USCG Makes 'Significant' Move to Operationalize Cyber
Technological development has transformed U.S. Coast Guard networks into warfighting platforms as the service operates in a dramatically different realm, a senior leader says.
“That’s significant for us,” says Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, USCG, commander of Coast Guard Cyber Command and assistant commandant for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology (C4IT). “It’s really the first time we’re creating an operating force for a new domain—cyberspace—since we created operating forces for aviation over a century ago.”
The Coast Guard is receiving attention and financial backing from administration and congressional offices and will benefit from the recently passed fiscal year 2017 spending bill. The legislation, which funds the government through September 30, gives the Coast Guard an additional $4.5 million to add staff to its Cyber Command and continue efforts to establish its first trained-and-ready Cyber Protection Team, or CPT. When complete at the end of fiscal year 2019, the CPT will be a 39-person operational maneuver team organized, trained, equipped and assessed to Defense Department standards to defend its part of the Department of Defense Information Network, or DODIN, Adm. Lunday said. “Our Coast Guard CPT will be fully interoperable with the other cyber mission force teams and also with the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity teams.”
The sea change (pun intended) began with the 10-year cyber strategy to elevate Coast Guard defense cyber efforts to the same level as missions carried out in the air, on land and at sea. Issued by Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, USCG, in June 2015, the strategy also created a transformation task force to assess the service’s cyber, chief information office and C4IT functions. For a year, beginning in late 2015, the task force looked across the Coast Guard at how the service performed in those areas. This January, senior leadership created five lines of effort that drive today’s cyber program: lead, organize, develop, generate and modernize.
The last effort—modernize—poses some of the most daunting tasks. Years of combat took a toll on the Coast Guard as much as the other military services, Adm. Lunday says, and it struggles to modernize outdated networks and information systems. “We've realized that we need a significant effort to modernize. We won’t be prepared for the future … unless we do that modernization now.”
A focus on capital assets must extend beyond ships, cutters and aircraft, he says. “Our enterprise mission platform, all of our network information systems and applications that make up that mission platform, is just as important as those cutters, boats and aircraft,” the admiral says. “If you think about it, we took networks and information systems that were designed in the 1990s, primarily for office and business functions, and in many ways we have built on to them and turned them into a primary IT platform. We conduct most of our operations and mission support functions through that platform.”
Success in the new artificial domain must include revamping the cyber work force, Adm. Lunday says. The intense competition for talent spurred the maritime service to think creatively and innovate recruitment and retention efforts to better leverage human resource tools and be more competitive. “People, not technology, are the most important element of operations in cyberspace, and the Coast Guard is taking a total force approach to that,” Adm. Lunday says.
Additionally, the Coast Guard Academy is establishing a new cyber systems major, available for the first time to the cadet class starting in the fall 2018. Two ensigns graduating this year, both electrical engineering majors, will be the first ever to report directly to cyber operations at Coast Guard Cyber Command as their operational billet. And the academy invests in its competitive Cyber Team, with members competing at collegiate and international levels. “We punch way above our weight class,” a proud Adm. Lunday said of the cyber team members.
The service must also better leverage its reserve component and draw in people who want to serve their nation but find full-time active duty service undesirable, he says. “We need to use our imagination to be able to attract and bring in some of that outside expertise that resides in the private sector."
And speaking of the private sector, he continues, when it comes to technologies, companies outpace the government in bringing advancements to market. “It may have been in the past that government did most of the [research and development] and really was cutting edge. But now, it’s really the private sector that does most of the innovation when it comes to IT and cyber."
The services need technologies and advances in the fields of virtualization, autonomous systems, robotics, big data analytics and artificial intelligence, he says. “We need to be looking to where the private sector is, where they’re innovating.”