Cyber Center of Excellence program aims to expand partnerships and close capability gaps through experimentation.
by Maj. Christian Abney
As the Army modernizes its forces to achieve its vision of deploying, fighting and winning decisively against any adversary by 2028, finding opportunities for government, industry and academia to collaborate has become increasingly important. The U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence (CCOE) is using an experimentation event called Cyber Quest to partner with talented organizations and to leverage their strengths to solve Army challenges.
The CCOE is the Army’s proponent for cyberspace, signal and communications networks, information services and electronic warfare. Along with educating the cyber and signal forces, one of its key focus areas is to conduct the functional solutions analysis necessary to modernize doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel, facilities and policies within the cyber and signal communities.
The Cyber Battle Lab, part of the Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate , is a tool that the center offers the requirements and acquisition communities to identify new technologies with the potential to fill capability gaps. The Cyber Battle Lab uses modeling, simulation and live experimentation in relevant operational environments to determine whether technologies are mature enough for prototyping. It leverages innovative signal, cyber and electronic warfare technologies to support the warfighter and to inform the requirements and acquisition communities.
Additionally, the lab partners with other Army research and development labs, industry and academia to synchronize, coordinate and accelerate the development process while codifying user, developer and industry efforts to maximize technological advancements.
Each year, the Cyber Battle Lab hosts Cyber Quest, a prototyping experiment conducted at the CCOE at Fort Gordon, Georgia, to identify new technologies that can benefit Soldiers by closing capability gaps in cyberspace operations and electronic warfare. Cyber Quest “is a reflection of how the Army is trying to solve problems,” said Maj. Gen. Neil S. Hersey, commanding general of the CCOE, during his opening remarks at Cyber Quest 2019’s Distinguished Visitors Day, held at Fort Gordon on June 14. The event gives the Army, industry and academia the opportunity to team up to develop a force capable of maintaining overmatch against current and future military threats.
The mission of Cyber Quest is to conduct prototyping experiments that demonstrate capabilities with the potential to close high-priority technology gaps. To better enable the Army to achieve the priorities of the Dr. Bruce D. Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology―accelerating the fielding of useful materiel solutions to Soldiers and expediting the development of technologies that provide military advantage―Cyber Quest provides operational, scenario-based testing of emerging technologies against identified capability requirements. A major goal of the exercise is to “figure out how to get kit [equipment] in the warfighter’s hands faster so we are prepared to fight the next war,” said Col. Brett Riddle, director of the Cyber Battle Lab.
To expedite the development and acquisition of relevant technologies, the Cyber Battle Lab focuses on the assessment and demonstration of products that are at Technology Readiness Level 6 or 7, as well as commercial off-the-shelf technologies. While Cyber Quest focuses largely on identifying and assessing new equipment and software applications, it also provides opportunities to discover how the Army can apply non-materiel solutions to overcome capability gaps, such as by improving doctrine, more effectively resourcing organizations and enhancing training. Ultimately, the goals of Cyber Quest are to:
- Define requirements for new capabilities.
- Define requirements for updates to existing capabilities.
- Identify candidates for rapid acquisition.
- Support acquisition risk-reduction.
Each year, the program’s sponsors, which include program management offices, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability management (TCM) offices, Army cross-functional teams and the Cyber Battle Lab, determine the focus areas for Cyber Quest. Focus areas are based on input from each sponsor regarding the most significant capability requirements for each organization. Therefore, each annual experimentation event is unique.
In 2017, Cyber Quest focus areas included ways to:
- Improve the capacity, reach and security of tactical communications.
- Better enable the mission visualization, planning and management of defensive cyber operations.
- Advance mission visualization, planning and management for electronic warfare.
- Expand situational understanding of the battlefield.
In 2018, the experiment focused on opportunities to:
- Improve the commander’s situational understanding of the threat environment.
- Conduct radio-frequency-enabled offensive cyber operations.
- Better enable unified network operations.
- Implement advanced wireless solutions for command posts.
- Explore applications for protected waveforms with low probability of detection and low probability of intercept.
In 2019, the experiment focused on identifying opportunities to:
- Increase situational understanding, analysis and exploitation of cyber.
- Explore automated capabilities for defensive cyber operations.
- Implement local and remote management and planning of tactical electronic attack and electronic warfare assets.
- Extend the tactical network’s range.
Once the program sponsors have determined the focus areas, the Cyber Battle Lab invites interested vendors to take part in an informational industry day. This event provides the program sponsors and vendors with an opportunity to collaborate and determine if and how teaming will provide value. After the program sponsors and vendors have committed to partnering, they begin the critical work of determining what objective and subjective data the evaluators will capture that will define product success and support acquisition decisions.
The announcement of Cyber Quest priorities and industry day generally take place in August, with the exercise itself taking place the following spring. For example, the 2019 priorities were announced in August 2018, and exercises were conducted in June 2019 at Fort Gordon. Priorities are spelled out in broad agency announcements released through the Federal Business Opportunities website. Each announcement outlines the objectives and key events of the experiment and provides interested industry and academia partners with the framework for participation. Typically, the announcements seek technology submission forms from interested colleges and universities, nonprofit research institutions, commercial firms, small businesses, small disadvantaged business concerns, historically black colleges and universities, and minority business enterprises and institutions.
HOW DO STAKEHOLDERS BENEFIT?
Cyber Quest provides government sponsors with two important opportunities. First, it gives sponsoring organizations the chance to develop and refine requirements for what the Army needs. Second, it provides program offices with an additional resource to reduce risk throughout the acquisition process.
Take, for example, the experience of the Project Manager (PM) for Mission Command, within the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical, and TCM Networks and Services. Working together over the past year, PM Mission Command and TCM Networks and Services established criteria for testing tactical server infrastructure hardware and software tools for defensive cyber operations. PM Mission Command, TCM Networks and Services and the Cyber Battle Lab established testing criteria and provided Soldiers participating in the exercise with the opportunity to operate the systems and provide user feedback. Data from the experiment was used to inform installation, operation and maintenance procedures; to examine how well the equipment and software operated on the network; and to define fielding schedule requirements.
Vendors, particularly nontraditional industry partners who have less experience working with the government, are encouraged to participate in Cyber Quest because it enables access to a realistic network environment to exercise new technologies, offers exposure to high-level decision-makers, and provides an opportunity to understand Army needs and shape future programs.
This year, 18 large and small business industry partners received government sponsorship and participated in the exercise. Each company was integrated into the experiment’s military network, and each was afforded the opportunity to put their product into the hands of Soldiers. This provided immediate feedback to the vendors on their product’s capabilities.
One participating company specializing in enterprise software products that demonstrated its concept for how the Army can manage digital identities for secure system access noted that Soldier feedback enabled its team of computer and software engineers to make quick but necessary adjustments that made their product’s user interface more intuitive.
Following the event, each vendor receives written feedback on how well their product performed in achieving its objectives. Additionally, each company gets a direct audience with Army senior leadership from the CCOE, cross-functional teams and the acquisition community. During Distinguished Visitor Day, each company provides a briefing on its products and fields questions directly from top decision-makers.
The CCOE is using its experience from Cyber Quest to make adjustments that will create more collaboration opportunities. While Cyber Quest traditionally has involved coordination and buildup to a single annual exercise, future iterations will include smaller events throughout the year to evaluate technologies that do not require the full resourcing in personnel and equipment necessary for the larger-scale annual exercise. The goal is to provide partners from industry and academia with greater access to integrate new technologies into the government’s test environment and get needed equipment in the hands of Soldiers.
Additionally, the director of the Cyber Battle Lab hopes to increase awareness of Cyber Quest and incorporate more participation from academic institutions. Increasing awareness of the experimentation event and creating additional opportunities to participate throughout the year will lead to more opportunities for government and university partnerships. In 2016, the CCOE was fortunate to include the Georgia Tech Research Institute as a sponsoring organization in Cyber Quest. Its participation enabled the Georgia Tech team to evaluate the performance of tools for cyber situational understanding, benefiting both the research institution and the Army. The Cyber Battle Lab hopes to include more opportunities like this to enable success through teaming with academia.
In all, Cyber Quest is an example of how Army organizations are working to develop the Army of the future by building partnerships today. Each exercise brings the Army closer to developing the right requirements and making better-informed materiel solution decisions necessary to fight and win in a multidomain environment.
For more information, contact the author at email@example.com.
MAJ. CHRISTIAN ABNEY is the assistant TRADOC capability manager for Networks and Services at the CCOE. A Ph.D. candidate at Colorado State University, he has an MBA and an M.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan and a B.S. in engineering management from the United States Military Academy at West Point. He is Level II certified in program management.
This article is published in the Fall 2019 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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