The military of the United States is currently engaged in a “visible struggle” with China on land, sea, and air; nevertheless, a “fight invisible to the naked eye” is heating up in cyberspace. A growing number of individuals working for the United States Department of Defence and members of Congress are advocating for establishing a new military department that would be solely responsible for conducting cyber warfare to mitigate the threats posed by China and other adversaries.
Cyber Force has the potential to become the seventh military branch
James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral, a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and the honorary dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has recently advocated for establishing a new independent military branch known as the Cyber Force.
Currently, the United States Armed Forces have six different branches: the Army, the Air Force, the Space Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard. These six branches are all subordinate to the Department of Homeland Security. Stavridis stated that the United States ought to develop a dedicated Cyber Force because the threat posed by cyberattacks is now on par with that posed by conventional military assaults.
According to Stavridis, in the not-too-distant future, the United States will be forced to contend with cyber competition from major countries like Russia and China and cyber strikes by nations like Iran and North Korea.
He pointed out that most of the existing cybersecurity personnel in the United States military are on a temporary basis and that each branch is only provided with a small number of network specialists and does not have a formal establishment.
The United States Cyber Command needs to be updated
In 2009, in response to cyberspace security concerns, the US Department of Defence established the US Cyber Command. This is a US military command for joint combat operations. Nonetheless, many analysts assert that this organisational structure is no longer adequate to address the expanding cyber threats.
In recent years, China’s military reforms have also encompassed cyberspace. The PLA Strategic Support Force Network System Department (Cyberspace Force) was founded in July 2017. At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017, Chinese leader Xi Jinping proposed the concept of “joint combat capabilities based on a network information system” and “all-domain combat capabilities” to advance “integrated joint combat.”
Despite China’s military advancements in this field over the past six years, the United States has not improved its preparedness skills for military operations in cyberspace. Additionally, the organisation, preparation, and training of network forces within each military branch remain inconsistent. Since 2012, there have been substantial shifts like the danger posed by cyberspace, yet, the size and organisation of network task groups within each military branch have remained mostly unchanged.
For over a decade, the US Cyber Command has relied on separate military branches for support, leading to varying degrees of preparedness and efficiency. To fulfil the professional standards of this industry and to be optimally prepared, it is necessary to set up specialised divisions.
The Pentagon is now evaluating a plan to create a cyber force
The National Defence Authorization Act of 2020 includes a mandate from Congress that the United States Department of Defence analyses the benefits and drawbacks of establishing a specialised cyber force as soon as possible. Per the National Defence Authorization Act of 2023, the Pentagon will be required to conduct this evaluation once more.
On March 30, John C. Inglis, Chief Cybersecurity Advisor to the US Secretary of Defence, testified before the Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Subcommittee under the House Armed Services Committee to say that the Pentagon is conducting research and trying to answer this question about expanding cyber military power and that one option being studied is the establishment of a specialised cyber force.
Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher, who chairs the CITI Subcommittee and also heads the House’s Special Committee on US-China Strategic Competition, said in February that the committee is open to the idea of establishing a separate cyber force but must first examine the specific operating costs to ensure that no unnecessary bureaucratic systems are set up.
He said that the US Space Force had just been set up and that the US didn’t want to make too many government agencies.