Stepped Up Cyberthreats Prompt Air Force To Rethink Training, Acquisitions

November 30, 2012
By Max Cacas

U.S. Air Force Cyber Summit raises leadership awareness on service’s roles and responsibilities.

Don’t be surprised if, in the very near future, the U.S. Air Force begins running its cyber training schools 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is one of the takeaways under serious consideration in the wake of the service’s November 15 cyber summit, according to Lt. Gen. Michael Basla, USAF, chief, information dominance and chief information officer. “The demand signal has increased and will continue to increase,” Gen. Basla says, describing to Pentagon reporters on Friday the demand for Air Force cybercapabilities as determined by the top level summit of the Air Force’s top leadership at Fort Meade, Maryland. He adds that is because “the threat is out there, and it's not just an Air Force thing or a Defense Department thing, it’s a national priority.”

Responding to that demand signal will require recruiting enough of the right kinds of people, training them correctly, positioning them in the right places to perform the work of cybersecurity and also equipping them with the necessary tools, he explains.

Focusing on training, Gen. Basla points to what he euphemistically calls “the schoolhouse” for the 39th Information Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Air Force Base in Florida. The facility provides initial network warfare training for defensive cyber operations. If the demand for trained personnel continues at its present rate and the schoolhouse continues to train network experts at its current rate, the facility might begin to meet demand sometime in late 2014, the general explains. The solution? “If that continues to go up, then one of the things we’re defintely going to have to do is expand the throughput rate,” the general offers. One of the ideas being considered is to have 24 hour operations. “We’ve got schoolhouses that go 24 hours, and if that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll do,” Gen. Basla states, readily admitting that such a decision also involves finding more instructors and addressing logistical concerns such as living quarters for teachers and instructors, and related budgetary considerations.

In addition, discussion also is underway on the development of joint common cybersecurity training standards among the services, which would enable a Marine cybersecurity expert to work within an Air Force environment if needed, he says. During his briefing, the general also pointed to the NetWars CyberCity, constructed by the SANS Institute in New Jersey for training the military’s cyber experts, as another model for advanced cybersecurity training.

Describing the cybersummit as an “awareness raising” experience for Air Force leaders in attendance, Gen. Basla said that attendees absorbed and processed a great deal of “graduate-level material” in order to gain new perspectives when it came to cyberstrategy. One of the discussions at the summit focused on reforming acquisitions to meet the Air Force’s growing cybersecurity needs. In that area, the Air Force has taken steps to speed up the process.

One step recently taken by the Air Force was standing up the Responsive Cyberspace Acquisition Division as part of the Lifecycle Management Center within the Air Force Materiel Command, says the general. The mandate of the division is to recognize “that cyber is a very dynamic environment.” In addition, the 98th Information Operations Squadron, part of the 24th Air Force at Hanscom Air Force Base, has been tasked with determining “what is the threat we’re facing today, do we have the capabilities we need to meet that threat and do we need to get something from industry in a much more rapid fashion than we have in the past,” he explains. Acquisition experts in both units work together, and Gen. Basla says those experts are equipped with budget and special purchasing authorities to do rapid acquisition within timeframes ranging from 6 to 18 months, depending on the need.

In the next several weeks, additional guidance will be forthcoming from the secretary of the Air Force, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense in relation to the findings of the cybersummit, Gen. Basla adds.

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