Security experts duked it out last week over the question of whether the United States should create a cyber force that would function on its own as a U.S. military service branch, distinct from the current structure of U.S. Cyber Command, which is one of 11 unified combatant commands of the Defense Department (DoD).

During an online webinar titled “Does the U.S. Need a Cyber Force” hosted by the Center For Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), experts discussed the necessity of that kind of new force, and what it should look like.

“Cyber is so different,” said John Davis, vice president at Palo Alto Networks. “It requires something different and that’s why I think that it is part of a warfighting domain and the military structure that I think the path that we’re on right now is designed to best integrate it into the other [service branches].”

Events like the war in Ukraine and the growth of Russian-sponsored cyber interference have created the need  for more cyber protections. While all of the CSIS panelists agreed that cyber protections play a vital role in protecting American infrastructure, some offered reservations on the need for creating a separate cyber force.

Davis also outlined the inherent difficulties with creating such a cyber force, and noted the lack of “cyber manpower” currently available.

“We don’t have enough specially trained cyber manpower today, every service has unique requirements, and it’s no different with cyber,” said Davis.

“When you separate out a force, each service tends to replicate what it needs to take care of itself and its own unique requirements, and it ends up just expanding the need for similar skill sets,” he said. “So where would the skilled trained cyber people come from to create this cyber force?” he asked.

The experts broke down the debate to encompass what they called the SOCOM model, which refers to specialization of cyber needs, and the service model, which focuses on creating a cyber force to focus on all realms of cybersecurity.

Emily Harding, deputy director and senior fellow for the International Security Program at CSIS, voiced a more cautious approach to the idea of having a cyber force, but ultimately agreed for the need of one.

“Both the SOCOM model and the service model are good options – in the end, I very much come down 60/40 on the side of yes, it should be a service,” she said.

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Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon
Jose Rascon is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.