Cyber Wingmen Train for Digital Battlefield

November 10, 2010
By Rachel Eisenhower

From phishing scams to virus attacks, new cyberspace threats emerge daily, and the U.S. Air Force Space Command has turned to education to organize, train and equip forces to handle these digital threats.

"There's a great threat to American security out there in the cyberspace domain, and it's real, it's significant, it's persistent, and we are under attack every day," said Maj. Gen. Michael Basla, USAF, vice commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. He detailed the command's effort to defeat cyberspace threats during a recent U.S. Defense Department Bloggers Roundtable.

Gen. Basla explained that a recent mindset shift nationwide changed the cyber focus from information assurance to mission assurance. The command's number-one goal currently is to provide capabilities that allow Air Force missions to continue.

In an effort to educate its forces and protect the networks, the Air Force stood up the 24th Air Force, which was declared fully operational on October 1. The 24th Air Force works to normalize cyber operations throughout the entire Air Force and meet the goal of mission assurance. In order for the service to react quickly and efficiently to threats in a resource-constrained environment, training is critical, said Gen. Basla. "We can't afford to have duplicated capabilities across the department," he explains, so the Air Force is focusing on its unique strengths: speed, access and distance.

To expand its capabilities, the Air Force altered its stance on potential training candidates. Originally, 100 percent of the service's cyberspace officers had to have technical degrees in mathematics, science or engineering. Now, only about 80 percent come from those fields. "We were advised that there are some folks that could come from the social sciences that could contribute," said Gen. Basla, so they allowed for some exceptions.

Though younger recruits come to the Air Force with knowledge of computers and a basic understanding of the technology, the general says they don't always understand the risks associated with it. Basic training now includes sections on becoming a good "cyber wingman" by using cyber methods to ensure the success of Air Force missions in the field.

"This is a national-level challenge ... to have a better-prepared population to deal with the threats that we're handed," reflected Gen. Basla, and for the Air Force, the solution starts in the classroom.

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