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The Other Quiet Professionals: Lessons for Future Cyber Forces from the Evolution of Special Forces

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With the establishment of U.S. Cyber Command in 2010, the cyber force is gaining visibility and authority, but challenges remain, particularly in the areas of acquisition and personnel recruitment and career progression. A review of commonalities, similarities, and differences between the still-nascent U.S. cyber force and early U.S. special operations forces, conducted in 2010, offers salient lessons for the future direction of U.S. cyber forces. Although U.S. special operations forces SOF have a long and storied history and now represent a mature, longstanding capability, they struggled in the 1970s and 1980s before winning an institutional champion and joint home in the form of U.S. Special Operations Command. U.S. cyber forces similarly represent a new but critical set of military capabilities. Both SOF and cyber forces are, at their operating core, small teams of highly skilled specialists, and both communities value skilled personnel above all else. Irregular warfare and SOF doctrine lagged operational activities, and the same is true of the cyber force. Early SOF, like the contemporary cyber force, lacked organizational cohesion, a unified development strategy, and institutionalized training. Perhaps most importantly, the capabilities of both forces have traditionally been inadequate to meet demand. The analogy holds for issues of acquisition, the two forces relationship with the conventional military, their applicability across the spectrum of combat, and their historic need for a strong advocate for reform. The analogy is not perfect, however. In terms of core capabilities, force accession, and tradition, the forces are also very different. But even these differences offer fundamental lessons for both the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Army with regard to the future and potential of the cyber force.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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