Congress

DOD: $6.7B cyber budget would propel capabilities

Shutterstock image of the Pentagon.

The $6.7 billion the Defense Department wants to spend on cybersecurity in fiscal 2017 would take the military's cyber capabilities to the next level, the nation's top general told congressional appropriators Feb. 25.

The U.S. military has steadily built a cadre of computer specialists who could use additional tools and training to ply their trade, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee. "Our investments this year are focused on providing [the cyber mission force] with the tools and, frankly, the training facilities, which are unique in the cyber world."

The $900 million in additional cyber funding sought by the Pentagon in fiscal 2017 reflects commanders' concerns about the military's reliance on the domain and the search for new ways to capitalize on it.

"Every time we talk about risk in cyber we ought to talk about opportunity as well," Dunford said.

He was flanked at the hearing by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who last month ordered U.S. Cyber Command to step up its hacking of the Islamic State group. Both men referenced that ongoing cyber campaign at the hearing but were vague given the unclassified setting. The campaign has included hitting the group's social media accounts and could extend to efforts to disrupt its online financial transactions, according to an Associated Press report.

Adm. Michael Rogers, Cyber Command's commander, said recently the command is at a "tipping point" in maturing its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

In his prepared testimony, Carter said the budget request "reflects our efforts to make a fundamental shift toward a culture of accountability in cyberspace." That accountability should include the cybersecurity of the industrial control systems that underpin U.S. infrastructure, two Navy admirals said in a recent letter to Carter.

Dunford's prepared testimony featured a candid assessment of Russia's cyber capabilities. He called the country a "peer competitor" to the United States in cyberspace and said Russian actors "could potentially cause considerable damage to critical network equipment and national infrastructure throughout the United States and Europe."

The Pentagon's total IT budget request for fiscal 2017 is $38.6 billion, on par with the $38 billion enacted in fiscal 2016. The request seeks to boost research and development funding for the second year running -- to $71.8 billion in fiscal 2017, with $12.5 billion of that going to science and technology.

Carter made the case that the department should continue to invest heavily in IT modernization.

"We have an enormous investment in our IT systems -- many tens of billions of dollars in our IT systems -- all of which is being modernized, put in the cloud so it can be better defended," he told lawmakers.

Cyber Command is currently a sub-unified command of U.S. Strategic Command. There is an ongoing discussion among policymakers about whether and when to make Cyber Command its own unified combatant command.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), whose district includes Fort Meade, said it is time to give Cyber Command that elevated status.

The command "is a very effective organization, it is a growing organization, so we're going to have to see where it goes," Carter replied.

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is a former FCW staff writer.

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