WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is maturing concepts and capabilities to conduct cyber operations outside of U.S. Cyber Command.

Over the last few years, the service has tried to build tactical cyber capabilities to fill gaps between what Cyber Command teams already provide and what is needed by commanders on the ground. This has included the creation of formations such as the Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare and Space (I2CEWS) detachment of the Multi-Domain Task Force, as well as the 915th Cyber Warfare Battalion, which consists of 12 expeditionary cyber teams that will provide on-demand support formations.

In many ways the 915th was created to bridge the gap between the tactical level — essentially corps and below — and the cyber teams at Cyber Command, which are focused on more strategic-level, internet-based target sets. Now Army commanders that request support from the battalion won’t always have to ask the high-demand cyber mission force teams for assistance since they’ll be organic to the Army.

Authorities for cyber operations are still held at the presidential level, though they have been delegated to the defense secretary and Cyber Command. However, officials concede that in the near to mid-term, the authorities could be delegated even further to the operational and tactical levels. Units have been able to skirt these authorities by relying on operations in the electromagnetic spectrum or radio frequency-enabled cyber effects, for which tactical commanders have much more leeway.

What has been less clear during the formation of organic Army cyber forces is who will do what and how they might deconflict activities in the digital domains. In short, the 915th will execute offensive operations while the I2CEWS currently cannot, a spokesperson for Army Cyber Command told C4ISRNET.

“The 915th CWB is the only formation in the Army with the capability to execute offensive cyber operations in support of Army forces at [Army service component commands] and below. The I2CEWS does not have the personnel or infrastructure available to execute these operations,” the spokesperson said. “The 915th CWB and I2CEWS provide the Army with capability and capacity to generate cyberspace and electronic warfare effects through forward presence in a converged force posture.”

The I2CEWS largely will conduct defensive cyber operations for tactical network support and in some cases host nation infrastructure support, if asked.

The I2CEWS is beginning to receive some of the defensive kits provided to Cyber Command’s cyber protection teams. These include deployable defensive cyber systems and tactical defensive cyber infrastructure.

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