NEWS | March 6, 2020

Cyber Operators Join Together during Cobra Gold 20

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bragg

ROYAL THAI ARMED FORCES HEADQUARTERS, Bangkok -- Multinational forces joined together with the Royal Thai Armed Forces to conduct the second annual Cyberspace Field Training Exercise near the RTARF Headquarters during exercise Cobra Gold 2020 in Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand, from Feb. 24 to March 6, 2020.

The Cyber FTX is a combined defensive cyber operation training environment comprised of a self-contained network in which six different nations banded together to patrol and defend their own networks while communicating and sharing information with one another.

"The cyber exercise is the opportunity to bring six nations together to work on what is probably what is the most critical component from the multinational force's perspective of, in at least this exercise, modern warfare," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Silves, who is with the 194th Wing of the Washington Air National Guard, and is the lead representative for the U.S. forces in the Cyber FTX. "It's an opportunity for us to understand how to work together, which really hasn't been done before."

During Cobra Gold 2019, the RTARF and WANG agreed there was a need for executing cyberspace training and worked together to create the first Cobra Gold Cyber FTX. According to Silves, Thailand and the U.S. used their success to invite other nations to join in.

"We used that and leveraged that to show that this thing's possible," Silves explained. "We advertised it and showcased it with the other full participating nations in Cobra Gold, and every one of them sent
representatives to the planning conferences and, ultimately, to what you see around you in the cyber exercise."

Alongside the Royal Thai and U.S. armed forces, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia sent their own cyberspace operators to participate in the exercise. Each of the countries was tasked with
protecting and maintaining their own networks while sharing information to help other nations better defend their networks from attacks.

"The objective of this exercise is the modernization of our national forces and the opportunity to work together under the same setup, same operating procedures, and have the same way of thinking as a multinational force," said Royal Thai Army Maj. Gen. Chartchai Chaikasen, the RTARF Cyber Security Center director. "Cyber training is important for our countries because we need to find a way to respond to cyber incidents and get a resolution to solve the problem in the cyber terrain."

The Cyber FTX is a fully self-contained network setup by Cyber Test Systems, a commercially-owned organization that specializes in cyber ranges, and provided the cyberspace operators a very realistic
the environment in which to train.

Within the cyber range network, each of the six nations patrolled their own networks while several of their respective teammates acted on behalf of the Red Team, operators playing the role of an adversary, and made attempts to attack and penetrate the networks. As a way to increase the effectiveness of the defensive cyberspace operators, some nations worked together in teams to come up with solutions and discover more effective ways to defend their networks from attacks.

"Anytime we work in a coalition environment, it's positive, whether it's cyber or one of the other elements of Cobra Gold," said U.S. Marine Col. Larry Jenkins, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group commanding officer. "Anytime we have an opportunity to work with our coalition partners, it builds relationships and makes us stronger as a coalition and as potential partners."

Silves said that the cyber range is set up so that when the Red Team attacks a network, those attacks, or events, can be sent to multiple nations and their respective networks at the same time, and they can each respond in their own way. However, it is crucial for them to communicate to their higher headquarters so a solution can be determined and distributed to the other nations.

While communication is a key aspect of defending a network from adversaries, knowing how to effectively defend them is just as important.

"Everything that we have and do, it's all online," said U.S. Marine Sgt. Cameron Foss, a defensive cyber operator currently deployed with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. "To be able to defend the United States, to be able to defend our critical assets and our capabilities, it's extremely important because it's all out there. [Defense cyber operations - internal defensive measures] is a very good asset to have and to continue to employ so we can get better and we can help keep America's information systems safe."

The entire Cyber FTX was designed to match the objectives of Cobra Gold 20, which a key focus of increasing the strategic alliance between the full participating nations. In a world that is becoming more connected each day, Silves says it is more important than ever to come together and learn the hard lessons of cyberspace defense so that those lessons aren't being learned on the battlefield.

"It's blown me away to see the talent that has come together to make this happen," Silves said. "We really could not have done this without participation from our international and joint partners."

Exercise Cobra Gold 20, in its 39th iteration, is designed to advance regional security and ensure effective responses to regional crises by bringing together multinational forces to address shared goals and security commitments in the Indo-Pacific region.