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  • A team leader with 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, directs movements of his team using the Harris Leader Radio during an assault on an objective during the initial operating test for the system. The rapid development and fielding of cutting-edge systems help drive the need for agility and adaptability at Army signal and cyber schools.  Nicholas Robertson, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Visual Information Specialist
     A team leader with 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, directs movements of his team using the Harris Leader Radio during an assault on an objective during the initial operating test for the system. The rapid development and fielding of cutting-edge systems help drive the need for agility and adaptability at Army signal and cyber schools. Nicholas Robertson, U.S. Army Operational Test Command Visual Information Specialist
  • A U.S. soldier with 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division demonstrates a portable electronic warfare system. Rapid advances in technology and Army investments in force modernization mean modernizing education and training as well.  U.S. Army photo by Spc. Audrey Ward, 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne)
     A U.S. soldier with 2nd Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division demonstrates a portable electronic warfare system. Rapid advances in technology and Army investments in force modernization mean modernizing education and training as well. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Audrey Ward, 982nd Combat Camera Company (Airborne)

Signal and Cyber Schools Teach Army's Future Today

The Cyber Edge
January 1, 2022
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

Technology advances influence classroom agility.


The U.S. Army’s massive modernization effort requires rapid adaptability in the courses being taught in its cyber and signal schools. Efforts are underway to fundamentally change the approach to teaching and instituting courses for zero trust, cloud computing and other technology advances that will affect the future of combat.

The rate of technological change presents significant challenges for the Army, and teaching soldiers to sit down in front of a particular piece of equipment and go through a checklist is no longer an effective approach. Now soldiers must understand the underlying technologies “because the chances that technology remains the same while you’re operating in your first, second or third duty assignment is not high at all,” says Brig. Gen. Paul Stanton, USA, commander, Army Cyber Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon.

The Cyber Center of Excellence trains and educates soldiers specializing in cyber, signal and electronic warfare career fields who support operations at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. As a part of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, it also helps develop doctrine, organizational, training, materiel, leadership, personnel and facility solutions.

Gen. Stanton cites a recent conversation he had with Signal Corps personnel, who indicated that the likelihood a platoon sergeant would be responsible for the same equipment that was fielded when he or she was a junior enlisted soldier is almost zero. Likewise, a cyber school graduate who joins the Cyber Mission Force and electronic warfare specialists must be ready to use ever-evolving, state-of-the-art equipment.

“We’re adopting and adapting our educational model to focus more on concepts and theories and less on pushing buttons on particular systems,” he says. “We want soldiers to be able to understand how things work so they can optimize their performance when they get out into the operating environment. That’s a different educational model.”

Ensuring those soldiers are mission-ready on day one following graduation is not easy, he acknowledges. “This is an interesting challenge. We have to change our educational model to prepare soldiers to be agile and adaptive when they get to their units.”

Army officials develop programs of instruction, or POIs, that are certified and validated through Training and Doctrine Command. “Those don’t change very quickly. We can change them, and we do. We update them. But the idea is for the program of instruction to remain consistent, yet the manner in which we teach it to be adaptive,” Gen. Stanton explains.

For example, for a class on defensive cyber operations that requires teaching host analysis, particular tactics, techniques and procedures are required to conduct that analysis. But the actual technology used may differ, necessitating that the schools update as new tools are fielded. “We work hard to write the POIs so that they remain the same yet give us flexibility to change the manner in which we actually teach in the classroom,” the commander elaborates.

Army schools need that instructional flexibility in part because of the creation of Army Futures Command and the increased emphasis on rapidly developing and fielding cutting-edge technologies. In some cases, new systems are fielded only to a portion of the force, at least initially.

He offers a hypothetical example in which the 82nd Airborne Division receives a new radio. The system is not yet widely fielded and is not included in classrooms. Furthermore, the software could be updated before the system is fielded to the 10th Mountain Division, the general suggests, which would require an update to training. But the Army is developing a concept for “centrally managed but distributively executed” training in locations where the systems have been fielded. The new model will require certified instructors stationed at various locations, which presents specific challenges, including finding the right people and ensuring content remains consistent and current.

Gen. Stanton describes the training model as “the key to future success” because the Army will continue to rapidly field new equipment. “We’re in the early stages of looking at developing a model where the instruction and training is modularized and plugged into an educational framework that then is decentralized in its execution. So, the schoolhouse will retain control to ensure there is a degree of standardization but will execute it at home station so that the units that have the equipment don’t have to send their soldiers to Fort Gordon to gain the new insights.”

Asked how soon the Army could institute the new training model, Gen. Stanton says it’s coming probably within a year and possibly in as little as six months. “Within the Signal Corps, we have remote training sites. We have some architecture to support training that’s already distributed. Some of the foundational building blocks are in place, but we’re not yet ready to institute the model as I’ve described it,” he offers. “That said, we can’t afford for the concept to lag because we’re continuing to field new equipment as part of modernization for the Army.”

Distributed training will work differently across the cyber, signal and electronic warfare realms. “The cyber problem is a little bit different when we talk about fielding equipment to the cyber mission forces because they’re only at Fort Meade and at Fort Gordon. When we look at electronic warfare capabilities, yes, the same model would apply,” Gen. Stanton states. “In fact, we’re partnering with the intelligence community and INSCOM [Army Intelligence and Security Command] to leverage their foundry training for our electronic warfare school.”

The Army’s planned transition to a Unified Network also helps drive the need for classroom agility. Service officials released the Unified Network plan in October. The Unified Network is expected to enable multidomain operations. The plan shapes, synchronizes, integrates and governs Unified Network efforts and aligns the personnel, organizational structure and capabilities at all echelons.

The Unified Network will require “data flows from the tactical edge through the strategic environment, into the cloud and back again, at speeds relevant to supporting sensor-to-shooter operations,” the commander points out. “We need to make sure that the knowledge, skills and behaviors associated with them are aligned to operating, maintaining and defending the vision of the Unified Network,”

Gen. Stanton says. “While we’re not teaching that yet in the classroom, we’re very aggressively working to develop the programs of instruction that align Unified Network operations to our seven new MOSs [military occupational skills]. We’re not done. In fact, we’ve just begun, but this is one of the key initiatives that we’re currently driving.”

For example, current instruction does not include a lot about cloud technology. “We know the cloud will be a part of our future operating environment, and it’s certainly a part of the vision of the Unified Network. We definitely have to include instruction and education associated with operating in the cloud,” he says. Other areas of instruction that may be expanded include satellite communications and extending line-of-sight communications “at ranges that align to the future battlefield geometry.”

Zero trust is another subject to be added to the syllabi. “We are right now driving toward developing course material for operating a zero-trust environment,” Gen. Stanton says. “We’re going to start with our warrant officers, who are deeply technical already, and develop a course in our warrant officer advanced education program … and then expect those warrant officers, when they report to their units, to be the leaders for implementing [zero trust] and then fighting from a new defensive operating environment.”

Officials already have “sketched out” the new course and now have to “look at effective resourcing,” but “from my standpoint, we’re talking months, not years,” he asserts. “It’s an imperative. If the Army’s going to move in this direction, we have to ensure that our soldiers are trained and ready.”

One method of gaining that classroom flexibility is a concept known as “coursework as code,” which allows students and graduates in the field to recommend changes to the course material. For instance, an officer graduating from the Cyber School and executing defensive cyber missions with state-of-the-art tools might learn something about how adversaries operate. The officer can use the Gitlab platform to suggest updates in the curricula. “She can log in and make a recommendation of how to change the manner in which we’re teaching that instruction, that module, in the actual course,” Gen. Stanton reports.

Instructors review the recommendation, decide whether it makes sense and push the suggestion to the course director for validation. If validated, the change is implemented. “It gives the opportunity for insights derived directly from the field to influence what we’re teaching in the classroom. I think that approach is huge to our future success as it keeps a degree of consistency yet allows us to be agile and adaptive to a changing environment,” Gen. Stanton offers.

The coursework-as-code concept was implemented a couple of years ago, and Gen. Stanton indicates the number of suggested changes has grown exponentially. The recent Solar Winds attack led to one recommendation regarding the Deployable Defense System, a defensive cyber operations tool. “Operators in the field, who were using their system to look at the network traffic, recognized that there was probably a better way of teaching it and then made that recommendation back into the classroom, and it’s now the model that we’re using,” the general reveals.

That ability to recommend changes was itself a student-recommended change. A student familiar with GitLab suggested using it, and she remained at the Cyber School long enough to help develop the framework. Then, the concept could be expanded. “I’m a firm believer in its potential to not only support the Cyber School but to extend over into the Signal School and potentially even more broadly out to the rest of Training and Doctrine Command,” Gen. Stanton suggests.

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