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NEWS | Sept. 20, 2022

MING vehicle maintenance school incorporates cyber defense

By Master Sgt. David Eichaker Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

The Michigan Army National Guard (MIARNG) is setting the conditions to further protect and safeguard against cyber-attacks, helping to ensure readiness and integrity in all electronic formats. First ever in all the U.S. Army, the Regional Training Site-Maintenance (RTS-M), 177th Regiment, Regional Training Institute, (RTI) located at Fort Custer Training Center, is reinforcing readiness and expanding partnerships while growing cyber defense capabilities in wheeled vehicles.

Michigan National Guard (MING), in partnership with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (DEVCOM GVSC), University of Detroit Mercy, and others, is beginning to develop a vehicle field maintainer training curriculum with industry‐recognized certification for vehicle cyber-fault detection, diagnostics, and remediation.

“This was started by a Griffiss Institute VICEROY award (focused on the development of expertise in critical cyber operational skills) given to the University of Detroit Mercy to help develop a vehicle cyber security curriculum to build a greater capacity for defensive cyber,” said U.S. Army Col. Raymond J. Stemitz, commander of the 177th RTI. “It’s Department of Defense money that is funding this program to help build this capacity with support from the U.S. Army DEVCOM GVSC.

The development is under the supervision of a subject-matter-expert in automotive electronics, cyber security, and vehicle diagnostics and communications. Mark Zachos, director, Vehicle Cyber Engineering Laboratory, University of Detroit Mercy helped write the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standard for vehicle cyber security that has been adopted by the automotive industry and has designed automotive diagnostic tools currently in use by the U.S. Army.

“Our vehicle cyber security education program provides hands-on learning opportunities that are uniquely tailored to match the workforce demands of the Armed Services, Department of Defense, and our Defense Industrial Base partners and is supported by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense,” said Zachos. “Our Vehicle Cyber Engineering (VCE) laboratory has equipment for experimenting on commercial and passenger cars to test cyber vulnerabilities and to teach students about those and how to fix and improve the cyber resiliency of vehicles today.”

“Vehicle cyber security is a national priority for both military and commercial fleets and the military uses commercial transportation, making security extremely important,” he added.

Zachos introduced vehicle cyber security to wheeled vehicle mechanic instructors at the RTS-M to educate the force on cyber susceptibilities.

“I am bringing my vehicle cyber security background information and sharing it with our Army community to teach them about those vulnerabilities so they can recognize them and repair and protect military equipment,” he said. “This is a pilot program that could be expanded through the ranks through the trainers and to Army students.”

The development of automotive cybersecurity for mechanics could benefit both the Army and the Soldier mechanics themselves.

“This development would enable the military services to generate and maintain ground vehicle combat power against threats posed from the cyber domain, increase the capacity of certified cyber automotive technicians in the civilian workforce through the training of National Guard members and Reservists, and contribute to a partnership with industry, academia, and other government agencies,” Stemitz said. “Industry and academia are the leaders in vehicle cyber engineering, security, and fault detection and collaboration with them is key in staying two steps ahead in this rapidly growing field.”

Vehicles can have multiple points of cyber access such as lane departure warning system, navigation systems, and tire pressure sensors, which could be exploited by an adversary. The RTS-M, 177th RTI is taking steps in the wheeled vehicle maintenance military occupation specialty course to help combat cyber threats. The RTS-M has the capabilities and vision to anticipate future training requirements in cyber to ensure relevance with modernization efforts.

“The RTS-M, 177th RTI is refining a conceptual cyber-defense Program of Instruction (POI) at the school based on the existing wheeled vehicle mechanic POI,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rob Sexton, RTS-M officer in charge and senior ordnance ground maintenance officer.

Located at Fort Custer, the 7,500-acre Michigan National Guard base, RTS-M runs approximately 24 classes a year and averages 396 students per year that train Soldiers from active duty, reserve, and National Guard formations.

“The military has a need for cyber fault detection as vehicles become more reliant on firmware and software,” said Sexton. “Introducing the vehicle cyber defense concept at the schoolhouse is a way the Army can incorporate the POI that provides Soldiers the skills and tools needed to detect cyber faults on wheeled vehicles.”

“In 2015, there were more than 1 million vehicles effected by the first U.S. vehicle cyber security recall,” he added.

The introductory phase of advancing the POI is to meet the cyber needs and work with academia on vehicle cyber defense.

“The collaboration between the Michigan National Guard and the University of Detroit Mercy contributes to the development of a Michigan Cyber Automotive Vehicle Integration Center, reinforcing a partnership between industry, academia, and government entities,” said Stemitz. “Michigan has a high concentration of Guard members who work in the automotive industry and can bring both military and civilian acquired skills to bear on the cyber automotive problem set.”

Soldiers who obtain the vehicle cyber defense course can also gain personal benefits in further education.

“Through this program we will be offering university college credits for the Soldiers as they go through the training exercises,” said Zachos. “Soldiers will be accumulating credits they can use in the future towards college degrees.”