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Current Cyberspace Demands Compete With Old Processes

U.S. Cyber Command will build the world’s prime digital military acquisition force from the ground up.

U.S. Cyber Command will build a digital capability acquisition force from the ground up and take jobs from the services in the process.

“I think the technology part of this is relatively easy to solve. The hard part is going to be the people,” said Michael Clark, director of acquisition and technology, U.S. Cyber Command, at AFCEA's TechNet Cyber 2023 in Baltimore on Thursday.

Clark’s mission is to create a lab and an executive office that will handle a $3.2 billion budget by fiscal year 2027 to obtain capabilities “at the speed of operational relevance,” he said and explained how old processes are no longer applicable to the current demands of the cyber battlespace.

“We're in an environment today where, looking back just two or three years ago, when a new vulnerability was identified in Microsoft Office, or Microsoft Windows, or Linux, we probably had six months to a year to be able to defend ourselves against that,” Clark said.

“Today, our adversaries are taking advantage of large language models, ChatGPT. If you can deal with and exploit and throw it against the [Department of Defense] within the hour, how do we begin operating, defending ourselves in that kind of environment? And then, also, how do we begin taking advantage of that kind of technology to better posture us,” he asked rhetorically.

Clark continued to explain the depth of the change he is implementing.

“Gone are the days where we have the luxury of doing a large contract to deliver a capability five years from now because it will be obsolete,” Clark told the audience. He also argued for regulation reform to hasten approval processes to field products at a speed that will make a difference against adversaries that do not have the constraints the government imposes.

Michael Clark, director of acquisition and technology at the U.S. Cyber Command
Gone are the days where we have the luxury of doing a large contract to deliver a capability five years from now because it will be obsolete.
Michael Clark
Director of Acquisition and Technology, U.S. Cyber Command

To illustrate, Clark paraphrased a criticism from an unidentified veteran business executive: “You're not willing to take the risks that China and Russia are willing to take. You're not going to win; they don't play by your rules. If you can't figure out how to become risk managers, not risk avoiders, we're not going to be postured for success.”

And beyond the legal and institutional structures that need to be reformed, the greatest challenge is in having the human capabilities that can competently bridge the gaps between the country and its adversaries. Part of his definition includes the workforce in the command, hiring from the wider workforce, bringing in components from the services that currently perform those duties and partnering with industry. Clark referred those present to the appropriate section of the webpage to start a conversation. Additionally, there will be 24 internship positions with a dual career path in the military and in related businesses.

“I'll be honest: please be patient with us,” Clark said as he explained that while the future looks promising, the present is still that of a command that struggles with national security demands, labor market challenges, reorganization efforts and building a ship as it sails.