A proposal by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to establish a cyberarmy as the fourth branch of the nation’s armed forces yesterday met with resistance from the military establishment and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
To counter “digital warfare” and the impairment of government agency Web sites — with most attacks originating in China — the DPP recommended in May last year setting up within the Ministry of National Defense a cyberarmy, with its own command headquarters, an initial budget of NT$1 billion (US$30.7 million) and an estimated staff of several thousand.
Most DPP legislators at a meeting of the legislature’s Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee yesterday spoke in favor of the proposal, but KMT legislators opposed the initiative, saying it would cause division at the ministry.
KMT Legislator Ma Wen-chun (馬文君) said it was a rash idea and the DPP had not considered its ramifications, adding that the ministry would need to consult with other government agencies and avoid disrupting the defense ministry’s existing operations.
Ma said the plan was an attempt to copy the US Cyber Command, an agency subordinate to US Strategic Command that was created in 2009 and has a staff of about 6,200.
“We have to question if this kind of set up is suitable for Taiwan. It will be too draining on the ministry’s human resources and budget, burdening military personnel with additional assignments,” she said.
KMT Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) quoted reports submitted by various government agencies, which said that the nation’s existing cybersecurity units can deal with most hostile cyberattacks from foreign hackers, but that their capabilities would need to be improved, along with regular upgrades of hardware and software.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Cheng De-mei (鄭德美) said cyberattacks by foreign hackers had damaged to the nation’s digital information networks and are becoming a major concern, and that the unit that handles the task is the Information and Electronic Warfare Command under the Chief of General Staff Office.
Cheng said the office has a staff of about 2,400 and it is headed by a major-general.
“The defense ministry will not take a stance on this issue, but as long as the program helps to protect our national security, we will support it. However, at this time, we have not received explicit guidance on a program to set up a cyberarmy as the fourth branch of the nation’s armed forces,” Cheng said.
National Security Bureau Deputy Director Kuo Chung-hsin (郭崇信) also avoided giving a direct response on the need to of establish a consolidated cyberarmy, while adding that his bureau created its own Internet security division last year.