As it stands, the U.S. Cyber Command is joined with the NSA, but according to recent reports this may change. According to Reuters anonymous sources, the Obama administration is "constantly reviewing if we have the appropriate organizational structures in place to counter evolving threats, in cyber space." The organizational structures being referred to here involve giving USCYBERCOM more authority where it not only works alongside the NSA, but has equal representation when cyber ops are being undertaken. The only way that this can be achieved is by making USCYBERCOM a separate entity from the NSA.
There are specific reasons why making the U.S. Cyber Command a new "unified command" makes sense. Firstly, USCYBERCOM is currently under the control of the U.S. Strategic Command at Fort Meade. As it stands this does not give the organization as much power as it might require to make decisions in future cyber battles, and this is a problem. This leads into the second point, as the NSA (which works alongside USCYBERCOM at Fort Meade) currently has more authority in terms of U.S. cyberwarfare. The problem is that the NSA's main mission involves gathering data, and simply is not equipped to deal with offensive and defensive measures on the cyber battlefield. As cybersecurity expert Bob Gouley put it, "Right now, the four-star cyber command leader... reports to someone who was a submarine captain. What value add can that submarine captain be?"
USCYBERCOM, if the American government truly wants to be a power player in cyber war, must have the same authority that the NSA has (and it seems that they agree with me). With $35 billion being invested in cyber defense over the next five years, there will likely be a massive overhaul in adapting current military strategy to reflect the electronic element of war.
I have to wonder, however, if making the U.S. Cyber Command the sixth branch of the military will cause a chain reaction.
Will the United States see its allies such as the United Kingdom or Israel develop official cyberwarfare branches? What about governments considered hostile to the United States? There are so many questions without answers at this point that one really has to wonder where cyberwarfare will send us 10 years from now. This is truly more than Stuxnet at this point, as we are preparing for all-out assaults executed via command lines. It is slightly exciting, slightly terrifying, and ultimately confusing.
Photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense (public domain)