, it will soon be time to see that cyber is, in fact, a permanent new domain that requires a U.S. Cyber Force. Beginning now to think seriously about this will be part of the implementation of the New Triad.

And let’s face it: A new cyberservice will need more than a new style of uniform. It will probably need, for example, a very different personnel system. The type of young woman or man who is deeply engaged in the world of cyber probably isn’t looking for a "high and tight" haircut, eight weeks of boot camp, and a long, slow crawl up a largely seniority-based system for promotion. A U.S. Cyber Force will require a large civilian component and will need to be instinctively oriented toward working with the interagency process and the private sector — not baseline competencies in today’s Defense Department, despite some improvement over the past decade.

Adm. James Stavridis just completed four years as supreme allied commander of NATO. He will become dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy after retiring from the Navy this summer.  (graphic: Department of Defense)

Image: dod%206%2024%2013%20army%20cyber%20command.jpg