JTF-ARES as a Model of a Persistent, Joint Cyber Task Force





military cyberoperations, task force, cyber organization, offensive cyberoperations, US Cyber Command, Kinetic Warfare, cybersecurity, cyber defense


Military involvement in cyberspace has traditionally been limited to operations in service of “kinetic,” or physical, missions. Military cyberoperations are therefore usually described using traditional “kinetic” descriptors and rarely articulate cyber-related goals that are independent of kinetic operations. Recently, the concepts of “persistence” and “jointness” have been increasingly used by the U.S. Cyber Command to describe cyberoperations. Persistence describes operations that focus on a target over time (in contrast to the episodic “response” concepts articulated in kinetic warfare). “Jointness” describes working across group or agency lines. This paper will investigate the effectiveness of “persistent” and “joint” task forces in accomplishing cyber-related goals by means of a case study of Joint Task Force – ARES (“JTF-ARES”). JTF-ARES was set up as a task force by the U.S. Cyber Command to disrupt ISIS cyberoperations – a singularly cyber (as opposed to kinetic) goal. By contrasting the approach of JTF-ARES with the existing history of US operations in cyberspace, militaries can apply JTF-ARES’ successful approach to accomplish future cyber-related goals that are independent of kinetic military units. After discussing a brief history of the U.S. Cyber Command and defining the terms “persistence” and “jointness,” the paper discusses JTF-ARES’ successful operation and contributing factors, most notably its organization within the U.S. Cyber Command. Next, it explores a counterfactual organization of JTF-ARES, suggesting that alternative organizational structures would likely have ended in failure and highlighting factors that may have influenced its success. Furthermore, the paper discusses the administrative challenges associated with creating a JTF, which include administration hurdles as well as collaboration and training requirements specific to joint operations. Since JTF-ARES deviates from traditional organizational structures within U.S. Cyber Command, this paper articulates criteria for creating a joint, persistent cyber task force, which militaries may find useful when considering how to implement cyber-specific goals. The first criterion concerns the operations required for the mission – namely, are reconnaissance, offensive, and defensive cyberoperations required? The second criterion asks whether the cyberoperation has a uniquely cyber-oriented end state: for missions with non-kinetic goals, it may be helpful to consider a joint, persistent task force.

Author Biography

Marcel Stolz, Oxford University, Oxford, UK

Marcel Stolz is a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, UK. He has worked with the Science and Technology branch of the Swiss government’s defence procurement agency (Armasuisse), as well as with the World Bank Group as a cybersecurity consultant. His current interest lies in combining his technical knowledge with an interest in politics and experience in military leadership.