Disruptive by Design: Cyber Should Take a Page From Infantry's Playbook

November 1, 2016
By Capt. Ryan Robinson, USA

The burgeoning cyber domain as a battlefront has done more than shift the front lines for warfighters—it has virtually erased them. At the same time, traditional armies continue to threaten U.S. national security both at home and abroad. Given the scope of cyber and conventional warfare, how does the U.S. military balance its competing needs? 

Luckily, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Several years ago, the U.S. Army created Regional Cyber Centers (RCCs) to provide theater signal commands and their major supported commands with uninterrupted access to the Internet and the Department of Defense Information Network (DODIN) via the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). The RCCs are intended to be the focal point of cyber resources in the theater to bring capabilities to the Army and link jointly across the services.

The RCCs function in cyberspace much like infantry battalions might in a land battle—as battlespace owners—except the RCCs are responsible for cyber terrain and the traffic within it. If the RCCs were fully modeled on the infantry unit structure, they would be uniquely equipped to conduct their mission, as battalions are.

This structure would lend adaptability. In addition to their primary warfighting mission, infantry battalions can perform other types of operations, semi-independently or as an integral part of a larger force. The RCCs and the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps would be well-served by following this same direction, given the fragility of electronics and the constant conflict of the cyber domain.

While there are some obvious differences between the command structure of an infantry battalion and an RCC, the comparison is useful for understanding how RCCs function. The sections in an RCC’s chain of command already follow those within the Army at large, and soldiers serve in some of the same core sections found in an infantry battalion: operations, intelligence and the headquarters and headquarters company. At the same time, various external organizations carry out the duties of other support sections, such as personnel, logistics and communications. 

The Army has five RCCs that run around the clock to defend the network from cyberthreats. The way they operate is a bit complicated. 

As a subdivision of an Army land component command, each RCC both directly supports and receives support from that command. The RCCs interconnect with and report to a variety of organizations and agencies. Each has direct technical links to DISA, but Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) provides operational control, and Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) provides administrative control.

Meanwhile, the Army Network Enterprise Centers (NECs) function as battlespace owners within each RCC’s territory. Current command and organizational structures dictate that the RCCs do not have doctrinal authority over the NECs, which are subordinate to other battalions, brigades and commands. However, there is a case to be made that because of the scope and scale of their relationships and responsibilities, the RCCs and NECs should be aligned as higher echelon elements.

See how convoluted it all can be? 

Ultimately, the RCCs should consider mirroring the structure of the infantry units, and speed is a great reason. A timely response is as critical in cyberspace as in a land battle, even though a cyber attack does not immediately put lives in danger. The long-term ramifications of a successful cyber attack can put far more lives at risk than a single firefight.


Capt. Ryan Robinson, USA, is the network operations center officer in charge at the 6th Regional Cyber Center in Korea. The views expressed here are his alone.

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