Monday, April 16, 2018

Picture this: A nuclear weapon explodes at a high altitude above the United States. The power grid is decimated, the country is thrown into anarchy and the American people resort to cannibalism. This is the plot to William R. Forstchen’s 2009 novel One Second After about an electromagnetic pulse attack.

Nuclear strategist Peter Vincent Pry warns of just such an attack killing millions of American citizens. Pry goes so far as to provide a country as the threat—North Korea. Furthermore, China, Russia, Iran and a host of nonstate actors pose a similar threat to the U.S. So, what is America doing about this threat? More specifically, what is the Army doing about it, and do we have the correct amalgamation of forces?

Citizen-Soldier Hackers

The best and brightest cyber professionals are not lining up to join the Army, and why would they? Why would they when they could work for organizations such as Google, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Raytheon or even SpaceX?

Why not turn the cyberwarfare mission over to the only organization in the Army capable of bringing in the best and brightest cyber warriors across the country—the Army Reserve? This would afford men and women the opportunity to serve their country as a cyber warrior and be a professional “hacker” at a private company at the same time. By turning this mission over to the Reserve, we could create an army of citizen-soldier hackers.

Moreover, the Reserve has the ideal force structure for which we can assign elements in an already existing force. Essentially, we would form a new operational amalgam. The typical Reservist serves as a Troop Program Unit soldier, where they work in the civilian community full-time and part-time in the Reserve. For example, these new Reserve soldiers would become day-to-day professional hackers for Elon Musk at SpaceX, yet on the weekends they would serve as a Troop Program Unit soldier in the Reserve. They would be paid, trained and educated by Musk, yet they would also be a Reserve asset.

The Army Reserve already provides some of the most specialized assets and capabilities in the entirety of DoD. It provides most medical and health care professionals, engineers and a majority of logistics assets. This makes it ideal for national emergencies as demonstrated through Defense Support of Civil Authorities. If the Reserve were to take over the cyber mission, it would first have to reassess a program that is highly underutilized—Private Public Partnership. The program’s mission is as follows:

The Private Public Partnership (P3) program develops, integrates and directs partner relations for the Army Reserve. P3 partners with not-for-profit (NFP), for-profit (FP) and academic organizations to support the Chief, Army Reserve’s top priorities and the Army Reserve Mission of providing trained, equipped and ready Soldiers, Leaders, and units to meet America’s requirements at home and abroad.

P3 seeks to partner with the private sector through projects where Reservists gain access to unique training opportunities and the ability to apply their experience and leadership skills to real-world projects that correlate with their military experience. However, P3 is not used to its fullest extent. A good majority of Reserve soldiers (outside of the national capital region and Fort Bragg, N.C.) have no idea this program exists. So, why not improve this concept and use it as the strategic link between the U.S. Army Cyber Command and the private sector?


Capt. John Michel, assigned to a U.S. Army Reserve cyber unit, right, and his son, ROTC Cadet Brendan Michel, review training material during the 2017 Cyber X-Games at Carnegie Mellon University, Pa.
(Credit: U.S. Army Reserve/Sgt. Erick Yates)

Training With Industry

Another program DoD underutilizes is Training With Industry. P3 is the perfect program to combine with Training With Industry and could be utilized extensively in the Army Reserve. A combined effort (P3 and Training With Industry) created in the Reserve could be used as the bridge linking the Army to the private sector in cyberwarfare operations.

Here are some hypothetical examples:

  • An Army Reserve Soldier is trained as a Cyber Operations Specialist (17C), then is hired at SpaceX. That soldier then conducts normal weekend training with a newly established U.S. Army Reserve Cyber Command. The Reservist gains practical experience daily with SpaceX and brings this same skill set back to the Army.
  • A young Google cybersecurity professional or hacker joins the Reserve and is provided equivalent training based on education and on-the-job training, allowing the Army to gain an immediate cyber asset.
  • By utilizing P3 and establishing strong partnerships with top executives at companies such as Google, the U.S. Army Reserve Cyber Command could share information and possibly share facilities. It could create partnerships where citizen-soldier hackers are required to attend training at Google’s top training facilities.
  • Establish a U.S. Army Reserve Cyber Command in Silicon Valley, where most of these private-sector companies are located, not Fort Gordon, Ga. The Reserve could potentially restructure a command already located in the area.

As demonstrated by an ever-increasing number of cyber threats, an education in cybersecurity should be one of the top priorities in higher education. Additionally, partnerships should be built between the military, the private sector and higher education. A unique partnership could be constructed where citizen-soldier hackers are educated by top universities that have partnered with the Army Reserve to meet the cyberwarfare challenge.

Digitalguardian.com contributor Nate Lord provides a list of higher education schools offering the best cybersecurity degrees. Lord provides an extensive list of 82 schools that includes degrees offered by each school, cost, hiring/employment rate, scholarships offered, affiliations and partnerships, contact information and a description of every school. Some of the schools on the list include Boston University, Carnegie Mellon University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

My ideas might sound far-fetched, however, they should be seriously considered. The Army Reserve is the perfect organization to bridge the gap between the private sector and the Army and is ideal for this innovative amalgam of forces. Reservists not only live and interact among communities across the world, but as a friend of mine in the Air Force Reserve said, “We are the community.”