Virginia Guard’s DPU Soldiers complete cyber exercise with United Kingdom’s Territorial Army

Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit conduct a network vulnerability assessment with members of the United Kingdom’s Territorial Army at Andover, Hampshire, UK at Land Forces Headquarters. (Contributed photo)

FAIRFAX, Va. — Five soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit completed a two-week joint cyber defense exercise with officers from the Royal Signals branch of the United Kingdom’s Territorial Army Sept. 28. This exercise provided the DPU soldiers with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with U.K. network operations and serve in a real-world cyber defense mission for the British Army Land Forces Headquarters. The exercise was run by British officers assigned to the Land Information Assurance Group, a component of the U.K.’s Royal Signals branch that focuses primarily on cyber network defense.

“This exercise was a tremendous opportunity for our DPU soldiers to both gain experience with the unique LIAG operational processes first-hand and conduct a real-world cyber mission that further served the development of its network defense capabilities,” said Lt. Col Randall Cudworth, commander of the DPU. “It also gave us a much better idea of the Territorial Army’s strategic focus in the cyber arena going forward, and a chance to draw on the DPU’s considerable expertise to offer recommendations regarding the implementation of that strategy.”

For the first two days of the exercise, the DPU soldiers participated in the LIAG selection board, which was convened at its unit headquarters in Corsham, Wiltshire. During this board, candidates applying for entry into the LIAG are assessed through interviews, leadership-reaction scenarios, and physical fitness events. The DPU soldiers were able to familiarize themselves with the LIAG’s selection board process and discuss its strategic focus on acquiring certain cyber skill sets with the unit’s current members.

The team was subsequently provided with a series of briefings at the Joint Cyber Unit, which is also located at Corsham. The JCU was established to defend the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense networks against cyber attack around the clock. While there, the Americans were provided with details on the British cyber defense strategy and the systems behind its execution. LIAG personnel also briefed the Americans on the cyber defense operations that were carried out during the 2012 Olympic Games.

Later that first week, the team conducted a series of intensive cyber defense exercises on the “cyber range” inside the Air Warfare Centre at Royal Air Force Station Waddington. Like the U.S. Army cyber ranges, this range was designed to provide a platform for simulating computer network systems that can be customized to provide a variety of training scenarios. The LIAG personnel and DPU soldiers worked together to respond to attacks against simulated networks by using the most advanced network defense tools and practices. The DPU soldiers used this training as a vehicle to share expertise with their British counterparts and acquire additional, U.K. cyber defense methodologies. During their time at RAF Waddington, the Americans also received strategic-level briefings at the Joint Forces Headquarters in connection with its current and future cyber defense planning.

After the cyber range training concluded, the five DPU soldiers and seven officers from the LIAG jointly conducted a week-long, real-world cyber defense mission at the British Army HQ-Land complex in Andover, Hampshire. During this mission, the teams produced vulnerability assessments of the “Restricted” and “Secret” components of the MOD computer network. The DPU team assisted the LIAG officers in running the latest tools for detecting network penetration, provided recommendations for fixing these vulnerabilities, and contributed to a final report that detailed the results of the assessments.

“I was very pleased with the broad range of capabilities that were demonstrated by our DPU soldiers during this mission, in particular their ability to quickly incorporate the cyber methodologies of the British system into their work,” Cudworth added. “That the LIAG was so willing to use them as a resource was a testament to their abilities as both cyber professionals and soldiers of the Virginia U.S. Army National Guard.”

During this mission, the DPU soldiers also participated in a series of briefings at the MOD that detailed the U.K.’s plan to stand up a joint force for cyber defense. These briefings were solution-based and provided additional details on the comprehensive cyber defense strategy that is being drafted by the U.K. The DPU soldiers provided input from the perspective of U.S. Army cyber defense, and made recommendations regarding the incorporation of additional systems in the British strategy.

“Our soldiers were able to draw on their expertise in the cyber defense field to contribute in a substantive manner to the conversation taking place in the MOD about the coming transformation of the British Land Forces and the cyber skills that these forces will require,” Cudworth said. “Despite the drawdown in the size of the active British Army, the Territorial Army is looking to grow its capabilities in the cyber arena. The members of the DPU team have the credibility to make recommendations on recruiting new personnel on the basis of certain cyber proficiencies.”

The exercise in the U.K. was the second phase of an exchange between the DPU and the Territorial Army that started with a two-week joint cyber defense training exercise in July 2012. During that exercise, American and British soldiers focused on defeating cyber attacks that were launched against simulated computer networks. It also marked the first time Army units of the two nations conducted cyber training together.

“Given the LIAG’s extraordinarily high level of operational tempo, we’re also looking into opportunities to conduct joint missions with them that would be mutually beneficial,” Cudworth said. “The LIAG supports the cyber defense requirements of units both inside the U.K. and deployed overseas, and are often required to move out on a very short notice. Participating in these missions would allow the DPU to assist a close ally and provide training opportunities for our soldiers to build on their knowledge and experience.”

The Americans additionally accompanied their British counterparts on a number of cultural excursions and visits to organizations relevant to cyber defense. These included Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire and the Royal School of Signals in Dorset. The team also toured The Battle of Britain Sector Operations Room Museum at RAF Digby in Lincolnshire, the Tower of London, and paid a visit to the HMS Victory at Portsmouth, England.

About the DPU:

Originally formed in January, 1975, the mission of the Fairfax-based Virginia National Guard’s Data Processing Unit has evolved over the years in response to a changing IT environment to support the Virginia National Guard Bureau and a variety of Department of Defense organizations. Organizations currently supported directly or indirectly by the DPU include United States Strategic Command, United States Cyber Command, U.S. Army Cyber Command, U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, and U.S. Army’s 1st Information Operations Command, among others. Most recently, soldiers from the DPU have been conducting missions inside the U.S. in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The DPU is comprised of approximately 165 Soldiers.

Story by Captain Peter Molineaux – peter.molineaux@us.army.mil