the Modern US Defense
“The Future is about Information — Information Dominance,”
Nakasone declared this during the 2021 U.S Naval Institute and Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association annual WEST Conference.
Before his statement, Nakasone began discussing the future of our US military, intelligence, and information technology capabilities revolving around CYBERCOM innovations.
Nakasone has been assisting the CYBERCOM organization since its conception, decades prior, and effectively took over leadership in 2018. He is also credited with leading the NSA and the Central Security Service in their efforts to protect and defend the US.
“Too often we think of cyberspace as distinct from the physical fight. That’s not always the case,” Nakasone said. He continued to explain that the virtual and the physical aspects of defense are increasingly intertwined and complex.
The central theme of “information dominance” reflects the broader views surrounding the changing global competitive environment. For instance, the US military is continuously modernizing its strategies as it repositions from a two-decade focus on fighting terrorism to now competing with “near-peers” China and Russia. We are already learning the significant aspects of this so-called “near-peer competition” and seeing how they are playing out within cyberspace territory.
A recent International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) study found the US stands alone as a tier-one global cyber power. However, China has candidly stressed its goal to control the information environment and is positioning itself to challenge the US’s current “clear superiority” in cyberspace within this decade.
While “information dominance” would seem to be the modern focus of our defense efforts, Army Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the US Army’s network modernization for Futures Command, has stated the US Army’s new aim is for “decision dominance”.
Army Futures Command chief Gen. John “Mike” Murray breaks down “decision dominance” as the ability for a commander to sense, understand, decide, act, and assess faster and more effectively than any other adversary.
Gallagher’s comments echo the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) goals, formally characterized as a meta-networking strategy utilized in coordinating military operations overland, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. Receiving information quickly is crucial for decisionmakers
and this along with control of the information environment is considered fundamental
to the continued success of JADC2.
While discussing the “threat picture,” Nakasone detailed three themes he recognized during
recent speeches and congressional testimony.
▪ The first theme represents the growing scope of what the US defends and protects
within cyberspace, owing to a “much broader” attack surface, this scope includes
weapons systems as well as the rapidly expanding amount of military data.
▪ The second theme described involves the scale on which we deploy cyberattacks, as
demonstrated recently by high-profile cyber campaigns such as SolarWinds, Microsoft
Exchange server hacks, and Colonial Pipeline. Nakasone observed that our “near-peer”
competitors, China and Russia, have executed “persistent, malicious campaigns” that
should not be considered “episodic.”
▪ The third theme recognized is how sophisticated the US’s cyber adversaries have quite
often proved to be. The key to thwarting off global threats is recognizing how our
adversaries are actively adapting and then employ the information discovered
accordingly. However, Nakasone notes that occasionally the US Defense has found
much success utilizing simpler methods.
Going forward, Nakasone points to three processes he views as important:
1. First, we must begin the hard work of integrating CYBERCOM technologies with the US
military, US government, and other allied forces.
2. The next actionable step would involve strategically strengthening our core cyber
3. Finally, we must continue developing a strong body of domestic cyber talent by
discovering new ways to attract, train, and retain the future generation of elite cyber
Nakasone challenges his audience to “think differently.”
“We have incredible technology, incredible tradecraft, but the most important thing we have
available is talent,” Nakasone states. He recognizes the importance of our US military reserves
and the National Guard, referring to this collective as “our strategic depth,” along with the
essential civilian workforce, which currently constitutes about 60% of CYBERCOM headquarters
staff, equates to better “continuity, experience, and mentoring” within our defense.
“I close with optimism,” Nakasone said, “balanced with the realization we have work to do.”
It’s not only CYBERCOM that will dictate America’s cyber future. Nakasone also recognizes the
NSA’s role, including its dual mission of signals intelligence and cybersecurity tactics. Nakasone
emphasizes the importance of cryptology, a cyber defense, perfected by the NSA. “The true
backstop is encryption,” he said, “to protect weapons systems and data.” the more we fortify
the US’s crypto capabilities, “the better off we’ll be.”