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Cyber warfare research institute to open at West Point

Apr. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
West Point cadets work inside a cyber lab. West Point is forming a cyber warfare brain trust at the academy.
West Point cadets work inside a cyber lab. West Point is forming a cyber warfare brain trust at the academy. (U.S. Military Academy at West Point)
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The Army’s academy has established a cyber warfare research institute to groom elite cyber troops and solve thorny problems for the Army and the nation in this new warfighting domain.

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., plans to build a cyber brain trust unprecedented within the service academies, filling 75 positions over the next three years — including scholars in technology, psychology, history and law, among other fields.

The chairman of the organization, called the Army Cyber Institute, will be retired Lt. Gen. Rhett Hernandez, the first chief of Army Cyber Command, according to Col. Greg Conti, the organization’s director.

The institution, which aims to take on national policy questions and develop a bench of top-tier experts for the Pentagon, will be defining how cyber warfare is waged, to steer and inform the direction of the Army.

“It’s a very exciting time,” Conti said. “It feels a bit like we’re at the birth of the Air Force, like we’re that kind of historic era.”

The institute’s interdisciplinary approach will join civilian doctorate-level experts in cybersecurity and cyber operations with psychologists, attorneys, policy experts, mathematics experts and historians within its walls.

“I think we’re building a unique team that’s never been done before,” Conti said. “People think of technology, and maybe policy, but it’s never been done before in this holistic way.”

Cyber experts from the operational cyber force would rotate through the institute as students and faculty, bringing hands-on experience and emerging with a broader perspective, better equipped as leaders, Conti said.

The institute will strive to connect to the “constellation” of expertise in academia, industry and national labs, with its own “fresh, agile organization,” Conti said.

The plan is to recruit and hire about 25 people per year when competition is hot to hire cyber experts, but Conti was confident West Point’s reputation and relationships would attract the right people.

There is no shortage of questions for personnel at the institute to noodle over. How does a unit “maneuver” in cyberspace? How do troops fight and win in a large scale cyberwar? What would a cyber Ranger School look like?

“We want to get ahead of doctrine,” Conti said.

West Point has offered cyber education for years under various names, including information assurance or information warfare, but it launched a small dedicated cyber security program in 1999 that has grown significantly since. Graduates and faculty worked to launch Army’s cyber four years ago.

Though Conti said the interdisciplinary model for the Army Cyber Institute is novel, officials there looked to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Estonia, the Georgia Tech Information Security Center, Stanford Center for Internet and Society, among others.

Army senior leaders 18 months ago approved the expansion of the Army cyber center to take on national-level problems and develop a bench of top-tier experts for Army. It follows the creation of Army Cyber Command and comes amid the command’s ongoing reorganization and the consolidation of the Army signals school into the newly established Army Cyber Center of Excellence, at Fort Gordon, Ga.

The idea for the institute comes after Odierno emphasized the importance of cyber in a National Press Club talk on Jan. 7, saying cyber would, “impact future warfare.” He said it is in the national security interest to resolve fundamental legal and policy issues.

“As a national issue, this is about our ability to protect our financial networks, our infrastructure, and it’s an important issue,” he said. “We have to recognize this is a new way for people to potentially influence what’s going in in the United States, so it’s incumbent upon us to improve our capability.”

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