Defense

Army faces familiar workforce woes in cyber, electronic warfare units

Cyber defense front and center at NIE 

The Army understands cyber and electronic warfare will become standard on the battlefield, but it doesn't have the staff to meet expectations and isn't doing the requisite risk assessments to stand units up faster, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

The Army is in the process of modifying its doctrine to emphasize multi-domain operations across cyber, space, air, land, and sea and describe how certain units will function. But in testing out different force configurations, the Army hasn't been able to properly assess training and staffing concerns, GAO said.

"As a result, senior Army leaders may not know what other challenges could arise, such as sustainment, as the units grow in capability," GAO wrote in its report released Aug. 15. "If the Army does not assess risks for units activated at an accelerated pace, those units may be unable to effectively conduct multi-domain operations."

The Army is authorized to have nearly 400 cyber and electronic-warfare staff, but it has just a fraction of that. According to the report, the Army's Intelligence, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space (ICEWS) unit has just over half (110) of the 199 authorized personnel. The 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion has 30 (18%) of the 171 authorized personnel.

"The Army activated a cyber battalion in December 2018, and as of March 2019, this unit was understaffed by more than 80 percent," GAO said, adding that accelerating the battalion's development prevented proper assessment of staffing, equipping and training risk.

The report highlights an ever-growing concern of too few cyber personnel available to work for the Defense Department, including both federal employees and private tech contractors.

GAO recommended the Army conduct a comprehensive risk assessment for existing ICEWS and 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion personnel, focusing on staffing, equipping and training. The watchdog agency said the assessment should take place before the ICEWS unit is incorporated into the first Multi-Domain Task Force in fiscal year 2020 and the battalion is expanded to full operating capability.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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