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By Cam Sivesind
Wed | Aug 2, 2023 | 5:30 AM PDT

News of a proposed United States Cyber Force moved closer to reality last week when the U.S. Senate passed the $886 billion National Defense Authorization Act.

An amendment in the bill directs the Defense Department to tap the National Academy of Public Administration to conduct an assessment of establishing a seventh, cyber-specific military service.

The U.S. Cyber Force is a proposed new military service that would be responsible for conducting offensive and defensive cyber operations. The force would be modeled on the U.S. Space Force, which was established in 2019.

The U.S. Cyber Force would be responsible for the following missions:

  • Conducting offensive cyber operations to disrupt, degrade, or destroy enemy networks and systems
  • Defending U.S. government and military networks from cyber attacks
  • Providing support to other U.S. government agencies and departments that are involved in cyber operations
  • Developing and maintaining cyber capabilities for the U.S. military

The U.S. Cyber Force would be composed of personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The force would also have its own dedicated cyber training and education programs.

The creation of the U.S. Cyber Force is still under debate. Some people believe that the force is necessary to protect the United States from growing cyber threats. Others believe that the force would be too expensive and that it would be better to improve the cyber capabilities of the existing military services.

"If cyber is to be fully recognized as a domain of warfare, the U.S. should have military forces that are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct military operations in that domain," said Colonel Cedric Leighton, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), CNN Military Analyst, and Chairman, Cedric Leighton Associates, LLC.

"In spite of previous efforts to organize our military to conduct both defensive and offensive cyber operations, it's likely that the current organizational structure, with U.S. Cyber Command handling operations and the National Security Agency (NSA) handling intelligence aspects, may be falling short. This could inhibit our ability to properly defend against concerted cyberattacks against our critical national security infrastructure," Leighton said.

The Senate version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act includes a provision that would require the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of creating a U.S. Cyber Force. The study would be due in September 2023.

More insights from Col. Leighton:

"One of the key concerns outlined by senators from both parties is that U.S. Cyber Command is not receiving adequately trained and experienced personnel from the currently established military services. There is a desire both on Capitol Hill and among some retired senior military officers to establish a cyber-oriented military service to remedy this. In many respects this makes sense because the core mission of a U.S. military service is to 'organize, train and equip' its personnel to fulfill the mission requirements of the combatant commands."

Col. Leighton said that China, Germany, and Singapore already have a jumpstart on creating cyber forces of their own.

"There are three countries that have already elevated their cyber forces to either service or organizational branch status. These countries are China, Germany, and Singapore. China was the first country to do this, creating their People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force in 2015 as part of a series of major military reforms promulgated by Xi Jinping," he said. "The Chinese were followed by the Germans, who created their Cyber and Information Domain Service in 2017. Although it's considered the sixth branch of Germany's Bundeswehr (Federal Armed Forces), the Cyber and Information Domain Service does not have the same status as the Land, Naval, and Air forces. Singapore has the newest cyber force, forming the Digital and Intelligence Service in October of last year. Modeled largely on Germany's cyber service, Singapore created its Digital and Intelligence Service in response to increased malicious cyber activities by state and non-state actors, especially those surrounding the War in Ukraine." 

Col. Leighton adds that one of the difficulties associated with cyber as a domain of warfare is that the line between cyber intelligence gathering ("Computer Network Exploitation") and cyber operations (such as "Computer Network Attack") can be quite blurry.

"Because cyber operations are very intelligence-centric, it would be unwise to artificially limit the connection between cyber intelligence gathering efforts and cyber operations," he said. "In order to streamline our cyber operations and our cyber intelligence efforts, Congress may have to consider how best to reconcile so-called Title 10 and Title 50 authorities in U.S. law. Title 10 of the U.S. Code governs military operations, while Title 50 governs Intelligence activities."

Currently, the newest military service is the U.S. Space Force, which was established in December of 2019.

"Although it is a separate military service, it is subordinate to the Department of the Air Force, much like the U.S. Marine Corps is subordinate to the Department of the Navy," Col. Leighton said. "It will be interesting to see how civilian oversight of a new U.S. Cyber Force would be structured. Would it belong to one of the existing military departments or would a new one be created? The civilian oversight challenges for a military Cyber Force would be considerable."

Here are some of the pros and cons of creating a U.S. Cyber Force:


  • The force would provide a dedicated focus on cyber operations.
  • The force would have its own training and education programs.
  • The force would be able to recruit and retain the best cyber talent.


  • The force would be expensive.
  • The force would duplicate some of the cyber capabilities of the existing military services.
  • The force would be a new bureaucracy that could be slow and inefficient.

The decision to form a new military service focused solely on cybersecurity will likely depend on a number of factors, including the cost of the force and the level of cyber threats that the United States faces.