ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Guard is the nation’s oldest military service, yet uniquely adaptable to a relatively new warfighting domain: cyberwarfare.
“The cyber skills that many members of the National Guard bring to the fight are unique within the Department of Defense and can be brought to bear in protecting the military’s own networks,” said George Battistelli, the exercise director for Cyber Shield 2022 and deputy chief information officer for the Army National Guard. “As current world events show, our ability to protect U.S. military networks and conduct hybrid warfare is crucial in protecting the nation as a whole,” he said during a June 7 media roundtable.
More than 800 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, civilian experts, and other military services from throughout the nation are conducting the Cyber Shield exercise June 5-17 with partners from all levels of government at the Army National Guard Professional Education Center at Camp Joseph T. Robinson Maneuver Training Center, North Little Rock, Arkansas.
Leaders from the Illinois, Kentucky, and Minnesota National Guard and the National Guard Bureau gathered in Virginia to talk with reporters about how the Guard defends against attacks and threats through Cyber Shield.
An annual event, the focus of this year’s exercise is on the National Guard’s role in protecting Department of Defense computer networks. In addition to assisting outside agencies, the civilian-acquired skills many cyber Guard members possess help the military protect its networks against attacks.
“When we talk about cyberattacks, whether it’s state-sponsored, independent criminals — we’ve all seen these attacks on not only some of our private infrastructure but our critical infrastructure at every state and department as well as within the Department of Defense,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general and commander of the Illinois National Guard, and a master cyberspace officer.
Neely described his own state’s experience with attacks.
“The Illinois Board of Elections Network was attacked in 2016, as well as several other states,” he said. “As a result, the Illinois National Guard has been working closely with the Board of Elections in cyber defense.”
The unique nature of Guard cyber defenders and the exercise is that they incorporate military, civilian and government agencies. Many of the Guard members have civilian careers in the cyber field, and the exercise incorporates military and civilian agencies.
“Cyber Shield is special because it integrates all levels of government, tech, industry, law enforcement and other partners,” said Neely. “These military cyber warriors have a significant advantage over their active-duty counterparts, as they bring in those unique civilian-acquired skills and experiences in addition to their military cyber training.”
Battistelli said the exercise goes beyond the cyber walls that defenders maintain.
“For Cyber Shield, we’re really trying to train the defensive cyber operations personnel,” Battistelli said. “So, while they’re looking at whether devices are hardened, as they’re going through all of their scanning, they’re trying to determine where the boundary is and where they’re protecting.”
Neely said being mindful of changes in the cyber domain will be key to future Cyber Shield success.
“We will continue to evolve the exercise as the threat evolves,” he said.