Cyber-defence : a decisive ramp-up

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French soldiers work at the French army cyber defence operational command center headquarters, in Paris
French soldiers work at the French army cyber defence operational command center headquarters, in Paris (Crédits : AFP)
The digitisation of the global economy will result in a rise in power of cyber-defence. France, which was already highly advanced in that area, has adopted a new doctrine and a new organisation.

The Ministry of Defence is facing many challenges regarding surveillance, defence and security in the cyberspace. Thus, attacks on informationsystems can bring a major issue regarding sovereignty in case of a takeover or paralysis of sectors that are vital to the State. Especially since the dependence on digital technology, including arms systems, is increasing everywhere.

Quite clearly, the war has experienced a massive transformation nowadays. In France it is even "a national priority" engraved in the latest White Paper on Security and National Defence.

The former minister of defense, Jean-Yves Le Drian, quickly realized that an "adjustment" of the defence tool was "essential". In the light of this new strategic outlook, he launched a revision of the military doctrine at the end of 2016 in order to integrate "the impact of this new ability". "In terms of cyber technology, I think that we took the right path in 2008, stated General Pierre de Villiers, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces last February. We are on the right track, not only regarding our staff, but also regarding the technology, since we are not only able to protect ourselves, but also able to fight back".

The ramp-up continues through the Law on Military Programming (LMP) 2014-2019, with the recruitment of at least 1,000 additional civilian and military staff and a budget of nearly 440 million euros. The LMP allows for a tripling of the funds dedicated to the development and acquisition of new cyber-security solutions.

A fourth army ?

In order to address these new challenges, Jean-Yves Le Drian decided to create a new component in the armed forces at the end of 2016 "to establish our sovereignty and independence and thus remain master of our destiny".

In concrete terms, this resulted in the creation of a Cyber Operations Command (COMCYBER) at the beginning of the year. As of 2019, it will have authority over all of the ministry's operational cyber-defence units, which will carry out offensive missions.

There will be 2,600 digital combatants, plus 600 experts from the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA). These forces will also be supplemented by 4,400 cyber-defence reservists. This command assists the Minister in the field of cyber-defence and is placed under the direct responsibility of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces.

Does it thus constitute a fourth army? It seems so. However, General de Villiers appears to be opposed to this concept. "We have three armies and it would be a mistake to create a fourth army of support, a fourth army of special forces, a fourth army of cyber defence", he explained, "when in fact cyber-technology is a completely transverse environment".

He noted that "we will only be effective in this area if we carry out collective actions in a transverse manner". The COMCYBER is nevertheless just a starting point, since the development of the Internet of Things and continual advances in artificial intelligence will also revolutionize defence systems, making them much more efficient but also increasing their exposure to cyber-threats.

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