After months of bureaucratic battles, the Pentagon is finalizing a plan to give reservists a limited role in the evolving cyber force.
U.S. Cyber Command's effort to build a force of 6,200 cyber warriors, split among 133 operational teams, has fueled a tug-of-war between the Defense Department's active and reserve components.
Reserve advocates say the mission is unique because many reservists have civilian careers in the tech sector and are more skilled in cyber operations than many active-duty troops shifting from traditional military career fields.
But some active-duty military leaders are reluctant to share the "sexy" cyber mission, which comes with money and jobs that will be largely shielded from forcewide budget cuts, said Adm. Michael Rogers, CYBERCOM commander.
"I have told the team: 'I will not accept an 'us vs. them' approach to doing business. We're on one freakin' team. ... If you think you can do this just on the active side, you're a moron,' " Rogers told reserve component advocates Sept. 10 as he rolled out some basic elements of CYBERCOM's staffing plan for the Reserve Forces Policy Board, a federal advisory group.
He said the services have offered different plans for how they'll fulfill their requirement to man, train and equip cyber warriors for his operational command and the 133 cyber teams he's assembling:
■ The Army will provide 41 mostly active-duty cyber war teams, but a small number of teams will come entirely from reserve components.
■ The Air Force will provide 39 teams that will include some hybrids composed of active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force reserve personnel.
■ The Navy will provide 40 teams, all composed of active-duty sailors, although some reservists will train for cyber missions to offer a "surge" capability.
■ The Marine Corps will provide 13 teams, all active-duty.
Rogers expressed some concern about the Corps' call to exclude reservists from its cyber force. He said he told Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine Forces Reserve, that there are probably Marine Corps Reserve members who are highly skilled and eager to join the cyber mission. Rogers said Mills agreed to "relook that decision' " after CYBERCOM stands up its new force in 2016.
Rogers expressed reluctance to get too involved in the services' decisions about building their cyber capabilities. "I'm the operational commander. I am not the service 'man, train and equip' guy."
CYBERCOM is tackling a lot of complex issues, he said, urging critics to take a wait-and-see approach. "Let's generate the force, let's use it for a little bit, and then let's step back and assess," he said.
"It seems like every three months, I've got somebody telling me we've got to rebaseline the [command-and-control] structure; we need to rebaseline the force structure.' I'm like, 'Stop! We haven't even built this thing yet.'
"Cyber is the sexy new thing, it gets a lot of attention," he said. "In hierarchical bureaucratic organizations, those can sometimes bring out bad behaviors."
Rogers worries that DoD will instinctively "create a huge plethora of new organizations that, quote, 'do cyber' ... where every component, whether it's active or reserve says: 'I've got to have this.' We just don't have the resources to do that."
CYBERCOM will not require mandatory training. Instead, Rogers described a process for letting troops waive training requirements if they bring high-tech skills learned in the civilian sector.
"We have actually created a board where we can review the packages" of individual troops, Rogers said. "What I told each service is: 'As long as you meet the training standard, I will leave it up to you how you do it,' " Rogers said.
His comments to the policy board came just weeks after the board officially called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to give reservists a prominent role in the cyber mission and "take advantage of the full range of civilian-acquired skills" within the reserve components.
It's the latest in a series of bureaucratic battles waged by reserve advocates to preserve the operational role reservists filled at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many want to continue in those kinds of roles rather than return to a Cold War-era "strategic reserve" that only mobilizes and deploys for the most severe national crises.
Rogers urged reserve advocates to avoid pursuing a narrow agenda and instead "focus on this from a total-force" perspective.
"Just as I tell the active component, 'Look, it can't be an 'us vs. them,' it's got to be one team ... I ask the same of all of you," told the board members.
The best way for reserve advocates to help secure a place in the cyber mission is to lobby Congress and DoD leaders to provide more money for mobilizations, he said.
As the Pentagon's budget has tightened in recent years, money to mobilize reservists has waned.
"That concerns me," Rogers said. "Because if I want to harness the power of that reserve … give them a mission … bring some of them online on the active side and say here is the task, take six months and come back to me — that is becoming increasingly hard."