The eye of a cyber sharpshooter

Proposed military cyber 'range' could train troops for digital conflicts

A cyber operations specialist stands in the watch officer position of the Joint Mission Operations Center at Fort Meade, Maryland.

A cyber operations specialist stands in the watch officer position at the Joint Mission Operations Center at Fort Meade, Maryland. (U.S. Army photo by Steven Stover)

It would be a military training 'range,' yet without any firearms.

Instead, trainees will use computer keyboards and laptops to learn cyber skills.

Called the Persistent Cyber Training Environment, or PCTE for short, it would allow cyber mission forces from all military branches to train together in a realistic environment. There would also be individual instruction and certification to allow cyber operators to practice and rehearse missions from multiple locations.

The U.S. Army is looking for an integrator for a system that will train all of the Defense Department's cyber mission forces, and Raytheon is offering a proposal that draws on the company's wide expertise.

“Our services emphasize that they train like they fight,” said Tim Loungeway, PCTE chief architect. “Our infantry troops practice their sharpshooting on the rifle range and our military units practice as a team in large-scale, live-fire exercises...Our cyber warriors must hone their skills in the same way.”

Because the cyber environment is constantly evolving — new software, new hardware and new devices connected to the Internet of Things — ongoing training for military cyber forces will be a critical need.

“There will always be new threats, as well as new tactics, techniques and procedures that our cyber mission forces can gain themselves in PCTE,” said Don Bray, Raytheon’s director for cyber training. “So our cyber teams will need to train all the time, build a baseline set of skills, get certified in their discipline, and on top of that, they will have to train for service-unique missions and systems." 

PCTE will allow for mission rehearsals on a secure, distributed and isolated network, alongside cyber operators from multiple disciplines and different locations.

“The battlefield is a bad place to meet your enemy for the first time,” Loungeway said. “We can create very realistic scenarios for any type of cyber threat.”

The training goes beyond typical network defense, blending cyber forces and effects into the training and operations of large, conventional forces. When conducting exercises and maneuvers, the military brings all specialties to bear,  from medics and administrators to intel analysts and logisticians. With almost everything in the military having an IP address, from tanks to soldiers, it only makes sense to deploy cyber warriors as well.

“Cyber overwatch is a good example of a mission a team could perform — observing and providing cover for advancing friendly forces,” Loungeway said. “With military vehicles being so connected, they’re a target for attack. A cyber protection team could monitor our networks for attack, while a cyber mission team could probe the enemy’s network and deliver effects, impacting the enemy’s resources, networks and defenses.”

Integral to Raytheon’s PCTE technology is the use of Agile and DevOps software development processes.

“Because the environment and threats are ever evolving, we’ll need to be able to introduce new capabilities, new technologies and new scenarios,” said Bray, “and with our experience with Agile and DevOps, we can keep PCTE up and running, operational and stable, adding capabilities in a structured way.”

And when a new threat surfaces, Raytheon would deliver new technologies, scenarios and environments in “rapid fashion.”

“We’ll be able, literally in hours, not weeks or days, to deliver at speed and scale everything the cyber mission forces need to address new threats that pop up,” Loungeway said. “That’s because our platform is using an open architecture and COTS tools, and Agile and DevOps software.”

Seven sites are slated to get the PCTE infrastructure: Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Meade, Maryland; Suffolk, Virginia; San Antonio, Texas; Oahu, Hawaii; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and Orlando, Florida.

“PCTE will also have the ability to connect to some of the existing ranges used for large-scale conventional force training as well as other exercise environments,” Bray said. “PCTE is not just doing cyber for cyber’s sake; it’s supporting all of the missions that our armed forces are involved in, and our scenarios will reflect that."

A request for proposals for PCTE is to be released in fiscal year 2019, with an award to follow in early fiscal year 2020.

Published On: 10/31/2018
Last Updated: 05/09/2019