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Cyberspace Forces Gear Up

August 2001
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Virtual organizations offer technology professionals opportunity to re-serve in a new way.

The U.S. Defense Department is moving ahead with plans to engage Reserve forces further to protect and defend military information systems. The approach takes advantage of available expertise by making it easier for civilian information assurance specialists to put their skills to work for the military.

Calling out the reserves to help fight cyberspace battles was the brainchild of the Reserve Component Employment 2005 study released in 1999. Creating virtual organizations that are dispersed throughout the United States to support the information assurance operations of various commands offers several benefits. It addresses concerns about the number of active duty personnel who are leaving military service for more lucrative jobs in the private sector, which could threaten the strength of U.S. information security forces. In addition, the opportunity to satisfy Reserve commitments while remaining near home is appealing to information security experts. As an added perk, many of these reservists work with the latest technology in their civilian jobs, so they bring their proficiency to the front lines of military cyberdefense (SIGNAL, March 2000, page 27).

Five joint Reserve virtual information organizations (JRVIOs) currently are being assembled to support the Defense Department’s five key information operations agencies and joint commands in fiscal years 2001 and 2002. They will specialize in information operations and information assurance by supporting the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) and the Joint Task Force-Computer Network Defense (JTF-CND), both in Arlington, Virginia; the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Information Operations Technical Center, both at Fort Meade, Maryland; and the Joint Information Operations Center, Kelly Air Force Base, Texas. These organizations were chosen because, as the JRVIO project began, they were the most involved and evolved in information operations, relates Capt. James Steinbaugh, USNR, director of readiness, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, Training and Mobilization.

According to Capt. Steinbaugh, the biggest challenge facing the launch of the JRVIOs is not technology but the logistics of manpower involved in forming a virtual force. Because the concept is new, descriptions of requirements for recruiting, duties, hours, training and tracking must be established. While some organizations are well on their way to fleshing out these details, others are still grappling with them.

“Not every agency is at the same point. Some agencies are working through the paperwork. All are working to determine the type of people they need with the skills they need. They have to work this out to have the requirements for the joint table of manpower distribution. By fiscal year 2003, there will be approved positions at each of the JRVIOs on the manning document for that particular agency. Then, the services will officially be able to fill those billets,” Capt. Steinbaugh explains.

Although not all of the details have been worked out, some special funding has been allocated for the next fiscal year so that the organizations can begin incorporating the reservists into their programs. This money goes above and beyond the funding for regular drills. However, even this initial step has caused some problems. “We are still wrestling with how to track and account for the funding as it moves through the system,” the captain says.

Despite these hurdles, the JRVIO concept is a strong one, he points out, because it is based on solid research. A proof-of-concept test completed last year assessed the possible effectiveness of a virtual organization. Commands and agencies that potentially could benefit from having JRVIO support developed a matrix of tasks that reservists could perform in information operations and information assurance. The matrix included a list of most useful skills and the kinds of projects that could reasonably be completed in a typical drill period.

“Out of that matrix, the organizations discovered that there’s a bunch of jobs that are perfect fits and some that should not be done at all. Some had marginal results, so that the project could be adjusted to meet the service’s need or they should not be done at all,” Capt. Steinbaugh relates. Among the activities that reservists could support well are Red Teams, passive monitoring and historical analysis. The latter is not an especially time-critical task but one the captain describes as an aspect of information assurance that is interesting as a sort of cybersleuthing.

Although all of the job assignments have yet to be determined, ultimately JRVIO troops will support the specific functions of the unit to which they have been assigned. This approach presents opportunities for many reservists to work for an agency that may be headquartered across the country yet remain near home. For example, someone in California may have the skills the NSA requires. By becoming part of a JRVIO, this expert could carry out activities from a local Reserve station.

To decide where the JRVIOs should be established, Capt. Steinbaugh discloses that his organization had to take an inside-out and backward approach to staffing and requirements.

“If you think about this in a linear way, the NSA has an information operations job, but the NSA is in Maryland. So you would have to be located near Maryland to support the agency. If we took this approach, the Reserve would be limited to locating people in the Maryland area with the skills the NSA needs. But that’s not what we want to do. So what we did was look from the inside out. We started from the manpower pool and worked our way out. Where are the technical pools? Where are the reservists as far as numbers? Fortunately, those two bubbles overlapped. The next question was where could those people go in their local area and tap into the network? There are a number of places that already have joint Reserve intelligence centers [JRICs],” he explains. Initial JRVIOs will be located in areas where these three elements converge.

The JRICs were chosen as prime sites because they already have the required connectivity, they are formal military locations so the drill requirement can be fulfilled, and they feature the physical and information security needed to meet JRVIO needs. Each also has access to appropriate systems, and a Reserve node is in place so the choice makes sense, the captain relates.

More than 25 JRICs currently are set up throughout the United States. Approximately 12 either are already being folded into the program or are being studied as potential JRVIO sites. Eight JRICs are the focus of current efforts to open in fiscal year 2001 or fiscal year 2002. At certain locations, the upgrades required to incorporate a JRVIO into a center are very simple. “In some, we’ll have to buy computers. Others will require more robust work like setting up a room, but we don’t have to build the place. They are pretty simple add-ons,” Capt. Steinbaugh offers.

The goal of the JRVIOs is not to replace current activities or personnel but rather to complement an organization’s missions. Specific duties will depend on the organization the reservists support. During normal activities, they would assist on projects that are currently being performed. However, if a crisis should arise, they would act as additional personnel. “They are a set of virtual desks. In case of a surge, these virtual forces can be tasked,” the captain explains. The JRVIOs also will support exercises and experiments, he adds.

Current plans call for 182 Reserve component officers and enlisted members to work at the five organizations for fiscal years 2001 and 2002. The number of people in each center will vary. When all of the JRVIOs are in place, which is scheduled for fiscal year 2007, the total number of reservists involved in the organizations is expected to be more than 600. Capt. Steinbaugh relates that ramping up personnel numbers in this manner is considered the best approach because it allows the services to acquire, train and equip personnel for the activities. “Basically, we’re creating a new warrior requirement. They need sophisticated skills, and we don’t have a lot of people in the inventory. We don’t have the specialists. So, we want to carefully ramp up the units,” he says.

Because many of the details still need to be addressed, the five organizations involved in the rollout are conducting the recruiting for the JRVIOs. “This has worked fairly well so far. The other side of the coin is that you can’t recruit to billets that aren’t there. So this office is focused on getting the requirements ironed out,” Capt. Steinbaugh states.

Although it was not the Defense Department’s intention to recruit new people to join the organizations, the captain says he has received some calls from individuals interested in becoming part of the JRVIOs. He also has heard from the reservists themselves. This mismatch between expressed interest and the logistics of setting up the units has been a source of frustration; however, the captain emphasizes that many specific issues have been identified and are being addressed in a careful manner.

“We have been successful in generating what I would consider more than our fair share of reservist interest. A couple of days ago I heard a new definition of time—a Web year, which is about 90 days—which is a way of measuring time in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the way we measure manpower still uses the clock that we used in the 1950s,” the captain offers.

In addition to addressing topics such as tracking and training, the Defense Department also must determine how to monitor whether JRVIO reservists are maintaining their skills and keeping up with the latest changes. One possible approach would be to treat these specialists in a manner similar to the way medical professionals are assessed, the captain offers.

Capt. Steinbaugh relates that many of the reservists he has met say they enjoy participating in information operations because they feel their work is important. Even though they may not be promoted as quickly by remaining in the same jobs, they prefer it to moving on to a different type of assignment.

The enthusiasm about becoming a part of virtual information operations centers is shared by nonreservists who inquire about joining the Reserve to become part of a JRVIO. The captain believes the interest in participating in information assurance stems from all the right reasons. Although these individuals are not fighter pilots, they see the opportunity for a bit of adventure. In addition, Capt. Steinbaugh contends that patriotism is being rekindled by offering information technology specialists a way to serve their country by applying the skills they use in their civilian jobs.