By J.R. Wilson
LACKLAND AFB, Texas, 23 Aug. 2009. The U.S. Air Force ended two years of confusion and controversy Aug. 18 by designating the 24th Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, as its official operational cyber security center, consolidating all U.S. military cyberspace operations and computer security. The stand-up came almost exactly one year after new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz halted plans to redesignate the 24th as the Air Force Cyber Command military information security organization.
"Through 24th AF, our service will present a full spectrum of cyber resources to the Air Force," Gen. C. Robert Kehler, head of the Air Force Space Command, told reporters at the information security activation ceremony. "This is the beginning of a deliberate and focused effort to organize, train and equip the 24th to be a premier cyberspace force and capability to commanders. We already have units that conduct cyberspace operations missions; what's new is putting them under one numbered Air Force (NAF)."
The Air Force cites three characteristics of military cyberspace assets -- access, persistence, and awareness -- within a domain linking deployed forces in-theater with higher headquarters for immediate access to information and capabilities anywhere in the world. With enduring military cyber security coverage and strategic views of their environment, Kehler said, field commanders can better determine how to combine, consolidate and deploy capabilities to bring "game-changing effects" to the battle.
"The first and largest advantage is focus. Second, it provides synergy across these various mission areas and allows us to begin to look to the future. Much is changing in the IT world and very fast, so we must organize to keep pace. One thing about standing up a new command is we begin to think differently about requirements, acquisition and resourcing. All of those are very important for us to put in place as good foundations as we try to improve our agility to face what is coming our way."
"Virtually everything we do in the Air Force anymore is related to network activity in some fashion," he noted. "So protecting the networks for mission assurance is No. 1."
In addition to activating the 24th, its new commander, Maj. Gen. Richard E. Webber, also presided over the redesignation of the Air Force Information Operations Center as the 688th Information Operations Wing and realignment of the 67th Network Warfare Wing under the 24th AF. Also moving under the new NAF is the 689th Combat Communications Wing, itself a new command created from realigning the 3rd and 5th Combat Communication Groups; the Air Force Network Integration Center (formerly the Air Force Communications Agency) and the 624th Air and Space Operations Center (formerly activated as the 608th Air Force Network Operations Center). In all, some 8000 airmen are now part of 24th AF.
While it has not yet been formally approved, the 24th also is expected to become the Air Force component of the new joint Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), along with its Army and Navy counterparts.
"We had a provisional cyber command in place for well over 18 months.
That was based on direction from then Air Force Secretary Wynn and Chief of Staff Gen. Mosely, who got the Air Force headed down the path toward an operational command for CYBERCOM," Kehler said. "In December, the current chief of staff and Secretary decided to make Air Force Space Command the lead and stand up a command (within it) to take on that mission."
Standing up a new command dedicated to cyber warfare also adds impetus to efforts to create new Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs) and a cyber career path for both enlisted personnel and officers.
"We've already made some changes to enlisted designators for AFSCs. The balance for us in the enlisted ranks is to ensure we preserve fundamental skills our technicians have always had to operate and maintain radars or computer systems," Kehler said. "We can't walk away from those fundamental skill sets when we send them off to an expeditionary or combat communications unit. So we want to preserve the technical basis they have and add some things as enlisted people become more senior, getting into bigger picture network defense.
"For the officers, it looks like we are heading toward a very similar construction to what we've had for space, designating operations cyberspace people under a new AFSC. That will involve additional undergraduate and other training; some will be certified, just as we certify missile or space crew members. We're talking about 17X as a designation for officers; that hasn't yet been approved, but I think it is the right way to go forward. We have reoriented enlisted around a 3X designation."
Kehler said the new command also will adopt some acquisition methods developed for AFSPACECOM to "deliver capability at the speed of need", recognizing some cyber requirements must be addressed in a matter of hours.
"That is our most interesting challenge -- how we use the authority we have or what other authority must we request. That is underway now as we sort through how to get our arms around this. We have existing acquisition methods we can use to get down into the weeks timeframe, but if we have to follow all the testing and certification rules, that will be more difficult," he added.
Weber said part of the answer lies with increased collaboration with industry.
"Many of us use the same foundation products, so working together is an efficient way to get at some of the acquisition needs you will see," he said. "As far as the biggest immediate needs are concerned, we have three operational wings already doing the mission today and that will continue.
"The two focuses General Kehler has given us are, first, to stabilize the patient -- normalize how we operate the network, standardizing our configuration and how operationally responsive we are; second, how we link up and establish our relationships with the joint warfighters. We have to see how the stand-up of CYBERCOM evolves over the next year and then work the Air Force component into that."
Asked if the 24th AF also will develop an offensive cyberwarfare capability, Kehler responded: "We see that our networks are under threat, just as we see that across networks everywhere, both in government and the public domain. So our first concern is improving our protection and ensuring mission success.
"[Air Force Space Command] is committed to organizing and equipping the 24th Air Force so it can be a premiere organization dedicated to supporting combatant commanders. Without getting into operational details, we will present a range of capabilities to the joint commanders as they request those capabilities."