The United States is under a growing and constant threat of cyberattack. US cybersecurity strategy has evolved in response, adapting to the new threat climate by committing US Cyber Command to more aggressive and persistent peacetime cyber operations. However, the Department of Defense Cyber Mission Force (CMF) has been stretched thin attempting to carry out its new mission, requiring additional commitments to resourcing, force size, and capabilities.
Homer A. La Rue argues that increased participation of private contractors in US cyber operations is the best way to bolster the CMF’s capabilities, at least in the short term. Contractors may be particularly useful in “gray-zone” operations, that is, operation in the area that exists beyond the threshold of conventional diplomacy but falls short of conventional war.
Although there are challenges and risks to increased contractor participation in cyber operations—particularly related to command and control—La Rue argues that methods of managing these risks already exist and that the benefits of outsourcing cyber operations outweighs the risks.
As conflicts continue to be fought in countries far from the United States, it is of increasing importance that our government have the ability to train and equip foreign personnel to ensure global security. To this end, Congress enacted Section 1202 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, enabling the Department of Defense to spend up to $10 million annually to support foreign forces engaged in ongoing and authorized irregular warfare operations.
In their article, Rich, Johnson, and Shirk discuss the significant limitations of this authority, chiefly its definition of irregular warfare as “competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict,” and argue that Section 1202 is critical in allowing Special Operations Forces to counteract the aggressive actions of other nation-states through foreign personnel, while emphasizing the lack of specific authority which would allow SOF to train and equip an irregular force during a traditional armed conflict against another nation-state.
Rich, Johnson, and Shirk conclude that, while this gap may be filled through covert funds or existing emergency funds, there is still value in enacting specific authorities prior to an emergency.