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Australia Hosts First Military Cyber Exercise With US

The Australian Defence Force has facilitated its first “classified-level” military cyber exercise with the US in Canberra this month.

Called Exercise Cyber Sentinels, the drill prepares digital warfare personnel for tactical cyberspace operations and against evolving threats in the domain.

Participants are tested through mission rehearsals such as strategizing sessions, team battles, and infrastructure defense in realistic scenarios with simulated attacks.

The exercise was hosted in a Persistent Cyber Training Environment, a joint virtual training platform reserved for military use by the Australian Defence Force and US Cyber Command in 2020.

This setup incorporates defensive mission programs that can be shared, developed, and updated to maintain the readiness, tactics, and procedures of cyber warriors.

Exercise Cyber Sentinels

During the 12-day exercise, over 90 Australian personnel and 60 counterparts from the US Fleet Cyber Command and Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command participated.

Representatives from New Zealand, Canada, and the UK also attended the event as observers.

Australian Cyber Warfare Head Maj. Gen. Ana Duncan explained the value of Cyber Sentinels for the Australian military’s objectives to achieve “greater coherence and resilience” in cyber missions.

“The Defence Strategic Review identified the need for Defence to enhance its cyber capabilities to deliver the responsiveness and breadth of capability to support [Australian Defence Force] operations,” the officer stated.

“This exercise is a perfect example of our efforts in ensuring Australia’s cyber and information operations capabilities are being scaled up and optimised.”

Royal Australian Navy and United States Navy personnel side by side during Exercise Cyber Sentinels 23. *** Local Caption *** Exercise Cyber Sentinels is an annual cyber exercise which was held 2 – 13 October 2023 in Canberra. This was the first time this exercise was planned and held at the SECRET//REL Five Eyes level in Australia by the ADF, with previous exercises held by our global partners at a lower classification level. The ADF worked closely with United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) in the planning of this exercise which is part of the global effort sharing of partner cyber readiness. Over 60 US Cyber Command personnel participated alongside over 90 ADF members. The participants were joined by a number of observers from Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The exercise comprised five blue force teams consisting of three Australian teams from Royal Australian Army 138 Signals Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force 462 Squadron and Royal Australian Navy Fleet Cyber Unit, and two teams from the United States, USFLEETCYBER and MARFORCYBER. Exercise Cyber Sentinels supports the training and development continuum of cyber units by honing individual and collective cyber-based skills. Additionally, the networking and learning opportunities from other nations are benefitting the ADF to further develop in the Cyber Domain and supporting reciprocal training opportunities in the future.
Royal Australian Navy and United States Navy personnel side by side during Exercise Cyber Sentinels 23. Photo: Nicole Mankowski/Australian Department of Defence

‘Vital Partnership’

Duncan said that cyber partnerships, as demonstrated at the exercise with the US, offered critical opportunities to enhance the Australian defense’s preparedness.

“Together, we sought to increase cyber resilience domestically and in the near region through networking, collaboration and development.” 

Meanwhile, US Fleet Cyber Commander Vice Admr. Craig Clapperton said the “historic” teaming with Australia boosted the US advantage in the Pacific.

“Through exercises like Cyber Sentinels, we enhance our readiness and strengthen our vital partnership, working toward our common goal of a safe and secure Indo-Pacific region.” 

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