CAMP MURRAY, Wash. - Since he first supported the Cobra Gold exercise in 2018, Washington Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jason Silves has focused on strengthening cybersecurity.
“I started at Cobra Gold 2018 working in the cyberspace defense operations cell before there was a cyberspace exercise. We called out the need for a cyberspace exercise following that Cobra Gold,” said Silves. “I got involved in the State Partnership Program shortly thereafter as we strengthened our relationship with the Royal Thai Air Force cyberspace security center.”
Silves is seeing his hard work pay off.
“This was my sixth Cobra Gold and fifth cyberspace exercise. As a matter of fact, the first Cobra Gold cyberspace exercise grew out of our State Partnership Program with the Royal Thai Air Force,” said Silves.
Held annually in the Kingdom of Thailand, Cobra Gold is a multinational Indo-Pacific military exercise to enhance the capabilities of participating nations to plan and conduct combined and joint operations, build relationships across the region, and improve interoperability over a range of activities, including homeland assistance disaster relief. While much of the exercise focuses on the physical, the cyberspace exercise provides real-world experience for participants.
“The goal for the cyberspace exercise is to provide a quality experience for operators where they can build or strengthen defensive skills and share information with partners,” said Silves. “We work hard to create a realistic scenario and environment that allows operators to learn from each other in an unclassified setting.”
Silves and his team have begun working their scenario into the Command Post exercise, leveraging the cyberspace exercise into other aspects of Cobra Gold. This integration has helped participants learn valuable lessons about the multinational forces’ standard operating procedures.
While the cyber exercise has become an integral part of Cobra Gold, this year’s “CyberEx” was the first in-person since 2020.
“During the pandemic, we had to separate the exercise control cell and range from the training audience,” said Silves. “Although it was a technically viable solution, there were some challenges.”
In 2021, teams spread across several time zones. Keeping up with the exercise meant a team at Camp Murray began its day at 6 p.m. and often finished around 4 a.m.
Getting everyone together physically enabled operators to collaborate better with range engineers. The exercise control cell could also see the defensive cyberspace operations teams in action. This visibility allowed the exercise control cell to adjust the tempo of the exercise to ensure defensive cyberspace operations teams met their training objectives and to capture lessons to apply to future exercises.
“Our goal every year is to make the exercise better than the previous year. In the coming years, we plan to improve the virtual exercise environment to prevent a tougher challenge to our operators, which will help them operate in a real-world environment,” said Silves. “We also plan to weave events happening in the cyber exercise into the command post exercise, allowing non-cyber operators to better understand the impacts the virtual world can have on real-world operations.”
Silves and his team hope to work on initiatives linking parts of Cobra Gold into the cyber exercise, demonstrating how the physical world affects cyberspace operations and vice versa.
“Each of these initiatives is designed to help commanders and operators understand how intertwined the physical and virtual worlds really are,” said Silves. “By doing so, we can help everyone understand that a virtual problem can be solved in the physical or kinetic world or how a physical problem could be addressed in the virtual world.”