Posted: April 5, 2017 1:58 PM

Tenth Fleet Looks to Deploy New Teams, Faces Challenges from Variety of Adversaries

By SARA FUENTES, Seapower Correspondent

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Comparing the standing up of cyber capabilities to the beginnings of developing an aircraft carrier, the U.S. Tenth Fleet chief of staff expressed optimism about the Navy’s ability to dominate the cyber sphere against a wide range of adversaries. Capt. James H. Mills provided a 10th fleet update April 5 at the Navy’s Information Warfare Pavilion on Sea-Air-Space show floor.

“Rewind the clock back to the days of carrier aviation. … You’re going to put a deck on this ship and do what with an airplane? … We’re in a similar way now. We’re taking cyber-savvy Sailors and giving them some capabilities and you’re going to what with them in warfighting?” Hill said. “We’re at that point now from a traditional fleet. … Now we have this cyber capability and how is that going to transform the Navy?”

The command has been around since 2009, launching with a focus on streamlining business approaches, like looking for efficiencies to connect the force, not as a tool of national security. Today, with netted capability central to warfare, the 10th Fleet is playing a bigger role as “another arrow in the quiver” by providing cryptological support, information operations for the entire fleet, advanced signals intelligence, situational awareness and cyber capabilities for every ship and aircraft in the U.S. Navy.  

As part of U.S. Cyber Command, Tenth Fleet is completing the build out of 40 new Navy teams ahead of schedule. The stand up of the Cyber Mission Force has been an effort for Tenth Fleet since 2014. Those teams include cyber protection teams, cyber support teams, combat mission teams and national mission force teams. Working with sister services at Cyber Command, Tenth fleet is investing in training and maturing the skills of their cyber-savvy Sailors.

Mills stressed that cyber issues are not “just about the gizmo,” it’s about people, process and technology. Recruitment remains a persistent challenge, and Tenth Fleet is very focused on its people, working to ensure their cyber-savvy individuals are in the right roles and looking to build cyber competencies into Navy ratings. Tenth Fleet also is looking at aptitude testing, Mills said, similar to what is done in the nuclear power program to build out ways “to better utilize the talents that we have” to work around recruiting challenges.

Mills is seeing threats from a host of adversaries, including state actors, transnational actors and individual actors. When Tenth fleet was first stood up, adversaries in the cyber realm worked at a much lower tempo and were a minor security concern. Now, he said, “times have changed. Those netted capabilities are integral to warfighting. We do not do any warfighting without that net-centric type capability. … It’s information in warfare and information as warfare and those only exist because of the capabilities we started about 10 years ago and …  [we] are now leaders in the Department of Defense.”

The Navy has been forward leaning for so long, Mills said, that lower-end criminal hackers, who can exploit inherited vulnerabilities common to any internet- or network-based platforms, are not a real threat. The biggest concern is “advanced persistent threat” from state and transnational actors. In the past, these types of state and transnational actors were stealthy, but “some of our adversaries don’t really care anymore. They’re going to be loud and proud.”

When pressed by Seapower, Mills stated that in his personal opinion, with the strong caveat that each circumstance is different, but broadly, as these actors think they are not seeing a reaction from the United States. “They think have freedom of maneuver and can do what they want,” he said. “So I think it’s a combination. They’re still very capable adversaries that are doing things that are very hard to detect, and there’s others that have decided they want to be visible.”

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