The Department of Defense recently added the United States Cyber Command to its list of combatant commands. This is a direct response to the growing number of threats found in the cyber realm, from both state actors as well as independent ones. The program was initially meant to be defensive in nature, but it will also prove to be an offensive tool as well.

The commander of U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) was former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Navy Adm. Michael S. Rogers. He announced his retirement from the Navy and was replaced by Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, who is also the current director of the NSA, as well as the Chief of the Central Security Service.

At the ceremony which celebrated both the change in command and the transition of USCYBERCOM into one of the combatant commands, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said,

For more than 1,000 years, militaries have vied for dominance on land and sea. For the last 100 years, we have dominated in the air. Today we are at the dawn of a new era, facing the reality of war’s changing character: The emergence of cyberspace and outer space as contested warfighting domains, equal in importance with land, sea and air.”

A unified combatant command is a DOD commanding element that governs certain respective areas of operations. These areas are generally geographic — USAFRICOM, USCENTCOM, USEUCOM, USNORTHCOM, USPACOM, and USSOUTHCOM are all responsible for different designated areas around the globe. On top of the geographical combatant commands, you have the functional commands which consist of USSOCOM, USSTRATCOM, USTRANSCOM and now USCYBERCOM. USSOCOM, for example, governs the use of Special Operations troops that might not be subject to one large swatch of the world at a time, and it is comprised of SOF elements from all over the military. USTRANSCOM manages the transportation of personnel and equipment across the world to sustain U.S. (or U.S.-supporting) troops around the world as long as necessary.

The various geographical unified combatant commands. | Photo courtesy of the DOD

USCYBERCOM was developed in 2009, and has been active ever since — they are just now becoming one of the functional combatant commands. They act as the arm of military responsible for offensive and defensive operations across the web, and are able to “conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”

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In a report published by the DOD in 2015, they said that,

The strategic environment can change quickly. That is especially true in cyberspace. We must be
dynamic, flexible, and agile in this work. We must anticipate emerging threats, identify new
capabilities to build, and determine how to enhance our partnerships and planning. As always,
our women and men – both uniformed and civilian personnel – will be our greatest and most
enduring strength and a constant source of inspiration. By working together we will help
protect and defend the United States and its interests in the digital age.”

Featured image: Army General Paul Nakasone, center, talks with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Ok, prior to discussing his qualifications as nominee to be National Security Agency Director and U.S. Cyber Command Commander, during the Committee’s hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 1, 2018. | AP Photo/Cliff Owen