The 16th Air Force Enables Zero Trust Advancements
Leader of the Numbered Air Force is fully supporting the “core technology.”
As the U.S. Air Force advances on its two important pilot programs designed to inform the service’s larger pursuit of zero-trust architecture, the 16th Air Force is playing a key role in helping to examine its use from an operational perspective.
The two-year-old Numbered Air Force (NAF) is responsible for the Air Force’s defensive and offensive cyber operations; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; electronic warfare and information operations. Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, USAF, commander, 16th Air Force, and other leaders have spent the last two years integrating these key information warfare capabilities. The NAF also is the Air Force’s service component to U.S. Cyber Command and the cryptologic component to the National Security Agency.
Gen. Haugh sees zero-trust architecture (ZTA) as a core technology that supports their information warfare efforts, and more broadly, the service’s all-domain warfare capabilities. The general spoke to reporters yesterday at the Air Force Association’s annual Air Space Cyber Conference. He also is the commander of Air Forces Cyber and the commander, Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
“We view this as really one of the foundational technologies that will allow us to ensure that as we continue to grow our reliance on bringing data from any sensor, and using that data to gain advantage, we are able to secure it,” he explained. “From our standpoint, many of the things that we operate today, the weapons systems that we operate, they were built with the China threat in mind. And now, we have to be able to ensure the resilience of our data and our systems in any environment. Zero trust is a key part of that.”
The NAF is supporting the lead command’s—the Air Combat Command—ZTA efforts, which involve the goal of placing the cybersecurity structure in protection of the Air Force’s bases, weapon systems and mission environments. The 16th Air Force’s 688th Cyberspace Wing is supporting the cyberspace and engineering side of the NAF’s effort; NAF leaders are participating in the service’s ZTA task force, and the NAF created a 16th Air Force operational planning team for ZTA, amongst other efforts.
“In the pilots that we have executed, really the role that 16th Air Force is playing is how do we accelerate that work and do so in a manner that is also consistent with the guidance we are receiving from Gen. [Paul] Nakasone and U.S. Cyber Command and the DOD CIO [chief information officer],” Gen. Haugh continued. “I think we found a good balance of where we can now push into zero trust, but do it in a way that recognizes that we are ensuring that we are not going to bring in any risk while we are making this transition. It is critical for us to be able to do that, so that we are able to operate in a contested environment and trust our data.”
The 16th Air Force is making sure that the service’s zero-trust efforts work from a feasibility and operational perspective. Enterprise engineering experts from the wing and associated squadrons are working with the ACC engineers and acquisition partners to make sure that the ZTA designs, requirements and any sort of ZTA-related technical guidance fits from the operational community’s perspective.
In addition, through the 16th Air Force’s ZTA Operational Planning Team, which is led by Col. Christopher Robinson, USAF, is assisting in the design of the Air Force’s two main use cases of zero trust, the effort at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida, to apply the architecture to the launch enterprise and the effort at Beale Air Force Base, California, to add the comprehensive cybersecurity measure across the base’s operations.
With success at Patrick and Beale, respectively, the service will apply ZTA to more mission systems and traditional base network settings.
“We are pleased with the progress so far, but this has to go faster,” Gen. Haugh stated.
This article is SIGNAL Magazine's fourth piece in a series about the U.S. Air Force's significant expansion into zero-trust architecture. The first article, Air Force Greatly Widens the Aperture on Zero Trust, examines the Air Combat Command's 18-month plan to implement zero trust and its comprehensive view to employ the cybersecurity measure across its bases, weapon systems and missions. The second article, Zero Trust Is Key Enabler of Air Force’s Agile Combat Employment, looks at the service's first main use cases in applying zero trust to support Agile Combat Employment. The third article, Ensuring the Feasibility of Zero Trust, looks at how the 688th Cyberspace Wing is making sure that the operational and engineering aspects of missions and base operations mesh with zero trust.