Should Cyber Force become the next service?

A measure requiring the National Academy of Sciences to study the creation of an independent Cyber Force military branch advanced out of a key House panel late Wednesday.

The amendment, led by Rep. Morgan Luttrell, R-Texas, was lodged in the House Armed Services Committee’s National Defense Authorization Act, an annual must-pass defense policy bill that funds the U.S. military and national security apparatus across the Defense Department, and the intelligence community.

The measure comes amid studies and complaints from military personnel and outside analysts who have called the current U.S. military cyber formations inadequate and cumbersome. A Foundation for Defense of Democracies research paper released in March urged Congress to create a new cyber branch that sits alongside the Air Force, Navy and other armed forces, arguing current configurations don’t give the U.S. the best chance at combating adversaries in cyberspace.

The FDD study proposed that the branch should be tethered to the Army and granted 10,000 personnel with a $16.5 billion budget, arguing the DOD’s current cyber staff buildout has caused multiple shortfalls, including inability to fully use cyber talent and tools and poor culture that damages troops’ morale.

The U.S. military’s cyberspace oversight is currently anchored to Cyber Command, one of several unified combatant commands that amalgamates service staff across multiple branches. The head of CYBERCOM has joint command of the cyber operation and the National Security Agency, focusing on defending Pentagon networks and offensive military operations in cyberspace. The command was established after a 2008 DOD malware infestation linked to Russian operatives that originated on a USB drive, resulting in a 14-month cleanup operation dubbed Buckshot Yankee.

The nearly $900 billion defense package now moves to the House floor for consideration by all lower chamber lawmakers before making its way to the Senate.

A draft of last year’s must-pass defense policy bill called for a study on the creation of a cyber force, but that Senate-side provision was ultimately cut in the final version, leaving the upcoming 2025 defense bill as the next opportunity for lawmakers to include the measure.

Standing up a Cyber Force would have at least some short-term implications, FDD said in its study. For instance, transferring proper IT personnel to the new branch would take time and could risk depleting essential staff already at CYBERCOM. The potential new military entity would follow the 2019 creation of the Space Force.

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