WASHINGTON - Just as the National Guard provides warfighting forces for the Army and Air Force and help during state and federal emergencies, Guard members now are ramping up their role in the nation's escalating cybersecurity fight, according to the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Army Gen. Frank J. Grass spoke with DoD News recently about growing cyber capability in the Guard and how the Guard works with federal, state and local partners in the annual Cyber Guard exercise.
Grass is the senior uniformed National Guard officer, responsible for 460,000 Army and Air National Guard personnel. He was appointed by the president and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Describing the Guard's plan for growth, Grass said he's looking to soon establish a National Guard Cyber Protection Team - a cyber capability in each of the 10 multistate Federal Emergency Management Agency regions.
"We're going to get there," he said. "That's going to be easy."
From there, and looking to the future, Grass said, the Guard will begin building capabilities in areas nationwide where related industries and universities can support growing Guard cyber capabilities and recruiting plans.
"We want to try to have a cyber capability in every state some day," Grass said. "The Air National Guard is on a path - I'd say within five years we will have 20 units, either converted (from existing specialties like combat communications or system administration) or new units standing up across the nation. The Army National Guard is on a path for 12 units, and some of those are standing up now."
The general said those numbers represent a start point for the National Guard, rather than an end point.
The Guard also has grown by participating every year since 2012 in an exercise called Cyber Guard, the general said. This year Cyber Guard was held June 8-26 in Suffolk, Virginia.
"I don't know if there's anything I've seen across the map that brings us together as well as the Cyber Guard exercise every year," he added.
This year the Cyber Guard scenario included a simulated major Southern California earthquake and the emergency response, followed by a series of what seemed to be coordinated cyber attacks by a range of actors that disrupted electrical power along both coasts.
The scenario called for the attack to affect banks, oil and gas pipelines, and a major commercial port in the United Kingdom. Mock adversaries attacked DoD information networks across the department and the services, resulting in power outages, ATM failures and food shortages.
More than 100 organizations spanning government, academia, industry and the international coalition participated in the exercise.
U.S. Cyber Command, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI led the exercise. More than 1,000 participants - including active-duty, National Guard and Reserve units and personnel from all five military services - took part.
State, local collaboration
Grass said the exercise began in 2012 with eight states and 75 participants and has grown to the current size and participation, "so I think everyone sees that as a value - to come together at one location each year."
Guard participation helps attract local and state organizations and private companies, the general said, and gave an example from this year's Cyber Guard.
During a tour of the exercise stations, Grass ran into an Army major from the Washington National Guard. The Guardsman was standing next to an exercise participant from a Washington power company, and the two discussed how they communicate regularly.
Grass added, "The power company representative said, ‘If something happens in our facility, this is the man I'm calling first,'" indicating the Guard major.
They have a personal relationship, Grass said, "they know each other … so bringing them together at the national level and being able to hammer out how we're going to respond in a time of disaster here in the homeland and when we're under attack is so critical."
The general said Guard members come from every discipline across business and industry, including the business of cyber and information technology, and that the kind of work performed by cyber warriors for the nation is a huge draw for recruitment.
What the Guard offers Cybercom is the ability to ramp up with more trained and ready people if the nation comes under attack, he added.
"We won't even have to mobilize," Grass said, "(Guardsmen) will volunteer to be there. We have a couple of units that are aligned and train there every day. Their association is with Cybercom and their components … and (when we) send them back to their hometown units, the skill sets that they bring back with them are off the scale."