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General Keith Alexander, soon to be the former head of he National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), is advocating that the unit should be elevated to a fully unified combat command status.

Currently, CYBERCOM is organized under the authority of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), and Alexander says that given the level of maturity the unit has gained in its mission as a critical aspect of the nation’s defense, we have reached a “tipping point” that should compel the government to elevate its command level standing.

“Why a unified command? Command and control, directly from the President and the Secretary [of Defense], directly to that commander,” Alexander stated before the House Armed Services Committee. “In cyberspace, that speed is going to be absolutely important. And I think as we add more teams and more complexity, STRATCOM’s ability to actually play in this will continue to go down.”

Making CYBERCOM the 10th unified combatant command is just one option that is in the table. An alternative would be to officially designate cyberspace as its own unique theater of warfare and consolidate all of the military’s various cyber-related units into one entirely new branch of defense, but Alexander beleives that may not be the best option for the next step in CYBERCOM’s evolution.

“I think for at least the next several years, we need to have an integrated cyber capability that goes into the services. I think that in places like Iraq, if we were to embed cyber capabilities at the brigade level, which we will need to do, you need to have service participation in that, not a separate service with external people coming in, but an embedded, organic capability to that brigade itself. But they need to be trained to a standard,” Alexander said.

“So it’s analogous to the way the cryptologic system works. We have cryptologists who go down to brigades who are trained to a certain level. We have them in the air and we have them at sea. All of them are trained together, and they act as one system, but they have them by service. So I think the next correct step would be go to a unified cause and then see if it makes sense to take the step beyond that. And I think that kind of a deliberate approach makes sure we don’t go too far and then have to collapse back,” Alexander continued.

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