Since 2013, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Plan X cyber warfare program engineers have done the foundational work they knew it would take to create for the first time a common operating picture for warriors in cyberspace.

Next month in Suffolk, Virginia, that work will pay off when Plan X is released from the DARPA lab and into the hands of operators — also for the first time — during back-to-back annual joint cyber exercises: Cyber Guard and Cyber Flag.

“We’ve got a great team of engineers, and we have had persistent participation by the military services in our lab acting essentially as end users, helping us flesh out the work flow and how it should be done,” Plan X Program Manager Frank Pound told DoD News in an interview this week.

“[Operators] haven’t had a unified architecture from which to conduct cyber operations or reason about cyber or visualize cyber,” Pound said, “which are all the things that Plan X is going to provide for them.”

Defending the Perimeter

One of the big focus areas for Plan X is the workflow military fighters use to accomplish their job when they’re in battle, defending their perimeter, Pound said. Plan X allows them to plan cyber missions based on the defense of key cyber terrain such as mail and file servers, routers and gateways that are important for their defense and give them good visibility into the behavior, health and status of those pieces of key cyber terrain, he added.

Plan X, he said, “identifies pieces of key cyber terrain in a visual way so they can see it, just like they’d be able to see physical terrain through a pair of binoculars.”

The program applies military science to computer science in cyberspace. This gives operators a platform they understand, because it’s designed for the military mindset, encapsulating the military decision-making process and allowing operators to plan missions and think about cyber just as they were trained to do in boot camp and at the service academies, Pound explained.